'So You Think You Can Dance' alum Alex Wong talks his latest injury
Last year, when So You Think You Can Dance season 7 contestant Alex Wong had to drop out of the competition due to a ruptured Achilles tendon on his right leg, that long wail you may have heard was SYTYCD fans everywhere expressing their grief over the loss of one of the show’s very best dancers ever. (There’s a reason he was known as “Alex Freaking Wong.”) Dance fiends at least took comfort in knowing that Alex would likely return this season to perform as an All Star. But then exec producer Nigel Lythgoe announced two weeks ago that Alex had ruptured his Achilles tendon on his left leg and would not be able to return, and all hope drained away from the world. Okay, not really, but it was such a shocking, unfortunate development, we phoned up Alex to see how he’s handling the injury, what the future holds for him, and why he kept on dancing after his Achilles had blown.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So how are you doing?
ALEX WONG: [Chuckles] I’m good, as good as I could be with a ruptured Achilles, a second time in a row. [Laughs]
You ruptured it during an audition for Step Up 4?
Yeah. I like to go to as many auditions as possible. I came out to L.A. to try to meet as many choreographers as I could, trying to get myself out there, especially because I had been injured last year — my last Achilles rupture. I want people to know that I’m back, and I’m dancing. I was doing the Step Up 4 audition, and they kept a bunch of people and had us dance again [in] a freestyle. I wanted to stand out. I was jumping, and I felt it go. I felt it pop. It felt the same [as my last injury], and I just thought, “Oh my gosh.” So I continued dancing until the music finished. Then I eased myself out of the room and I walked myself to my car very slowly and I drove myself to the emergency room.
Wait wait wait. You kept dancing?
Yeah. It was an audition, and I wasn’t going to stop. I think dancer’s instinct — you don’t stop for any reason. Once it popped, it’s gone, and I knew I was going to get surgery. It’s not like you can really even dance that much, because you can’t even really walk, but you can still move around for a little bit.
Could anyone tell you were injured?
No one knew, because I didn’t let it show. There was maybe 10 seconds left, and I just continued a little bit more. The music stopped, they said, “Thank you,” and I just slowly walked out. At that point I was still really shocked. I couldn’t even swallow the thought that my left one had also ruptured. I thought, “Okay, maybe this is not it. Maybe this didn’t happen.” After I eased myself out of the room, I remember lying down right outside the audition studio on the pavement just thinking, “Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?” Then I got up and I said, “I gotta drive myself to the emergency room.” It felt so weird, like my heel was extremely low to the floor, and there’s no push-off resistance, so you walk on one foot and then the next one just kind of plops down.
So you were dragging your foot in a way?
A little bit. I didn’t want anyone in the audition to know that I had ruptured anything or hurt myself; I don’t like to show it. So I tried to walk as normal as possible, just kind of walk and then pick up my foot and step on the next one, to look like I was maybe tired instead of having a snapped Achilles. It was weird, because I was able to walk to my car, I think because of the shock of it all. After I drove to the emergency room, then I wasn’t able to put any weight on it anymore; wasn’t able to do anything. Thankfully, it wasn’t my right [Achilles] this time, because then I wouldn’t have been able to drive. I would have had to call an ambulance, and that would have been embarrassing. [Laughs]
At that point, you knew that you were going to be performing as an All Star?
I knew already. I was supposed to start on [the following] Sunday. So it was just a week before I hurt it — really late, almost midnight on Saturday night. I was devastated. I still am. I did a pilot for a new TV show called Smash on NBC. They were going to film in the fall in New York, and I was hoping I could do that again. So I was crushed when I realized I wouldn’t be able to dance again, because it puts me out for [Smash] and it puts me out for All Stars for So You Think You Can Dance. I was really looking forward to [that], because I felt like I never really got to finish my season. I really wanted to continue to dance for all of those people, and for myself. I just couldn’t believe that it happened again, and that it happened to me.
And it happened almost exactly a year ago.
It was one year and three days. I didn’t even know what to say, I didn’t know what to think. I was so shocked. I was at the emergency room and they actually kind of remembered me last year. I was like, “Yeah, it’s the other one.”
When you injured it last year, what was the time frame?
If you break your foot, once you take your cast off, your foot is healed, the bone is back together, and you’re ready to go. With Achilles ruptures, because it’s a tendon and they have to sew it back together, you really can’t push it. You risk re-rupturing it, [and] the tissue is like baby tissue. If you push it too early, it can stretch out too fast and become too long and then you lose response time.
