Jumping for joy


POSTED: Thursday, December 10, 2009

If 18-year-old Erica Wong had followed the advice of the first two doctors she consulted, she would either be living on painkillers or never dancing ballet again.

A third doctor identified her problem as an extra bone in each foot, and after two surgeries she is dancing the lead role as the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Hawaii State Ballet's “;The Nutcracker”; this weekend and next at the Mamiya Theatre.

The Punahou senior, daughter of Dr. Roger Wong, a dentist, and Darlene Wong of Kaimuki, has been dancing ballet since she was 5.

“;When I said, 'Erica, we're going to start ballet classes for you,' her face just lit up,”; her mother said.

Erica said she began feeling pain in the back of her ankles when she was 12. Sometimes it was one ankle and sometimes both, she said.

She took breaks from ballet but went through a frustrating cycle of starting and stopping dancing as the pain returned. “;I couldn't improve consistently,”; she said.





        The Hawaii State Ballet will present 10 performances of the classic “;Nutcracker”; ballet Dec. 11-13 and 18-20 at the Mamiya Theatre, 3142 Waialae Ave.

The ballet is based on “;The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,”; a story written by E.T.A. Hoffman about a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince.


Performances will be at 7 p.m. Friday, 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the two Saturdays, and 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Sundays.


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Erica tried physical therapy because one doctor said her ankles were too weak and weren't flexible enough, but she said she didn't feel any better.

She was referred to Dr. Spencer Chang, an orthopedic surgeon at Straub Clinic and Hospital, who did an MRI and pointed out the problem right away.

Called the os trigonum syndrome, it's an extra bone that sometimes develops behind the ankle bone or talus, Chang said. It's a congenital problem, but most people have no symptoms, he said.

“;It becomes symptomatic because in ballet she has to go en pointe—on her tippy toes—and that bone impinges on the tibia bone of the ankle,”; said Chang, 40. “;It can affect careers. People who get this problem are those who have to go into a pointed toe position,”; he said, such as ballet dancers, soccer players and athletes who jump.

“;What happens a lot of times, a kid who can't do it will end up quitting and just do something else,”; Chang said. “;Most of the time when we see the problem (for surgery), it's in a ballet dancer.”;

Few surgeons do the os trigonum procedure often, Chang said, noting that Wong is probably his third Hawaii patient in his six years of practice as a foot and ankle surgeon.

“;It's a feel-good story,”; he said. “;Here you have someone who might have had to quit ballet. It was getting to the point where it was too painful. ... We were able to save her career with a small (outpatient) procedure.”;

John Landovsky, who formed the Hawaii State Ballet in 1983, said Wong is “;very talented and was accepted to participate in one of the big competitions in the world, like the Olympics for ballet.”; She plans to audition for the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss., in June, he said.

Landovsky said he wasn't aware until about three years ago that Wong was dancing in pain because she never complained. “;She loves to dance so she suffers through it. ... She's coming back and dancing real good now, making such a good recovery.”;

Wong said she plans to go to college and major in dance or try to go to a ballet company.

“;In a perfect world, I want to study and dance at the same time,”; she said.