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East Harlem dance company helps youth tell their stories through dance

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan — For his entire life, Reinaldo Cortes has made the most with one arm.

The 12-year-old was born premature and his right arm had never completely developed. That, however, didn’t stop him from pursuing his passion.

"When I’m dancing it makes me feel like I could do anything,” Cortes told PIX11 News. “They make sure I feel like that.”

Reinaldo’s is just one of many stories brewing within the dance company known as Keep Rising To The Top, a nonprofit organization that uplifts local youth coping with life-altering events. They use dance as a tool to heal.

The dance company was founded by Latin Grammy award-winning choreographer and dancer Violet Galagarza.

When the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater alum launched the company in 1989, she had one goal and one goal only.

“[We wanted to] give, support, guide these dancers,” she said. “A lot of them are coming from tough situations, loss of parents or illness, gang situations.

“I just wanted to make sure they felt that comfort in this company.”

Sabrina Russell, 20, lost her hearing when she contracted meningitis as an infant. When she dances with the company, she said, her disability is the last thing on her mind.

“You know its difficult growing up, being bullied for being deaf,” she told PIX11 News. “I can’t do this, I can’t do that but with the dancers [they] makes me feel complete.”

The company is gearing up for their upcoming show “A Tribute To Life” which will take center stage at El Museo Del Barrio in Spanish Harlem this weekend.

The show will feature survivors of cancer and violence, LGBT youth and many more, telling their stories through the art of dance.

“At the end of the day we have to unite, we have to support each other we gotta bond,” Galagarza said.

"How can we build within, we have to accept that we are going through issues in our lives – and how can we deal with them?”

Issues that our friend Reinaldo has become a pro at embracing, even offering up some advice to those coping.

“God would never put you through something he knows you can’t handle,” the 12-year-old told PIX11 News. “If you know that, then there’s nothing you should be worried about. “

To learn how you can donate to Keep Rising To The Top organization, click here. Learn more about their upcoming show, here.