Meet Fuego Dance Crew – San Diego Hip-Hop Hope for NBC’s “World of Dance”


Nine years after dancing for fun with college buddies, Eric Payan is still having fun.

But it is far beyond stopping sick movements to Literacy First Charter School at El Cajon.

From Tuesday evening, Payan leads its five members The Fuego dance team on NBC “World of dance”. (It goes later to Sunday.)

Fuego Dance Crew (left to right) Lewis Torres, Eric Payan, Andretty Lucatero, Paul Lopez and Shawn Jones Nguyen. Photo by Chris Stone

The reality show judged by the executive producer Jennifer “J.Lo” Lopez and fellow dancers Derek hough and Ne-Yo (with host Scott Evans) has a super prize: $ 1 million.

The San Diego-based hip-hop unit of Payan was one of 16 people selected from around the world to compete in the Upper Team (18+) Division of Season 3 at Universal Studios in the Los Angeles suburb of Los Angeles. ‘Universal City. (Other crews come from South Korea, India, Norway and France.)

If Fuego wins the division, which also includes groups from Arizona, Florida, San Mateo and LA, he faces top urban dance teams in three other categories.

Fuego – Spanish for “fire” but also meaning “cool” and “sexy” – competed on the older ones “World of dance” circuit for several years. The crew is known for their hundreds of videos, a lot on youtube, with original music and themes such as soccer and video games.

They visited dozens of high schools in the area and Payan even danced in an upcoming movie: “Simple twist. “

“Now the main goal is to get the music going,” Payan said before training Wednesday at a Rolando apartment gym. “We literally create our own style – dance in a way you can’t expect us to dance.”

Like recess at Literacy First, “we go into the studio with the following idea: just let’s create, have a good time, and see what we can take away from ourselves. “

Fuego’s 3-5 minute sets on the World of Dance tour include styles ranging from popping and locking to robotic movements, krumps and flips. But on TV, they’ll be limited to 90-second routines.

“There is always a way to improve,” Payan said. “So even though we’re really, really, really tough on the ordinary human eye. … until the day of [competition], we make things better, we make everything perfect.

This means practicing four or five times a week, often after 9 p.m. due to work obligations. Fuego has about fifteen dancers in total, including some in Mexico, but his first five will wear the mark on NBC (9 p.m.).

Payan says Fuego tried for Season 2 of “World of Dance” but “a little bombed” during the test.

But last July – after finding an invite routed to his spam – Fuego made his way to a Season 3 trial in the Burbank area, where the producers said, “We love you guys – you move on to the next step.”

This led to August and September of “discussions and paperwork” and “a lot of phone calls”, and help from some parents on legal matters (since they have no manager. official).

The 18-23-year-old group set to become famous on Tuesday includes Paul Lopez, Andretty Lucatero, Lewis Torres and Shawn Jones Nguyen. (All are single except Lucatero.)

And all are mostly self-taught with the exception of Jones Nguyen, trained in ballet, jazz and modern dance at the School of Creative and Performing Arts in San Diego. He has already attended the College of Creative, Performing and Media Arts in Clairemont.

The name of the crew originally had a religious bent: “Fire for God.” But Fuego – coined by Payan’s pal Richard Mendoza – “a little stuck and it’s a catchy name – a word.” Fans would say of a routine: “It was fire, it was heat.”

Fuego has performed in over 40 high schools, where the girls have started saying, “We have Fuego fever. Some began to call the crew a boy group – which even led to a formal offer to turn them into a musical group.

Fuego refused.

“We didn’t enter this crew with a definite style. We kind of looked at people – and got to the point where we stopped looking at everyone and focused on ourselves, ”Payan said.

In 2017, Fuego took third place at the World of Dance San Diego, behind much larger dance groups.

At first, the San Diegans were irritated by the scores of some judges.

“Over time we realized that everyone had their own opinion and that also involved a lot of politics,” said one member. “Sometimes we get it wrong on stage. Sometimes we are not that clean.

