Never Giving Up

Donna Russo has danced since the age of ten. She began with ballet and tap and later added jazz and modern to her repertoire. She was diagnosed with Turners Syndrome at an early age, which has affected her growth. She is small in stature and stands only 4 feet, 3 inches tall. Although she auditioned for ballet companies and shows of all kinds, she was always considered too short.

Her Wish is to Dance: Donna Russo

However Donna was not to be deterred. She made her size work to her advantage and found a niche for herself.  She was frequently given roles as Elves, Aliens, Dancing Dolls, Monsters and Munchkins. Among other credits she was cast as Alvin in Alvin and the Chipmunks and the Magic Camera, Austin Powers Gold Member, Passions and Power Rangers.

Seven years ago, Donna became aware of her FSH Muscular Dystrophy. The disease is slowly causing her to lose muscle control and mobility.

Donna Russo performing live.

The dance I Won't Give Up, which will be performed at Abilities Expo Los Angeles, grew from an idea begun in the Soul Dance Workshop series in which Donna was a participant. This consisted of a small group of seasoned dancers under the leadership of Choreographer Tam Warner, with whom Donna is thrilled to be working. Tam has 30 years of experience choreographing and directing for clients such as Disney, Radio City Music Hall, the Super Bowl, many, many corporate shows, the Olympics and television and film. Among her accomplishments, Tam just created a flash mob for an Equinix meeting that was given a standing ovation. In addition, she is a respected speech coach.

The workshop was a safe situation in which this group of women could discover who they had become and how dance had affected their lives. Each week a new topic would be explored through writing and dance. The group talked about loss, the loss of loved ones, and loss of being the dancers they once were. They discussed and worked through ideas of how they could again find the passion they had once found in dance and how they could still dance at whatever levels their bodies would allow as they aged and faced their limitations. This workshop encouraged and inspired all to move forward.

Within the workshop, Tam began to create a dance piece in which other dancers would help Donna with movement. Neither Donna nor Tam knew the challenges they were going to face to make this concept a reality.

Donna Russo, dancer

While Donna dealt with loss of her muscle control, Tam began to have serious health issues, which resulted in a quintuple bypass open-heart surgery. After a tough recovery she was diagnosed with vascular disease, which was shutting down her system. For this she had angioplasty, stents and more to save her eyesight and left arm. After many hospitalizations, she is living each day as a gift. "We are lucky she is with us," said Donna.

After many years and much persistence, Tam and Donna were finally able to bring the dance they had envisioned to light. By teaming up with Truevision Entertainment, Producer Chris DuPre, Director/Editor Tim Milgram and with a generous grant from Career Transitions For Dancers, they created the video I Won't Give Up which currently has almost 15,000 hits on Youtube. Tara Nicole Hughes and Kelleia Sheerin, Donna's dancing alter egos in the performance, are two of the most sought after dancers in Los Angeles. Both have extensive resumes that include Broadway, film, television and stage. "I feel so grateful to work with these talented people," Donna commented. 

Donna and the dancers are looking forward to performing I Won't Give Up at Abilities Expo at 2:00 pm on March 2 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!
Sign up for the Buzz stay in the know on disability news and info