Being Priscilla

Delving into junior Priscilla Tom’s dance career


Anish Vasudevan

Junior Priscilla Tom kicks her leg into a tilt.

Alyssa Hui and Anish Vasudevan

The start of the school year also marks the beginning of rehearsals for junior Priscilla Tom. As a part of the senior company, The Collective, of her dance studio Nor Cal Dance Arts, Priscilla is either competing from February through July or preparing for the next competition season. Whether it’s seven-hour practice on the weekend or classes during the week, Priscilla says she is always dancing.

Priscilla’s mom, Vivian Tom, introduced her to the sport by putting her in a preschool dance program to help her become more sociable. Vivian says she wanted to help Priscilla “be more comfortable and confident with a group of people and in front of an audience” because Priscilla had always been shy as a child. Although she’s tried other sports and activities in the past, dance always interested her the most.

“Dance appeals to me because I like both sports and artistic things,” Priscilla said. “Dance kind of incorporates both of those. I’ve tried other things, but they just never stuck with me. It’s always been dance.”

Since preschool, her involvement in dance has evolved. Now, rather than just a hobby or afterschool activity, Priscilla is looking to turn her love for dance into a career. Priscilla explains that Instagram has helped further her dance career. With 17.3 thousand followers on the platform, she has gotten the opportunity to be an ambassador for dancewear companies like Five Dancewear.

Anish Vasudevan
Priscilla does a one-handed handstand. Photo illustration by Alyssa Hui

“Social media, especially Instagram, is your resume,” Priscilla said. “It’s really important to maintain that and to make sure that it’s very relevant and what other people want to see … Say if a teacher or choreographer or someone who wants to hire you for a job is looking at your Instagram page, and they just see a bunch of pictures with your friends, they’re going to wonder what you are like. So for me, I kind of want to make sure my page shows what I’m passionate about, which is dance.”

However, Instagram is not the only way Priscilla is able to communicate with other dancers and stay relevant in the dance scene. Priscilla says that the director of her dance studio, Tawnya Kuzia, also provides her dancers with unique opportunities during their trips to Los Angeles.

“I’ve been to so many conventions, and from there, the choreographers recognize you if you take their class multiple times, and they’ll ask [some of us from the dance company] to perform for them,” Priscilla said. “Kuzia puts a lot of her family [time] aside to do things for us as if we’re her kids, and she spends a lot of time rehearsing us and cleaning our dances and making sure that we’re looking at our best on stage. She really inspires me to be better.”

Specifically, Kuzia has sent videos of the teams to television shows like “World of Dance” and “America’s Got Talent.” In eighth and 10th grade, Priscilla was featured in seasons one and three of World of Dance with her teams The Posse and JDC, or Junior Dance Company. In ninth grade, she made her way onto season 13 of America’s Got Talent with other members of The Collective.

“Every year has been really hectic for me because I’ve missed months of school at a time for rehearsals and being in LA,” Priscilla said. “I’d have to ask my teachers for work ahead of time, [and] sometimes they can’t give it to you. I had to do rehearsals during school so a lot of the time teachers would get really frustrated because I can’t come.”

Senior Jana Tsai, who is teammates with Priscilla, explains that this period of time when they were competing in shows like World of Dance was extremely taxing on the entire team. Not only did they constantly practice, but Kuzia also prepared them for interviews. However, Tsai says that all the work was worth it.

“When we got there, it was really surreal,” Tsai said. “Honestly, I still couldn’t believe it when we’re actually on the stage in front of the three judges, Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez and Derek Hough. Being on the stage, it was really cool. Receiving good feedback from them, it really boosted our confidence and I felt like it brought my team together.”

Tsai describes that throughout the whole experience, the dancers’ parents also showed their support through helpful tasks, such as bringing them food during their long rehearsals. Similarly, Priscilla explains that she found motivation to endure her strenuous schedule with the help and support of her family.

“I live with my mom, so she’s always been supportive,” Priscilla said. “She’s the one who drives me to dance and everything. My dad is supportive too, but he’s like the grandparents. [He’s] more, ‘Oh, stick with school, be a doctor’ — that kind of Asian parents vibe.”

Vivian explains that she does whatever she can to help Priscilla by being her chauffeur, providing financial support and always encouraging Priscilla to do what she loves. However, because she’s not a dancer herself, Vivian leaves the dance technique and training to Priscilla’s studio and dance director.

Because they are on the road a lot, Vivian explains that sometimes there’s tension between herself and her daughter when trying to get everything done, especially because of time constraints. Nonetheless, she still feels as though dance has brought the two of them closer together.

“Our relationship gets stronger and closer because I appreciate her endurance and her dedication, and she knows that I support her and I’m her biggest fan,” Vivian said. “I’m always there for all the competitions, supporting her ups and downs.”

Anish Vasudevan
Priscilla does a double stag jump. Photo illustration by Alyssa Hui

Vivian notes that dance is something they talk about all the time. Whenever she sees a dance clip on social media or YouTube, she can’t wait to show Priscilla. Similarly, when Priscilla learns a new trick, she always makes sure to show her mother what she’s learned. Vivian explains that because she watches so much dance, she has come to love the art form, which creates a common interest between herself and Priscilla.

“This is something that allows us to always be open and be talking all the time about what she’s done in the past and currently, as well as how I can help her in the future,” Vivian said. “I’d say it definitely allows us to build a stronger relationship, [and] although there are tensions … [it’s] pretty small in the grand scheme of things.”

Although Priscilla has been able to strengthen her relationship with her mom through dance, she explains that it’s hard to find quality time to spend with the rest of her family.

“I can’t go [to family gatherings] because [I have] dance or rehearsals and a lot of people don’t understand that’s not something you can miss,” Priscilla said. “They’re like ‘Oh, why don’t you just skip it for once?’ It’s always been kind of like that.”

Despite challenges like these, Priscilla says the effort she puts in now is integral to both her current interest and future ones. However, Priscilla understands the difficulties in becoming a professional dancer, so she hopes to be involved in the dance industry through choreographing routines for other people.

“Dance has always been worth it for me,” Priscilla said. “I meet so many different, unique people through dance, and it really inspires me to keep going. Once I got into dance, I wanted to be really good at it. I don’t want to drop it because it’s always just been a part of me. I feel like I don’t know how to do without it. I would just quit school and just sit at home and do nothing.”

Tsai explains that Priscilla’s dedication to the sport is apparent in the way she dances because of her “full out” mentality.

“I love dancing with Priscilla,” Tsai said. “Her movement is just really unique. I love the way she dances and I love watching her. It really inspires me to learn from how she’s learning from our own teacher because the way that she dances is really phenomenal. I’ve seen her grow as a dancer ever since middle school and I couldn’t be more proud of her. She has a lot of potential to be even more amazing later on, so I’m really excited to see how that goes for her.”