SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) — At 9 years old, Candy Tong knew she found her calling.

Tong says she was one of the 3-4 Asian American students in her class at the San Francisco Ballet, but said she never saw herself as a minority… Until she landed the role of Clara in The Nutcracker.

“It’s not known to have an Asian Clara, a Black Clara… so for me to have that role at such a young age, I knew it was something very special and something I had to bring along with me in the future,” Tong said.

Candy Tong as Clara in The Nutcracker (Courtesy: San Francisco Ballet)

Tong went on to train at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Washington and at English National Ballet in the United Kingdom.

After heading overseas, she said she faced challenges while auditioning for professional dance companies all around Europe.

Tong said she constantly heard three critiques in her post-audition feedback:

Candy Tong speaking with KRON4

“One – I was too tall, I was 5’10” without pointe shoes or heels. Secondly – my American visa, and thirdly – that I was Asian. So hearing those three things, especially about my race, was difficult and also just incredibly frustrating,” Tong explained.

She advocates for diversity in the renowned dance world, an industry in which she says Asians are underrepresented.

‘Unapologetically Asian’ is a movement Tong started in 2019 – before the pandemic and heightened reports of attacks on the Asian community.

“It’s 2021 and I want people to push their limits and be who they are, be unapologetically you, and be unapologetically Asian. Just go about life how you were born to be.”

Candy Tong

Tong credits the support of her parents – who raised her in San Mateo County – and encouraged her to pursue her passion in dance.

And since then, she’s branched out to designing and selling her own dancewear line, which launched right before parts of the country issued the first stay-at-home orders in 2020.

(Candy Tong Collection)

“I want to be a mentor for young Asian American dancers, I want to be their inspiration. I want to make a change whether it’s in the dance world, the modeling world, or my new role as a fashion designer,” she said.

Tong is now living in New York City, under contract with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, a place that allows her to travel the world – showing passion for the arts and music.