"Paciencia y fe."
That's how Lancaster native Alexander Diaz described chasing his dreams as a dancer. The Spanish terms for "patience and faith" are also quoted in the movie “In The Heights,” which Diaz himself appears in.
Diaz appears in three scenes of the movie as a dancer during dance numbers for the songs “In The Heights,” “96,000” and “When You're Home."
As the biggest project he has done to date, Diaz was in awe when he saw himself on a billboard in Times Square for the first time.
"I turned around and was just so shocked, because I had no idea," he said. "I was so speechless, and it was crazy but an amazing, amazing feeling once I kind of really took a sec to take it all in."
Additionally, Diaz has competed on "So You Think You Can Dance," performed in the 2020 MTV's Video Music Awards as a part of Keke Palmer's performance, danced in one of Jimmy Fallon's 7-Second Celebrations and has participated in a handful of other projects.
Diaz is also the co-captain of the Brooklyn Nets' Team Hype dance team.
During his work on "In The Heights," Diaz had opportunities to meet actor Anthony Ramos — the movie's lead — and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ramos took the dancers, Diaz included, out for dinner the last day of shooting as well as took them to an after party following the pre-screening of the movie.
"[Ramos] really was amazing during this whole project and really showed us as dancers so much love and so much appreciation for us being a part of the project," Diaz said.
Reflecting on seeing himself on the big screen, Diaz reminisced on watching movies with his family as he was growing up and how his family is "a big movie family."
Diaz took his mother, father and sister with him to a pre-screening of the film on Mother's Day, which was the first time he got to see his name listed in the film's credits.
Being able to share the moment with his family, he said, brought the whole experience full-circle with his childhood
"It was one of those things that just was so surreal," Diaz said.
Diaz didn't initially plan on making a career out of dancing, but his passion for dancing kept growing as time went on and and he began taking it more seriously.
Diaz was introduced to dance around the age of 15 when he started breakdancing. When he was 18, he started training at Morton's Dance Center in Landisville — at 21, he made the big decision to move to New York City.
Diaz said that if he told his 15-year-old self that he would one day be in a Lin-Manuel Miranda movie about his Latin roots, he wouldn't believe it.
"Being Latino, the story behind the movie just resonates so much," Diaz said, adding that his own parents had to make many sacrifices for the opportunities that he has.
Making it to the big screen has pushed Diaz to train and work even harder. He said he is determined to get more movie and TV opportunities, as well improve his acting skills with the goal of landing roles with spoken lines.
Diaz also hopes his journey would inspire others to chase their own dreams.
"Your dreams are one hundred percent possible," he said. "It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, whether you're from Lancaster, Pennsylvania or from New York City. If you have a dream, it's possible; you just got to have some patience and faith."
Another local connection to the “In the Heights” film is Lancaster native and McCaskey High School graduate Eliseo Roman, who sang on the soundtrack for the film, along with several other original Broadway cast members.
In that original 2008 Broadway cast, Roman portrayed Piragua Guy, the water ice-seller played by Lin-Manuel Miranda in the current film.
The soundtrack recording was done in November 2019 at the 37 Arts theater complex in New York, where “In the Heights” first played off Broadway (also with Roman in the cast) in 2007.
Roman recently made his directorial debut with Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre’s production of “On Your Feet!” He played Gloria Estefan’s father in the original Broadway cast of the musical.