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Break Dancer Finds Footing While Trying to Heal a Rift - The New York Times

“I fell right into it,” he said. “I started learning moves every other day.”

Mr. Diaz immersed himself in dancing to avoid what he said was a troubled home life. He was raised by a single mother who had a drug addiction and whose parenting style swung between neglect and antagonism.

“It was up and down, sad, angry, screaming,” Mr. Diaz said.

As a teenager, he skipped classes regularly. Some days, he rode the subway for eight hours, from Coney Island, Brooklyn, to Queens, performing for money. He eventually dropped out of high school and took a break from dancing for about a year.

Last year, hostility between Mr. Diaz and his mother reached a boiling point. The two had an argument over rent money. Mr. Diaz said she became aggressive, and he was forced to leave their Bronx apartment.

Soon after that, Mr. Diaz made his way toCovenant House New York in Manhattan, a shelter for teenagers and young adults and an affiliate of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York, one of the organizations supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

The Neediest Cases Fund invests unrestricted contributions of $100,000 or more from trusts and estates in an endowment. The income goes into the next year’s campaign.

Covenant House’s Rights of Passage program required that he get a job to save money for future housing. Mr. Diaz found full-time work as a server at a restaurant in Chelsea.

He decided to make other adjustments in his life. He began to study for his high school equivalency diploma. And last spring he pursued a passion and was accepted into theStella Adler Studio of Acting. Mr. Diaz landed the lead male role in a production of “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I open myself up a lot with acting,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

In November, Mr. Diaz moved into an apartment in the Bronx with two other men from Covenant House. Catholic Charities used $379 in Neediest Cases funds to buy Mr. Diaz a platform bed with dresser drawers.

Recently, Mr. Diaz began trying to fix his relationship with his mother. He described it as a work in progress, one that has benefited from the two of them living apart.

“I’m a very emotional and sensitive person,” he said. “I always wanted that love and stuff growing up. I guess I’m getting it now.”

He has also returned to break dancing, putting on shows with several of his friends.

Though he has a long history with dancing, Mr. Diaz said that as career, it did not offer the same longevity or potential for making money as acting.

He may feel that he is past his prime, but he is not giving up on all of his dancing ambitions just yet.

He has seen photographs on Facebook, captioned “#dancelife,” of West Coast break dancers sitting on mattresses covered in cash. This summer, he plans to travel to Los Angeles for a month. He believes his street-performance skills will earn him a windfall there.