There’s another Big Dance to watch this month.

Jean Isaacs, one of San Diego’s pioneering dance forces, turned 68 last year. Over the past couple of months, choreographers half her age or younger have been honing dances they’ll unveil in a Young Choreographer’s Showcase on March 25, competing for a $3,000 top prize.

There’s a robust dance scene in San Diego, and Isaacs has broken much of that ground over the past nearly 40 years here. She’s probably best known for the “Trolley Dances” series along the rail lines each fall. But after choreographing and working with dancers over the decades, Isaacs launched a more formal way to boost the next generation of choreographers with the first of these competitions in 2010.

She doesn’t shirk the role of cultivator.

“I feel very much in a mentorship role,” Isaacs said. “I want to encourage the young generation to make art.”

Last fall, 35 choreographers between the ages of 18 and 35 submitted videos of dances they’d created. Now, a committee of Isaacs and two veteran dance professors have whittled those down to 11 finalists, who’ve been rallying their friends or students to perform new works that haven’t been seen in San Diego before. Some are familiar faces to fans of local dance and some are self-professed new on the scene.

The work of the 11 selected choreographers and teams culminates in a live event coming up on March 25. The audience gets to vote and can even outweigh the choice of the three judges, John Malashock, another local dance powerhouse; Pat Launer, dance and theater writer; and Shoba Sharma, a classical Indian dancer.

Dancers have been working for weeks, rehearsing and choosing costumes and lining up their movements to music. And because many of them are involved in other dances around town, they’ve been fitting in these rehearsals whenever they can, on weekends and late nights sometimes.

To understand the work that goes into the finished product, we’ve been “embedded” in rehearsals for three of the choreographers’ quite different dances: 21-year-old Zaquia Salinas, 32-year-old Melissa Adao and 26-year-old Trystan Loucado.

Stay tuned for sneak peeks as the countdown to competition continues, this week and next.

Correction: The initial version of this post misstated Melissa Adao’s age. The post has been updated. We regret the error.

I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at or 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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