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Meet Trailblazer Candy Tong

Today we’d like to introduce you to Candy Tong.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Candy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My name is Candy Tong and I am from the beautiful city by the bay, San Francisco. I am a professional ballerina, model, and lifestyle blogger. Most people (family, friends, and followers) know me as the traveling ballerina. I am lucky to be touring all over the world all year round for a living and with my dream company too, Complexions Contemporary Ballet all whilst living in my favorite city too, Manhattan. It still feels so surreal to be living the life I’ve always dreamed of at the age of 22, but let me tell you getting here was not easy at all.

Like many other professional dancers, I started dancing at the early age of 3. My parents enrolled me in every activity possible as a kid. Alongside dance, I participated in soccer, basketball, drawing classes and even choir. Each activity slowly eliminated as my passion grew for the love of ballet. At the age of 9, I knew I wanted to become a professional ballerina. I enrolled at the prestigious San Francisco Ballet School on a full scholarship where I received most of my pre-professional training. I had many firsts there, such as the youngest Asian-American girl to be cast as ‘Clara’ (the main role) in San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker in 2007.

I also had the privilege of performing with the company while I was still in the training school which is very rare for a 14/15-year-old. My ambitious and hardworking teenage self didn’t just participate at SFB; I also was enrolled in a local competition studio in Menlo Park, CA where I was able to achieve more performing and onstage experience than most students at SFB. Here I was able to learn and experience more styles of dance such as lyrical, contemporary, jazz, tap, and acro. Throughout my teenage years, I held many regional and national titles such as Miss Dance of California 2013, attend many prestigious schools on full scholarship, and even participate in commercial and video shoots such as my ad for THINX UNDERWEAR.

Education was also an important factor for me and my family. I wanted the best of both worlds. In order to accommodate my rigorous and long dance hours in the studio, I decided to do half independent learning and half public school at the end of 8th grade.

Getting ahead of my academics a year or two… maybe 3 years early allowed me to finish high school in just 2 1/2 years. This allowed me to give all my undivided attention to my training which has gotten me to where I am today. After graduating early I was able to dance in New York City shortly after then in Seattle and soon London. My time in London was a pivotal moment in my early stages of my career. I was 17 turning 18 years old whilst I was dancing in this beautiful city and also an enrolled, yet deferred college girl at the University of California, Irvine.

College was a plan B for me at the time. If you asked me four to five years ago, I would have given you a firm answer that I wasn’t going to go to college until the final years of my performing career. I was a strong believer that if my dance career were interrupted with college, that I would be seen as a quitter, a letdown, or a failure of some sort to the dance world. Generally, it is most common for a dancer to get a contract with a company right after high school. If a contract wasn’t signed by the end of your training year, you are seen as one of those who “didn’t make it.” I happened to be one of those girls.

During my time in London (2013-14), I did every audition possible in Europe, Asia, and in the US. By the end of my year I had a couple offers but unfortunately, due to an injury, I had lost the one I wanted. I had to result to plan B which was college or I guess… my parent’s plan B. I was absolutely devastated and so narrow-minded to the idea of even attending. I was so against it that I had thought about quitting dance completely. I wasn’t mentally prepared to enter a “normal” life. Even thinking about college was a total whirlwind of anger, frustration, and total denial.

I was scared that my dance peers would judge me for stepping foot onto a campus that wasn’t a dance company or even a professional dance school. I was caught up on something that shouldn’t be so frowned upon. I had already deferred a year from my University when I was in London, so knowing that I would be entering college a year later when most of my friends would be sophomores was not making it any easier. It honestly took a very long time for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I would be going back to school and an even longer time for me to accept the fact that I was there.

To be honest, transitioning from a full-time dancer to a college student was rough on me. It wasn’t the academics that I was worried about, it was my dancing I was worried about.

The reason behind that is because I knew I wouldn’t be getting the nit-picky training I needed for me to continue to excel in my career. The first few months in college, I was in total denial and kept thinking to myself, “why am I here?” As a dance major, my time had to be dedicated to not just dance, but also school and possibly other curricular activities.

I had to switch my mentality completely to create how I truly wanted to live these college years. One thing I promised myself when I finally accepted the fact that I wasn’t in a company/dance conservatory, was that I was going to give my 100% self to this University and that I was going to take full advantage of everything thrown at me. With dedication, I was again able to graduate in just 2 1/2 years from college with a Bachelors of Fine Arts from UCI. Graduating early from college again allowed me to get back on track with my dance career. My 100% attention was devoted towards my craft again soon after my graduation in March 2017. However, this allowed for another turning point in my career. Entering the adult world was not another easy path.

Whilst in college I was training/performing in-and-out of one company, in particular, my dream company (the company I am professionally dancing with currently). I was praying on every full moon and shooting star that I would end up with a contract with Complexions Contemporary Ballet by the time of graduation. My hopes were up several times but were let down each time I was super close to having that contract in my hands. I auditioned for two other companies that summer that expressed a lot of interest towards me. But however, for some particular reason, my luck was just not with me. Either I had visa issues or I was just too damn tall.