Fuego has already found a challenge to beat the big groups.

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“But over the years we’ve figured out how to do our thing better than what they do. And now we compete with them and face them all, ”said the crew.

Their advantage: “Pretty much everything you see in a show belongs exclusively to us. No one has this exact mix. The movements are created towards the music.

Payan says Fuego spends most of his time making sure that “every part of the routine… goes to the music exactly 100%. If he doesn’t or if he doesn’t agree with the song, we’ll… go back and fix it.

Fuego members say they were inspired by dance stars from Michael Jackson to current team JabbaWockeeZ. Photo by Chris Stone

They don’t have a coach, so they synchronize in a number of ways. They watch recordings of their rehearsals, have one member dance for the other four, or let one member criticize how the other four perform a routine.

Ideas for moves also come from other dance teams in San Diego – Payan takes his troupe to places where freestyle dancers show up.

But Payan is the main choreographer, while others contribute ideas. It’s been “all on our own” since college, he said. “I’m literally going to mix stuff together.”

Even without a dance studio of their own, Fuego has grown into a tight-knit family, which hopes to stay together for years to come.

Their new star, Jones Nguyen, “came out of nowhere,” Payan said.

Watching Fuego at the Rolando Gymnasium, Jones Nguyen said, “Hey, I want to freestyle. And we said, ‘Yeah, cool. Do your thing. ‘ And he was pretty good. He was younger, but he was faster than some of my other guys, ”Payan said.

During the July test, “we all sweat really hard,” he said. “We really killed the test. That’s when I realized – yeah, these five can make it work. “

Fuego is forbidden to say how they fared on the show, recording for several months. But Payan says his crew’s advantage over others is their “creativity and neatness” – coordination.

“We also want to get to the point where we can widen our horizon and do some crazy flips and stuff,” he said. “There are routines that we see, people just have stuff, stuff, stuff. And it’s really strong. But after a while you are kind of [get] lost in there.

Payan’s long-term dream is to make Fuego what he calls the first multigenerational dance team – with spin-off groups such as Fuego Dance Crew Canada and Fuego Dance Crew Peru.

If Fuego maintains the attitude that “what we do is more important than our problems,” he said, “I think we will go further than we thought. I think it will last a long time.

Eric Payan: “We didn’t enter this crew with a defined style. We kind of looked at people – and got to the point where we stopped looking at everyone and focused on ourselves. That’s when we started to develop our own style. Photo by Chris Stone

Born in: San Diego
Joined the crew in: 2010
Diploma: West Hills High School (Santee) in 2015
Lives in: Health
Recent Jobs: Dance studio teacher, chimney sweep, Uber driver
Nickname: Phaze

Paul Lopez in high school was a pitcher, running back, cornerback and wrestler. Photo by Chris Stone

Born in: * San Diego
Joined the crew in: 2012
Diploma : Chula Vista High School in 2016
Lives in: Chula Vista
Recent employment: Dance studio teacher

Andretty Lucatero says leader Eric Payan “has been pushing us really hard lately. Lead the crew in the right direction. Photo by Chris Stone

Born in: * San Diego
Joined the crew in: 2015
Diploma : Grossmont High School (El Cajon) in 2015
Lives in: El Cajon
Recent employment: Sushi
Nickname: Dreads

Lewis Torres says: “If everyone has the same mindset… we will stay together for 5-10 years. Photo by Chris Stone

Born in: Chula Vista
Joined the crew in: 2017
Diploma : El Capitan High School (Lake) in 2013
Lives in: Murrieta, Riverside County
Nickname: Heritage

Shawn Jones Nguyen, who graduated from high school this spring, said, “Dancing uses a lot of your muscles, a lot of brain power.” Photo by Chris Stone

Born in: San Diego
Joined the crew in: 2018
Graduation: School of Creative and Performing Arts (San Diego) in 2019
Lives in: Poway
Nickname: Shong

Updated at 2 p.m. on February 23, 2019

* Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the place of birth.

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