Another season of So You Think You Can Dance has ended, and a tap dancer has come out on top! The Fox show aired its Season 12 Finale on Monday, September 14, and crowned its latest winner, 19-year-old Miami native Gaby Diaz.
In between rehearsals for the upcoming So You Think You Can Dance Tour, Gaby recently spoke with Dance Informa about her new title as “America’s Favorite Dancer”, her experiences on the show and what’s next for her.
Congratulations on winning So You Think You Can Dance Season 12, Gaby! How did that moment feel when host Cat Deeley announced that you were “America’s Favorite Dancer”?
“It still hasn’t quite hit me yet! I keep saying that in that moment I wasn’t really sure if she was announcing I was the runner-up or the winner until JaJa hugged me and congratulated me. In that moment, I was just like, ‘Oh my god!’ It was really overwhelming, and it still hasn’t hit me yet.”
Looking back across the episodes, what were some of your favorite routines?
“I have got to say my hip hop routine with Joshua [Allen] was one of my favorites because it was the first time I got to do a street style and the only time I got to do a hip hop number on the show. I was really excited to show that side of myself because I’d been doing a lot of technical routines. So that was a big moment for me!
And then my contemporary duet with Robert [Roldan] was the routine that showcased me the best as a technical dancer and as a performer. Plus, that whole process with Mandy Moore and getting to work with Robert was a dream come true.”
Is there one choreographer you worked with who particularly challenged and inspired you this season?
“Sonya Tayeh. I didn’t get to do a duet choreographed by her, but she did a couple of the group routines with us. Her rehearsals were physically difficult because she demands a lot from her dancers, but she has the most incredible energy. She’s so positive, and she’s just really inspiring to work with. Her knowledge of the dance world and everything she shared with us was what I needed at that point in the competition.”
Speaking of choreographers, was there one choreographer who you wish you could have worked with but you didn’t?
“I actually was really looking forward to doing ballroom on the show and getting to work with Jean-Marc [Généreux] but unfortunately didn’t have the chance to do that this season. Maybe in the future I’ll get to do some ballroom with Jean-Marc!”
I’m sure everyone would absolutely love to see that! Now, could you tell us a little about your dance background? On the show you were tagged as a tapper early on, which is definitely a strong suit for you, but it’s also clear you studied other styles growing up. Where did you train?
“I really liked exposing myself to as many styles as I could growing up. I started in tap and ballet, as most people do, and then I continued in tap, whereas most people drop it. It was always my favorite.
I grew up at a local studio, Roxy Performing Arts Center. Once I started high school, I decided to get even more serious about my technical training, so I went to a performing arts high school called New World School of the Arts. That’s where I trained a lot in classical ballet and modern. So yeah… I’ve trained in a lot of everything.”
Was there one dance teacher in particular who inspired you when you were growing up?
“Absolutely! My tap teacher actually – Jill Torgas. She is much more than just a tapper as well. She taught me since I was tiny, and she actually helped me prepare my audition solos and my solos on the show. She was my biggest inspiration and mentor growing up!”
Now that you’ve won the big SYTYCD prize of $250,000, do you have any exciting plans for it?
“I have to meet with a financial advisor first! I’m honestly not sure what to do with all that! But I do have to give back to my parents, first and foremost, because dance is not a cheap lifestyle growing up, and they supported me for so long.
One thing that it will definitely assist with is my move to LA once our tour is done! It’s going to help me make the transition to the West Coast from Miami.”
Speaking of the tour, what are you most excited about for that?
“I’m really excited to get to meet the fans because while we try to stay in contact with them through social media, it’s hard sometimes. This is a really good opportunity to get to thank them in person for supporting us and watching our journeys throughout the season because their votes were what got us to the point we did. For me, I have a lot of people to thank, and I want to meet as many in person as possible!”
Has it been fun reuniting with the dancers who were sent home earlier in the season?
“Absolutely! We just started rehearsals for the Top 10 tour today, and it’s already been so much fun being back with everyone.”
After the tour, you are set to perform with Jennifer Lopez in Vegas as part of your prize. It might seem like forever away right now, but are you excited?
“I cannot wait! I am a huge fan of Jennifer Lopez. As a matter of a fact, my first hip hop class I ever took was set to a J. Lo song. So I’ve been a fan my entire life, and this is definitely something I’ve wanted to do in my career. So getting to check it off early from my list at such a young age is really incredible!”
What are some of the other things on your list?
“I want to do everything and anything that has to do with dance! And then maybe someday when my body won’t let me dance anymore I’m interested in trying out acting. I want to try company work, dancing outside of the U.S. … just anything and everything that has to do with dance!”
Just for fun, do you have any funny moments or embarrassing stories that happened behind the scenes this season on the show?
“Behind the scenes there are always a lot of bumps, falls and awkward hand placements that take place in the journey to getting these pieces to where we want them to be… Well, one of the first ones that comes to mind – there are these steps on the back of the stage that a few choreographers had us come up from for their numbers. In some of the rehearsals, a few of us actually fell down those steps because we were walking backward! It’s always really funny in rehearsal when you’re really serious and you hear someone go down and you immediately know what it was – the steps!”
For our younger readers, do you have any professional advice for them as they continue to train?
“I’d say to continue taking class all through your life, even when you reach professional status. I took a class the other day, and you honestly need that to keep your body and your technique up. So keep taking class and remember why you love to dance. When dance stops being fun for you it starts to feel like work, and it should never feel like work!
I really rediscovered how much I love dance on this show, and that’s one of the things that helped me get through it, even when it felt like a longer or difficult process. I loved every second of it. So never lose your spark!”
One last thing – can you give us a hint what numbers will be performed on tour?
“Oh, I cannot give that away! But I can say that a lot of this season’s favorites will be on tour! Everyone will love it!”
For dates and locations of the SYTYCD 2015-16 Tour, click here. The tour kicks off October 13 in Grand Prairie, TX.
By Chelsea Thomas of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Gaby Diaz is America’s Favorite Dancer. Photo by Adam Rose, courtesy of Fox Broadcasting Co.