Name: Candy Tong
Company: Professional Ballerina with Complexions Contemporary Ballet
How did you get to where you are today?
Like many other professional ballerinas, I began dancing when I was 3 years old. My parents threw me in every curricular activity possible as a child to find out what I truly enjoyed doing. A long side dance, I spent most of my childhood playing competitive soccer, basketball, and even drawing. I found my love for dance at a young age of 9. I knew then that being a professional ballerina is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I began my professional training at San Francisco Ballet where I soon soared through the levels and was appointed lead roles in performances not only in the school, but also with the company. I was the youngest and tallest (haha) ‘Clara’ at the age of 11 in San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. Because a dancer’s schedule is so rigorous and time consuming, I began to tackle more academic work on my own. Starting from fifth grade I joined an independent schooling program where I was able to advance with my school work. As an end result, I was able to complete high school two years early with Dean’s Honor List and other academic achievements. The purpose of this was so that I could spend more time training in the studio perfecting my craft. I even traveled all over the country to train with the most prestigious and renowned teachers/mentors to get the best possible training. A long side, I competed in many state and world competitions. I was crowned Miss Dance of California in 2013 and was later placed as third runner up for the title of Miss Dance of America. My first big move as an “adult” was at the sweet age of 16; then I joined the Professional Division at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. The following year, I made a bolder and bigger move across the pond to London, England. I found a new home with the English National Ballet School where I experienced my first big tour with a professional company. I was able to travel all over Europe performing ballets that I have been dreaming for so long. I was living my fairytale, but of course like any other dancer something was bound to go wrong. I dealt with my first serious injury. I fractured my right metatarsal which kept me out of dancing for half a year. As exaggerated as this may seem, it felt like my world ended. I chose to take a break from the professional dance world and attended college at University of California, Irvine where I deferred my first year to dance in London. I knew I still wanted to continue to pursue my dance career, but always wanted to achieve my degree while doing so. With that mindset, I again was extremely motivated in school and repeatedly completed my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance in just 2 ½ years. During my time at college, I was the youngest to be placed in the highest levels for all dance categories; ballet, modern, and jazz. Because I was able to complete all my credits within my first year, I was allowed to travel during my time at school to audition and perform for professional dance companies. By the end of my second year I took a quarter away from school to dance with Complexions Contemporary Ballet at their annual gala performance in NYC. From there I knew, that this is the company I wanted to dance for. So here I am one year later, dancing with my dream company in my dream city. There has been many ups and downs in my career that has led me to this place. I believe that with a strong will and mind, you can accomplish any goal and dream you have your heart set on.
What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
I giggled when I read this question because sometimes I feel like just the title “professional ballerina” is enough of an elevator pitch. This career is so rare and unique that when I meet new people or introduce myself as one, the reactions I receive are priceless. They think I’m some graceful yet strong mystical athlete.
How do you define success? Do you consider yourself “successful”?
My definition of success determines on my happiness. Knowing that what you are doing whether in your career or any activity in your every day life is helping you and others lead a better and happier life is successful to me. Live your life in a way where that causes you to feel little pain and a lot of pleasure. I think I’m successful in terms of my own definition, but I am and will always be striving for success. There’s so many things in life I want to accomplish and be “successful” at.
What have been some of the most rewarding things in your career thus far?
The biggest reward thus far would have to be joining my dream company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, this year. I’ve worked so hard all my life and have been through a roller coaster ride with my career as well with injuries, rejections, and failures. But I’ve learned to trust the process and believe that everything is supposed to happen for a reason. So therefore, I am extremely thankful for where I am today.
What have been some of your mistakes? What have you learned from them?
This may sound crazy to many, but I wish I spent more time in the studio perfecting other dance forms. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a mistake, but I wish I had taken hip hop, ballroom, and even musical theatre more seriously. Nowadays young dancers are perfectionists in all genres. They are triple threats and to be able to get a job nowadays, you must be diverse.
What do you still want to achieve personally and/or professionally?
I hope to make a name for myself not just in the dance world, but in everything that I do whether it’s as an influencer, a blogger, or in my career after dance. I want to live a life where I can feel fulfilled and live knowing that I’ve been able to do everything that I’ve ever imagined.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is my mother. My mom is my number 1 fan, supporter, and best friend. She’s seen me at my worst and at my best. I received my passion, dedication, and discipline from her. She’s inspired me to never give up on my dreams whether realistic or not attainable. My mother is an absolute god (*says all daughters and sons*)!
When was the last time you were overwhelmed and cried from something provoked by work?
I’m not sure if I get overwhelmed much, but I do get frustrated especially if you are somewhat as a perfectionist like me. I am stubborn and if I don’t get something perfect, I usually will think that I’m bad at my craft as silly as that sounds. I’m a strong tough cookie and don’t cry often from my work. But if I do, it’s probably because I’m seriously injured!
How has your career affected your personal life/relationships?
I think my career as a ballerina has actually helped me in my personal life. I am a social butterfly and love to meet new people on the daily. It’s amazing to have both a group of dancers as friends and the mechanical, tech geniuses, writer/etc. group of non-dancers. It balances out my world and helps me live a well-rounded life. As for relationships, it’s not an easy thing I must say. I’m a very independent lady and enjoy being busy 24/7 which is why I strongly believe NYC is my city. My schedule is usually crazy where I am often traveling/ touring and or working during the weekends which allows for no “play” time. But for me right now, I enjoy my job so much that I am not too worried about having a relationship right now.
Have you ever thought about giving up? What provokes those thoughts?
Definitely!! After my serious injury when I was in London, my mindset completely flipped 180 degrees. I immediately thought about quitting dance and believed that I wasn’t meant for the dance world. It’s crazy to think that one injury can evolve to these kinds of thoughts. The reason to this is because we spend so much time, effort, money and energy to our craft and that if we get injured we feel and think as though we’ve been set back 2 years behind. As a dancer you are always replaceable (like any other field of course). But since this dance world is so cut throat, I feel as though It is more painful to go through.
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
I don’t get anxiety, but I usually get a lot of adrenaline or excitement before and after a show which causes sleepless nights. I love performing and I love being on stage which gets me so happy and tireless.
What makes you happy?
SO MANY things can make me happy! It’s the little things that bring me joy. Of course, nailing my performances will make me exuberated, but also even seeing someone on the street perform a good deed for another person will give me the same feeling. I am just a very happy and good-spirited person!
What advice would you tell your 21 year old self?
I graduated from when I was 21 years old and was dealing with the transition into adult life. I would tell myself to not give up and to trust the process. I learned it later on, but wish I believed in it earlier. Like I mentioned above, everything does happen for a reason and you just have to believe that. Each let down, each rejection, each “failure” is leading to something great and something you have been achieving for years.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
A huge way to get any dancer mad is to tell them that “dance is easy.” Especially as a college dance major, hearing this made me irritated. If dance were so “easy,” everyone could have a profession in it.
What is your favorite quote?
“Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives won’t have a title until much later.” – Bob Goff