Nicole Russo, DPT: The Magic of Music

The 2013 graduate is combining her background in musical theatre with her degree in physical therapy to make exercise “fun and functional” for the geriatric community.

July 06, 2015
NICOLE RUSSO: Flick your hair and wear your buckle shoes. Up, down. And all that jazz.

What I'd like to do in my dream world is to change the way exercise is being done in the senior communities, so I created a program called How to Make Exercise Fun and Functional for Seniors. There's elements of physical therapy exercises in my dances. They just don't realize that they're doing it. I've had situations where people who don't normally talk will start singing with the music. I have people who normally can't move, but when the music's on, they can. People that come refuse to let whatever's going on with them stop them from having a good time.

Every time I look out and I watch everybody sing and smile and dance, everybody has their arms up, going like this. Sometimes, I get a little teary and I say, thank you, God. Thank you for letting me do this. Helping people get out of pain is really big. Helping people to do the things that they love to do is really important work. I take it very seriously.

I want to get to the true root of the issue, the cause of the cause. I want to practice manual therapy on them, so that their joints are moving better. And then I want to teach them exercises that they're going to do. I want to be the last physical therapist that this person has to go to. There's really no telling how far you can take it. I just have to get in there and do it.

“Slick your hair/ and wear your buckle shoes/ (Up, down!) And all that jazz…” sings Nicole Russo, DPT. Her back to the group, she turns her head to the side and raises her arms up, then down, while her audience—a roomful of sitting or wheelchair-bound senior citizens—follow suit and unanimously sing along to the rousing lyrics.

Nicole Russo graduated magna cum laude from the School of Health Sciences’ physical therapy program in 2013, winning the John R. Magel Future Clinical Researcher Award upon graduating. Now, besides working at SOAR physical therapy in Sea Girt, New Jersey, she is also the creator of "Sit, Sing & Swing"—a seated, singing, chair-dancing program for seniors and the geriatric community.

She decided she wanted to create a program that would make exercise – and physical therapy – more exciting for senior citizens, many of whom are wheelchair-bound or paralyzed from the waist down. The successful program, which combines music, singing, and simple choreography, is performed daily in independent-, assisted-, long-term care-, Alzheimer- and adult day-care facilities.

“Dance is magical,” she says. “People who don’t talk or move suddenly come alive when the music comes on.”

And the dance isn’t just fun, it’s functional. “There are elements of physical therapy exercises in my dances; they just don’t realize that they’re doing it.”

Russo decided to pursue physical therapy after a lifetime of working in the hospitality and performing arts industry. She worked as the VIP Manager at the New York City Waldorf Astoria for several years, and enjoyed a longstanding career in musical theatre. With her extensive training in ballet, tap and jazz, she’s taught music and dance everywhere from New York to Florida.

Now, she feels privileged to be able to combine her two loves – performing arts and physical therapy – in her career.

“Helping people get out of pain, and allowing them to do the things they want to do, is really important work. I take it very seriously.

“I want to be the last physical therapist my clients see,” she says.