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When considering household names in today’s dance industry, Alex Wong is definitely at the top of the list. His career has spanned the ballet and commercial worlds, with his rise to fame on So You Think You Can Dance. But how has he managed to be so successful across so many facets of the dance world? On episode 54 of Making the Impact, Courtney and Lesley chatted with Alex about his early years in dance, his rise to stardom, and the obstacles he has faced along the way.
Alex started dancing in his house around age five and his parents could see his passion and offered to put him into dance classes. At first he resisted, but at age seven, his dad took him to a photography gig at a local studio and after seeing two boys on stage, his perspective shifted and he was ready to go. From ages 7 to 10, he took jazz and tap, but after that, his teacher told him he needed to start taking ballet at another studio. Though he didn’t love it at first, he started to progress much more quickly in his training thanks to those additional ballet classes, and by age 13 he found a passion for the form.
When faced with the choice between pursuing commercial dance or ballet around age 15, he realized that there were barely any Asian dancers on the commercial circuit. He chose to pursue ballet because he knew he could secure a job--he had seen plenty of Asian dancers hold contracts with major ballet companies across the country. After years with American Ballet Theater and Miami City Ballet, he realized he missed the type of dancing he grew up doing, and decided to attend the So You Think You Can Dance audition. Though he made it to the top twenty, he was unable to take the spot on the show because he was under contract with Miami City Ballet.
He returned to the show in season seven where he made the top ten, but then injury struck. Unfortunately, he had to leave the show but he later returned as an ‘All Star.’ Alex had previously torn multiple ligaments in his knee during Vegas Week but didn’t tell anyone due to fears of the producers removing him. He would modify in rehearsals and usually the choreographers wouldn’t notice or mind. But then he tore his Achilles tendon and had to go into intense physical therapy as well as surgery, and the recovery was set to take a year. Though he recovered more quickly than expected, he later attended an audition during which he snapped his other Achilles tendon. Luckily, the second tear healed much more quickly, which Alex attributes to great physical therapists, as well as his body’s high levels of strength, which comes much more easily to him than flexibility. He also credits his long ballet career; ballet dancers’ bodies go through some of the most strenuous training and performances, but they also tend to focus much more fully than commercial dancers on slowly and methodically warming up their bodies, so he was able to recover much more quickly.
Speaking of his long ballet career and entry into the commercial world, Alex cites versatility as being the key to employability. He recalls going from Flesh and Bone, a ballet job, straight into Peter Pan Live, which was a musical theater gig, followed by other street jazz and hip hop jobs. He notes that it’s great to have a specialty, but the most successful commercial dancers are the ones who are versatile and who bring a great energy to the room.
He leaves us with great words of encouragement:
“Work hard, be a sponge, absorb everything, and don’t take criticism too hard, ... and always have a good attitude because more often than not, teachers and choreographers are gonna want to work with people who have good attitudes.”
Be sure to check out the full episode to hear more fun stories and great wisdom from Alex!
Thanks to Alex Wong for joining on this week's episode! Be sure to follow Alex on Instagram and TikTok @alexdwong!