This article originally appeared in the Spring 2024 Life Without Limits issue of Showstopper Magazine.

Photo: Ana Ochoa, Design: Holly Childs

Some dancers immediately make your jaw drop when you see them perform, and Diego Pasillas is one of them. At just 20 years old, Diego has achieved what many dancers only dream of. We caught up with him to dive into his journey-breaking into the industry, winning World of Dance, and pushing boundaries with his gravity-defying moves.

Early Success

Diego’s journey into the world of performance began at just 7 years old. Drive by a love for entertaining, he first tried his hand at gymnastics. However, it didn’t take long for him to realize that his true passion was elsewhere. “I knew my path was dance,” Diego shared.

While some dancers struggle for years to break into the industry, Diego did so at an early age. “After graduating high school, I immediately got hired to dance for Derek Hough in his Las Vegas residency show, No Limit,” he shared. Diego actually bought his first house in Los Angeles at just 19, giving him the stability to zero in on his career. And that focus certainly paid off. On top of winning World of Dance (more on that later!), he has been in TV shows and music videos, worked with major artists, and even made his debut in a Paramount movie.

World of Dance Victory

While Diego’s solo career is undeniably impressive, his collaborative efforts shine just as brightly. MDC 3, a dynamic dance trio comprised of Madison Smith, Emma Mather, and Diego himself, auditioned for every season of NBC’s World of Dance since Season 1. Despite their persistent efforts to land a spot on the show, it wasn’t until Season 4 that MDC 3 had their breakthrough. In hindsight, the group saw this as a blessing.

“[The] timing was perfect because if we would’ve gotten on the show in a previous season, we might not have made it as far as we did,” he shared. “We were so young and still needed so much improvement and maturity.” Their hard work paid off, and the trio finally overcame the odds on Season 4, securing the coveted crown. “Honestly, I couldn’t believe it. It felt like a dream and everything was moving in slow motion!” he revealed about their win.

Photo: Ana Ochoa, Design: Holly Childs

Emotional Impact

The emotional impact of MDC 3’s performances, notably praised by Jennifer Lopez, is a result of meticulous planning. Diego unveiled their creative process, emphasizing the importance of storytelling. “All of our pieces will always have a strong concept and story before we create any moves,” Diego explained. Emma’s mother and MDC 3 choreographer Shannon Mather is “always looking for the right intention behind every single move, lift, trick, etc.” and the right move isn’t always the one that gets the biggest reaction, sometimes the beauty is in the subtlety. “When we would rehearse for our pieces, the show choreographers (Nappytabs) would actually change or take out some of the big ‘wow’ moves,” Diego shared. “[They’d] tell us to create just a simple moment between the three of us for the story to really come across on TV.”

The emotions behind Diego’s dancing don’t just affect the audience, though. For him, dance is an escape. “[It] is for sure my sae space,” he revealed. “Dance means so much to me, and it will always be my first love. If I’m feeling down one day, I dance, and it’s basically like my therapy. I can use my struggles and insecurities in dance, and in a way, dance helps me get through these troubles.”

Pushing Boundaries

Winning a major TV show at just 17 years old, it’s no surprise that Diego aims to push boundaries. Many of his (and MDC 3’s) performances feature gravity-defying moves and breathtaking tricks that often leave the audience wondering, “How did they even do that?!”

Diego delved into the details of how they pull off these awe-inspiring routines. “The process behind our tricks and lifts is actually just us playing in the studio together and basically just trying anything,” he shared. “We fail and fall a lot but sometimes those failures turn into something cool or we see different ways of moving. Sometimes, choreo will flow out like water while other days we are stuck on a part for hours and only make up six counts that day.”

His advice for dancers who have similar aspirations? “Never let the bad days get you down. Remember that those days are what matters the most and will push you even more, and know that it’s all a part of the process to becoming the best dancer.”

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Holly is the Editor-in-Chief of Showstopper Magazine! A designer, writer, and photographer, keeping up with Holly is easier said than done as she regularly travels to new places. As the mastermind behind the magazine, Holly has a knack for finding great stories and getting them on the page. She and her furry assistant Cornelius are always up to something fabulous! You can follow Holly's travels and breathtaking experiences (and even magazine updates) on Instagram (@hollyachilds)!