Last year, I was about six weeks on crutches, and half way through they switched me to a boot. It’s angled, so my toes are pointing down so my Achilles isn’t stretched out. I had do adjust the boot every week by I think 7.5 degrees, until it gets to that 90 degree position. It kind of gradually stretches out. Once I have that, I can start putting a little bit of pressure on it. Assuming that it’s basically the same time frame as last year, early October, I remember I had just started walking in normal shoes. I didn’t start back dancing slowly until January. February I started jumping a little bit. April I remember doing some performances and feeling pretty good. I filmed Smash in March, and I was able to dance most of the things full out. So that felt good. So it’s a nine to ten month time frame I’m looking at to be back where I was.
One of the lingering questions this spring was that Nigel Lythgoe had offered you to come back to the show to compete this season, but you’d posted on Facebook that you weren’t in a position at that point to compete.
By the time Vegas week came around, I was ready to dance, but I wasn’t ready to take on Vegas week. You don’t get to sleep much, and it’s really hard on your body. I know that I was not ready to take that on. So I let that pass and I had a few offers to do a musical, Aladdin — they were work-shopping it in Seattle, and I had a few things going on here and there. Then I came out to L.A. for The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Who choreographed that?
Jeff Thacker choreographed that one; he’s an executive producer of So You Think You Can Dance. That brought me out to L.A., and I figured I should spend the summer in L.A.. I always thought the question was lingering [about whether I would be an All Star on the show]; eventually, I got confirmation. I felt like I did a lot of what I wanted to do on the show last year. I really wanted to prove that ballet was worthy and I felt like I had done some of that. I wanted to do a lot more of the different styles, like Bollywood and Foxtrot, which is what I had the week I got injured, and I was really looking forward to doing a Latin ballroom number. The show itself is also really grueling, and I don’t know if I would be ready to take that on again with the ruptured Achilles from last year, giving that it wasn’t even a full year.
Now you’re back where you started and it’s a whole other process. Where do you go from here? Are you feeling more tentative about dancing, or are you more determined than ever?
It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I can’t wait until I can walk again. It did make me think about whether dancing is the right thing for me; going through one Achilles rupture and then going through another one right after, a year later, just seems like is something trying to tell me something. Am I doing something wrong? Am I not meant to be doing this? Is this the right thing for me? It was really difficult for me, because I had worked so hard to be where I was and then I had worked so hard to come back to where I was, only to be sidelined again.
It does give me time to think about things and explore new things, to get into acting — that’s something I can definitely do being a cripple. [Chuckles] I’ve been getting into acting classes. I want to learn how to pop in terms of the hip-hop world. There are things that I love doing. I can sing being crippled.
It’s not the end of the world. I’m not mad at this injury. I feel unfortunate, but at the same time, I know everything happens for a reason. So I still have that faith that something great is going to come out of this. I’m going to rehab myself as best as I can [and] I’m going to make myself return to dancing. I love dancing so much, it’s not something that I can imagine giving up just because of something small like this. I mean, this isn’t small, but in the grand scheme of things, yes it is small.
I’m glad to hear that you are taking this in stride, so to speak. A lot of fans want to see you dance again.
I hope so. Simply put, I really want to dance again. This year I decided to make a blog about my recovery. Last year I didn’t blog about it because I didn’t know what it was going to be. This year I feel like I have more of a grasp of what it might be like, and I made a video blog and I tweet at my fans. They all ask me how I’m doing, it’s really nice to have that support. I feel like it helps me a lot with the recovery, when you have positive support from everywhere.
Have you been watching this season? Who are you really liking?
I have, I’ve watched every episode. I really like all of them. I really like Tadd, Marko and Melanie. I picked two Asian guys, but I don’t know if it’s cause they’re Asian or… they’re really good. [Laughs]
But I know what you’re saying. Melanie and Marko have been almost in a different league from the other dancers, and I really like how Tadd has taken to the different styles.
Yeah, because Tadd is a breaker, for him to be able to pull out a waltz like that — he’s so good. I think maybe the general public doesn’t realize it yet. I mean obviously they’ve been voting for him, but he’s ended up in the bottom quite a few times. I think that he’s really good and of course Marko and Melanie have been blowing the entire season away. Every week they have something great. I think everyone left on there is great. I was really looking forward to working with them; I had been watching to see how they each dance and stuff like that. I like them all; they’re really great. I met them the first week because I had been assisting Tyce [Diorio] for the opening group number. It was great to meet them all.
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