There are four days until a competition where 11 young San Diego choreographers will showcase their work and compete for a $3,000 top prize. It’s a chance for them to define their own ability to imagine and create new dance, not just embody the ideas of the choreographers they dance for.

But they’re new at this, a lot of them. They’re calling in favors and roping friends and students into helping them. Rehearsals are happening on the weekends and late at night, when dancers aren’t waiting tables or practicing for their other gigs.

And so the pressure is mounting in rehearsal rooms around San Diego County.

We’ve been following three of the 11 competitors. Here we take you inside to see some of the drama and tension building as the competition nears:

From the first moments of rehearsal last Sunday afternoon, choreographer Trystan Loucado was stressed. One of his dancers, Regan Nuchereno, had just told him she wouldn’t be able to make it to rehearsal because her other job, teaching dance classes, wouldn’t let her miss a day of work.

Loucado and his three other dancers would have to dance the rehearsal leaving a hole in each of Nuchereno’s scenes, making it awkward and difficult to find where they should land or move. And those three weren’t even his original dancers. “I’ve had to replace two of my dancers in the past five days,” he said.

One of the replacements, Stephanie Maiorano, is one of his best friends, and agreed to help him when a previous dancer dropped out. That meant there was a lot of catching up to do.

Just as the dancers were ready to begin, Loucado yanked a sealed paper bag from a pile of his clothes on the ground. He ripped it open and took out an orange bottle filled with pills — Prednisone for his asthma.

“I’ve never had asthma before this year,” the 26-year-old said.

This is only his fourth attack and it’s still foreign to him, especially while dancing. “It goes from a tickle in the back of my throat and then I can’t breathe. It’s pretty crazy. That’s not something I’m used to.”

He popped a few pills in his mouth, but was still short of breath for the rest of rehearsal while he worked out a duet with Maiorano.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

At one point, Loucado had to cut the duet short because he couldn’t breathe. Maiorano, however, carried on without him, patiently waiting for him to catch his breath.

The dance Loucado is choreographing draws inspiration from his sharing a bathroom with his three sisters growing up.

Some of the movements allude to washing hands, fighting for the shower and the mirror and using the toilet. When a dancer’s missing, that tussle looks awkward, like a girl fighting an unseen competitor for space in front of the mirror.

Loucado stepped into the missing dancer’s place to rehearse with Angela Leone.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

Not all of Loucado’s quandaries are negative. He eagerly showed off the dress he will wear, holding it up to himself. In one of his scenes, he and Maiorano get re-dressed, but accidentally put on each other’s clothes.

The dress is short and black, with a strip of red lace peeking out the bottom.

“Actually, I have two,” he said with a grin. “I haven’t decided which one I’m going to wear.”

The challenges continued after Sunday.

Tuesday, we caught up with Loucado again to see how another of his rehearsals went.

The good news, he said, was he finally finished all his choreography. But he lost another dancer: Leone. The movement Loucado had intended for her wasn’t easy, he said, and he didn’t think she could pull it off while dancing other gigs and waiting tables in her full-time day job.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

“The problem is there’s an epidemic here in San Diego of dancers not getting paid to dance their full-time dance job, so they have to work an additional full-time job,” he said. “So when they have an actual full-time dance job like me paying her to do this gig, they don’t physically have enough energy to be in rehearsals and do the performance because they’re killing themselves at their other jobs.”

Loucado noticed Leone’s fatigue in Sunday’s rehearsal and became concerned, later giving her the option to bow out.

“I said, ‘Your health is more important to me than you being in this piece. I can rework what I need to do.’ It just seems like it would have been impossible for her.”

He said he wasn’t mad at anyone and that her absence actually helped him refine the structure of the piece. He’s also decided not to hire another dancer, because he’ll take Leone’s place.

“I feel when things like this happen you can freak out, which was my first instinct to do, or you can let it inform the process and just go with it,” Loucado said. “That’s how life is: you can’t expect to plan every single thing out and it all works out the way you envisioned it. And certainly choreography isn’t like that.”

For the choreographer, these hurdles present a chance to be positive.

“Goin’ with the flow is gonna work out for me,” he said. “I just know it.”


Zaquia Salinas confronted her own last-minute drama on Sunday, reconfiguring a key part of the choreography.

Her dance is inspired by what happens to the body and soul when humans die. In parts of the dance, set to dramatic string music with organ and church bells, one dancer loosely represents the physical body, one the soul, and one the marriage of both.

At a rehearsal a few weeks ago, the dancers worked on the climax of the dance, where Sulijah Learmont and Leslie Armstrong lift Sarah Larson, the one representing the body and soul together.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Salinas directed the dancers to swirl freely, and then invoked an image from Disney’s “The Lion King.”

“And the result is kind of like a reverse ‘baby Simba’ where they hold him up on Pride Rock,” she said. “But instead of baby Simba being born, Sarah dies.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Salinas laid down on the ground to mime what Larson’s body should look like in the air.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The crew rehearsed the lift that way for the last few weeks. But at a rehearsal last week, Salinas’s three dancers had tried to lift Larson and the action dislocated her shoulder. “She just threw some ice on it and went about her business,” Salinas said. “But now she’s got some soreness and pain.”

Sunday, they needed to redo the lift.

Photo by Allie Daugherty

Photo by Allie Daugherty

Salinas, 21, said if Larson’s injury gets worse and forces her to stop dancing, she will dance in her place.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

“I’ve definitely broken a toe right before a dance and you just dance,” Salinas said. “You just do what you do. I’m definitely a little nervous.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The rehearsal continued, but the team realized more than the lift needed to be redone. Larson was worried about any pulls, turns or spins, and even laying on her shoulder.

With a week to go, they spent the rest of rehearsal trying to work within the new constraints.

Photo by Allie Daugherty


Compared to Loucado and Salinas, Melissa Adao seems to have had little drama, though she hasn’t had much rehearsal time when all seven dancers can be there. At a rehearsal a few weeks ago, they were missing two.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

On Sunday, those two were there, but another was missing. Adao, 32, said her biggest challenge is keeping her sanity in the middle of a stressful month. It’s midterms for the college classes she teaches, she’s judging a hip-hop competition this Saturday, and this competition is Sunday.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

On Friday, she escaped town for a night.

“I needed to get away from San Diego,” she said. She stole away to Dana Point as a birthday and anniversary gift to her boyfriend, an accountant who didn’t know much about dance until he and Adao saw each other across the room at Sushi Deli a year ago.

A day was enough break, she contended. “I’m charged up, ready to go,” she said Sunday.

In her team’s third rehearsal on Sunday, a mashup of two songs she’s calling “In the Wild,” the dancers complained of fatigue. A couple were confused about their placement.

Near the end of rehearsal, Adao recorded the team running through the dance on her iPhone, and the crew gathered around the computer to watch for trouble spots. They ran through the performance one last time, and Adao called them together for a pep talk.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

“It’s simmering,” she said. “It’s simmering, definitely. That was definitely better than three hours ago.”

She was still concerned about tightening up the end of the dance, but she hoped it would come with more practice. Her last rehearsal happens at 10 p.m. tonight.

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Stay tuned in the coming days as we continue to follow the Young Choreographers Showcase, which is happening Sunday, March 25.

Catch up on our previous embedded posts about the showcase, started by Jean Isaacs as a way to foster new dance-making. And discover how choreographers are using surprising and odd inspirations — the bathroom and rigor mortis among them — to create works for the competition.

Kelly Bennett and Allie Daugherty write about arts for VOSD. You can reach them directly at or , or by calling 619.325.0531.

And follow Behind the Scene on Facebook.

Kelly Bennett

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

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