‘SYTYCD’ All-Star Gaby Diaz Steps in a Different Direction
Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Gaby Diaz has been on So You Think You Can Dance fans’ radar since the audition rounds for Season 12. She failed to impress the judges in her audition in Dallas and she got cut after her solo. One week later, she arrived in Detroit with a new and improved solo that not only wowed the judges, but it paved the way for her win later in the season.
Her success also paved the way for a whirlwind of work from the SYTYCD Tour to her All-Star present on Season 13 of So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation into the Shaping Sound tours then back into Season 14 of SYTYCD. Gaby was working a lot, but she felt like she needed more as an artist. She wanted to get back to the core of being a dancer and back into the studio to train.
The morning after the SYTYCD finale, she moved to Chicago, where she’s now a part of Hubbard Street’s Professional Program. It’s an intensive two-year program designed “to address the needs of dancers striving to enter the current job market by providing diverse training alongside one of the prestigious contemporary dance companies in the world.”
Gaby originally shared this story with me in a private conversation on finale night in September. It stuck with me all fall and I asked her to share her perspective because I think her advice and thoughts will resonate with SYTYCD fans and more importantly, with young dancers.
Here is our Dance Dish conversation:
Dance Dish: What has the last few years been like for you — from winning Season 12 of So You Think You Can Dance to now?
Gaby Diaz: I was very lucky for the opportunity to be on the show. Afterward, you want to maintain those relationships with the choreographers and stay relevant by using the momentum from the show to get you work.
I was catapulted into the industry and I have a hard time saying no to things because I was so excited to be working and to pay my rent with a dance check. For two-and-a-half years straight, no breaks, no time off — I just booked myself with work.
DD: When did you start feeling like you needed a change in your life?
Gaby: After So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation and watching these 13-year-old kids understand their bodies so well. When they’re asked to improv, they have such a strong sense of self already. They were comfortable to explore movement in a way that I felt that I had lost.
I had gotten good at picking up choreography and interpreting another person’s ideas. When I asked myself to improv, I didn’t really remember how I liked to dance or move. [On SYTYCD,] you have one week to put out a great performance. I love that about the show because it keeps you on your toes, it keeps your brain engaged and you’re non-stop working — but I didn’t have any time to move for myself.
DD: How did you figure out what that next step was?
Gaby: I knew I wanted to go back to training. I came from a classical program in high school where I was taking ballet and modern every day. As a dancer in high school, I don’t think I was mature enough for the information that was being given to me. It was a drag knowing I had ballet and modern every day, but I realized I was so much stronger in my body and so much more physically able to do new things back then.
Now, I wasn’t in a studio working on something for weeks after weeks after weeks and I didn’t have that moment of working on my triple pirouette and finally getting it months later. I missed that feeling.
DD: When did the Hubbard Street opportunity come your way?
Gaby: I was a fan of Hubbard Street in high school and it was the dream company I wanted to be in. So I was on a break from Shaping Sound and we had just finished the first leg of the tour. I stayed in Chicago and out of curiosity, I went to their website to see if they had any open classes at the studio so I could drop by and get a foot in the door.
On the site, I saw that they were launching a professional training program and the audition was during the time I was in town. It was kind of a gamble and I am not sure I felt super prepared because I hadn’t taken a ballet or modern class in a while. I knew if I pulled it together for the audition, this program would help fill what I felt like I was lacking at that time.
DD: So you are a student right now?
Gaby: Yes, I am just a student right now. Of course, I would love to audition for a spot in the company. In no way, shape or form do I feel ready to do that yet.
Just because I have done SYTYCD and worked professionally as a dancer, doesn’t mean I am ready to be a professional dancer in the concert dance world. That’s a completely different structure — freelance is very different than the contract with a company.
DD: In your short time there, what have you already learned?
Gaby: The fact that I’m in the studio Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. has forced me to explore my body. Ballet exercises are a set technique and it’s about tuning into your body, so I’ve healed some lingering injuries and aches, which I’m really proud of. I’ve taken the time to align myself correctly, done a warm-up, cooled down, done some strengthening and really take care of myself.
DD: Does this training program allow you to do Season 15 of SYTYCD or a Shaping Sound tour?
Gaby: One of the things I love about this program is that it works on a semester basis, so we have three-month periods where they give us the opportunity to work, take other workshops and keep training. As of right now, if the dates remained the same as this past season, the calendar lines up perfectly where I could do Season 15. We will see when we get there.
SYTYCD will always be home. I feel like if I go back and work on me, I will be that much more valuable as an All-Star on the show.
As for Shaping Sound, I will be doing the winter tour with them. It works out in my schedule and I am so excited about this.
DD: What advice do you have for young dancers?
Gaby: TV will only fulfill you for so long. You need to stay in class, no matter how old or mature you are as a dancer. You are never too good to take class. The second you stop taking class and stop tuning your instrument, it’s going to get boring. You have to keep refreshing on what you can offer. There’s a lot going in the dance world, don’t get stuck.