Photo by Erin Baiano

2019 Cover Model Search Finalist Diego Pasillas

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There are some dancers who impress in easy-to-articulate ways: They've got the extension, they've got the feet, they've got the technique. Then there are dancers like Diego Pasillas, whose virtuosity isn't as easy to wrap your head around. Not that Diego doesn't have the extension/feet/technique; that's all there, too. But it's his creature-ness that sets him apart, making his smallest transitions as compelling as his most over-the-top tricks. He's a dancer from a different movement universe—the best kind of alien.

Now 16, Diego was born a mover. "As a kid, my parents would put me in soccer practice and I'd be doing cartwheels and singing 'Hannah Montana' songs on the sidelines," he says, giggling. "So eventually they had to get me into dance classes." He started out at a small studio near his hometown of Huntington Beach, CA, at age 7. Things got more serious three years later, when he transferred to Mather Dance Company in Placentia, CA. "From the start, he was a crazy go-getter," says director and choreographer Shannon Mather. "He wanted to do everything, the hardest stuff, right away. I had to be like: 'Dude! Let's take a step back and get the technique right first.' "

Diego grew into a technically assured as well as out-of-this-world charismatic dancer at MDC. Soon he was earning titles at major competitions and assisting at Velocity Dance Convention as well as for other choreographers. He started booking commercial and acting jobs, appearing on Nickelodeon and in the video game Just Dance Kids. This spring, he auditioned for "America's Got Talent" with Rudy Abreu's all-male contemporary group, Embodiment Jr. And Diego has also started developing his choreographic voice. "I'm really proud of that accomplishment, because choreographing is such a huge challenge," he says. "I'd say my style is connected to Shannon's in that I'm always telling a story. It's never just a bunch of moves—I want you to feel something, every time."

Unlike most 16-year-olds, Diego has a clear vision for his professional path. "I know I want to be a commercial artist," he says. "Once I'm 18, I hope I can tour with someone like Ariana Grande or Taylor Swift, and, eventually, maybe I can choreograph for a tour. I want to see the world." The world—universe?—is waiting.

"What makes Diego special is his vulnerability, his ability to wear his heart on his sleeve. He's such a beautiful, artistic performer that when he comes onstage, he speaks to everyone in the audience." —Shannon Mather, choreographer and director of Mather Dance Company

Photo by Erin Baiano

Fast Facts

Birthday: March 24, 2003

Hometown: Huntington Beach, CA

Favorite dancers of all time: Shannon Mather, Blake McGrath, Brian Friedman, Beyoncé

Something no one knows about him: "I really don't like bananas."

The best advice he's ever received: " 'Practice until you can't get it wrong.' "

Strangest thing in his dance bag: Mini toothbrushes (which all the Cover Model Search finalists made use of before their shoot!)

Must-see TV shows: "The Fosters" and "Grey's Anatomy"

His dancing in three emoji: 😱🤧🤭

If he weren't a dancer, he'd be: "Either an actor or a photographer. I love taking photos."

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