These months of unemployment took a toll on me emotionally and physically. There was a month where I felt hopeless and in defeat… almost to the point where I wanted to quit my passion. Thankfully, my strong will reminded me that everything happens for a reason. I learned to trust the process and to accept every defeat, rejection, and “failure” that has occurred. Because every turmoil will lead to something beautiful in the future. I truly learned this when I finally received my professional contract with my dream company in my dream city this past December. I got offered a contract with Complexions Contemporary Ballet on December 26th which seemed like the best Christmas gift a ballerina can receive.

I know that I am going to be forever grateful for all those rejections and failures and moments of disbelief because that is what has shaped me to be the person and dancer that I have become today. Now I get to travel 10 months out of my year performing with the most amazing company, seeing the most spectacular cities in the world. Thankfully, I’ve been able to document every moment of my career since Instagram’s launch in 2013. This humbling experience through Instagram has led me to build an incredible fan base where I am able to reach out to aspiring dancers. I couldn’t be more appreciative of this beautiful life.

Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest lesson I learned was to “trust the process” and that is something I hope to pass on to not just young ballerinas, but also all young women. A beautiful soul once said that it’s okay to not have an answer right now, but “to trust the process.” Although this is so scary for me to even comprehend, I know it’s 100% true. I am a strong believer of “everything happens for a reason.” Each letdown, each rejection, each “failure” is leading to something great and something you have been achieving for years (at least I truly hope so).

I know it’s hard to stay positive during times like these because it’s so easy to just go in the opposite direction and continue to tumble downhill. But, ladies and gentlemen keep that head up high and believe that everything we have worked for is leading to that goal or dream or whatever you’ve been wanting for so long. Rock bottom is a beautiful start… your time is coming… the results will handle themselves.

What should we know about your business? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?   
Firstly you don’t hear the words “professional ballerina” as an occupation too often, so I think that sets me apart by a lot (haha). What I think that truly differentiates myself from other dancers is my ability to relate to not just dancers, but women of all ages specifically young adults. I don’t like to call myself an influencer, but merely a young lady who likes to create content that is relatable and that speaks to young women on a more personal level. I am to inspire the future of tomorrow which is why I try to produce the most authentic and honest posts on my Instagram and blog, “Candy Coated.”

My personal Instagram account commands around 22K followers who, I am sure, go there not to read what I have written or hear my daily interests, but because I am either an easy target or because they genuinely like my dance and fashion posts. Sometimes, I get paid to post photos from sponsors and although it doesn’t happen on the regular, I am still eager when it happens. So I suppose this makes me an “influencer.” However, for some reason, I struggle with the term “influencer.” What I find so bothersome is that I want to own what I am and be explicitly honest with myself and the Internet. I’d like to think of myself as “an ordinary girl with an unusually large following” instead haha.

I think so many of us content creators (I included) have the struggle with this because we don’t want to seem conceited or arrogant. I for one know that I battle with the fact that some viewers look at me as self-absorbed because I am promoting myself as a brand or marketing tool. I often question myself if I am I posting too much or if I should create content and post “fillers” that doesn’t necessarily attract my viewer’s attention so I don’t seem that way. For those who don’t know me personally only see me through what I post.

Viewers may picture me as someone who has a photographer following me on the daily, always dressed to the 10, or a girl with a “perfect” life. Unfortunately, social media has created this construct that has (to what I believe) changed many people’s mindset on how they should act or portray themselves and others on these platforms. With the advancement of technology comes the ability to create a new self, a new image, a new representation, which is ultimately a new identity. It disgusts me, but I guess I too am guilty of following the rules of the construct.

Furthermore, “influencing” is a powerful thing and can be great in the right hands and detrimental in the wrong ones. It is important to remember that if you are wanting to be a “social content creator” what I like to call it, you have to be the most authentic version of yourself. I know that although I want to please my viewers, I also should think about my own happiness first. Instead of “influencing” my viewers, I instead would hope to impact their lives with what I have to do or say. I take my platform seriously and make sure, to be honest, aware, and responsible with the ideas and topics I discuss.

All in all, I am just “an ordinary girl with an unusually large following” who has demonstrated an ability to both grow and sustain circulation. That alone, I think is extremely powerful more so than being an “influencer.”

Do you feel like there was something about the experiences you had growing up that played an outsized role in setting you up for success later in life?
All the rejections, failures, defeats and of course triumphs played an outsized role in setting me up for success. The many good and bad experiences I’ve already faced has shaped me to be the person and dancer I have become today. It excites me knowing that there is still so much growth approaching in my life.

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Image Credit:

Megan Welker, Justin Patterson, Nicki Bosch, Karolina Knepaite, Hytham Safieh, Julian Zabala, Nathan Carlson

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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