Gaby celebrating her "SYTYCD" win (photo by Adam Rose, courtesy FOX)

Competing on “So You Think You Can Dance” is an epic challenge—but Gaby Diaz made it look easy. Though the 19-year-old went on the show as a tap dancer, she excelled in everything from emotional contemporary pieces to hard-hitting hip-hop routines during the 10-week marathon of live episodes. Watching her brilliant finale performances, it was hard to believe Gaby almost didn’t make it past the first round.

“My initial audition solo, in Dallas, I was thinking too hard about what I thought the judges would want to see from a tap girl,” she explains. “I wasn’t being true to myself.” She was cut—but, convinced that this was her season, she went back to the studio with longtime teacher Jillian Torgas-Leyva. Three days later, she flew to Detroit to audition again. “I did a new solo, and it was much more my style,” she says. “I was really confident in it. And that got me through!”

Gaby, who has watched “SYTYCD” since Season 1, is thrilled to be the show’s first tap winner. “There were a lot of tappers who paved the way for me,” she says, citing Season 10’s Aaron Turner and Season 11’s Zack Everhart and Valerie Rockey as her inspirations. “I was so happy to bring it home for Team Tap.” Anthony Morigerato, who choreographed Gaby’s tap duet with Everhart for the performance finale, was especially impressed with her skills. “She makes sounds cleanly and effortlessly,” he says, “but her technique never overwhelms her style.”

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

Tap may be closest to Gaby’s heart, but it’s her versatility that helped her make the “SYTYCD” Top 20—and ultimately take home the prize. The Miami native studied ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop and more at her home studio, Roxy Theatre Group, and at Miami’s New World School of the Arts. (She’s good friends with fellow Miamian Ricky Ubeda—did you see him freaking out after she was announced this year’s champion?) She was even a 2014 YoungArts winner for…wait for it…jazz dance. Her technical training is so strong that the first time Team Stage captain Travis Wall saw her during Vegas Week, he thought she’d auditioned as a contemporary dancer. “I was like, ‘Who’s that girl?’ My notes said ‘tap dancer,’ ” Wall remembers. “From that moment, I knew she’d be on the show.”

Gaby is currently wrapping up the “SYTYCD” Season 12 tour, but in February, she’ll head to Las Vegas to dance in Jennifer Lopez’s new show. After that, she wants to keep her options open. She’s interested in music videos, awards-show performances and, eventually, a company contract. “ ‘SYTYCD’ was a really humbling and inspiring experience,” she says. “Being around so many people who love what they’re doing made me certain that I don’t want dance to be a hobby. I want it to be my career.”

The Judges’ Verdicts

“Gaby’s story is a true testament to the payoffs of perseverance, dedication and hard work. She came into the competition as a tapper and left as an incredibly talented all-round dancer. I’m extremely proud of her.” —Nigel Lythgoe

“I couldn’t be happier for Gaby. We discovered early on just how technically faultless she truly was. Week after week, she displayed tremendous dexterity and refinement—

every performance appeared effortless. What I loved most about Gaby is how she danced with an expression of joy and freedom. She always gave us the best version of herself.” —Paula Abdul

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

How does Gaby feel about the new “SYTYCD” “Stage vs. Street” format?

“I think the show has always had that aspect to it,” she says. “Seeing how the trained dancers did in their hip-hop routines and how the hip-hop people did in classical routines was part of what made ‘SYT’ good TV. But this season, having a larger group of street dancers brought a really different, fun energy to the competition. Stage dancers, we’re more critical of ourselves. We’re perfectionists. The street dancers kept the energy light in rehearsals. We all got along really well.”

Oh, Captain, My Captain

Gaby loved that Team Stage captainTravis Wall was a mentor both on- and off-camera. “He always made sure to askus how our bodies were doing, and how we felt about our routines,” she says. “He offered a lot of advice to us and to our partners, even if they were from Team Street. He was like our papa.”

The love is definitely mutual. “Gaby was the dancer I never had to worry about,” Wall says. “I knew she’d have the routine—she’d nail it by the second day of rehearsal! So I focused on keeping her body healthy and helping her connect with the audience.”

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

When did he know she was a serious contender for the title? “She had her breakout moment with the geisha hip-hop routine,” Wall says. “Sometimes stage dancers don’t have that raw competitive energy inside them, so I tried to bring that out in her. I told her, ‘You have the chance to win this show, and I’m rooting for you, but you have to start acting like you want to win.’ And after that geisha routine, she really was performing to the highest capacity.”

Top 10 Breakdown

We asked Gaby to describe the other members of the “SYTYCD” Season 12 Top 10 in a single word. Here’s what she had to say:

Derek: “Flexible.”

Edson: “Strong.”

Hailee: “Backbone. She wasmy backbone on the show.”

Jaja: “Determined. And focused. That’s two words!”

Jim: “Flawless.”

JJ: “Wise.”

Megz: “Mama. She was everyone’s mom.”

Neptune: “Passionate.”

Virgil: “Entertainer.”

Tapping in her favorite routine with Zack Everhart (photo by Michael Becker, courtesy FOX)

Favorite “SYT” routines: “My duets with Robert, Zack and Joshua.”

Most-challenging routine: “African jazz with Burim and Ariana. It was physically demanding, and it was still early in the competition, so I hadn’t built up my stamina yet. Plus, we had to deal with those canes.”

Favorite Cat Deeley moment: “When she announced she was pregnant! It was the cutest thing ever.”

“SYT” BFF: “Hailee Payne. Her energy was contagious and she really helped me get through those long rehearsals.”

What’s going on backstage? “Virgil sneaks in naps whenever he can. On TV, he has so much energy, but you walk offstage and Virgil’s asleep in a corner.”

Favorite tap dancers: “Anthony Morigerato is probably my favorite tapper in the world. Getting to work with him on the show was incredible. Derick Grant is such a powerful hoofer. His swag is so cool. Alexis Juliano, who was on ‘SYT’ in Season 10, is one of the coolest tap women out there. And she’s from Florida, too!”

Dream dance companies: Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound, Stacey Tookey’s Still Motion

Advice for Dance Spirit readers: “Keep taking class. You’re never too old to learn something new. Work outside of your comfort zone. If you’re a contemporary dancer, take hip hop or jazz or tap. Everyone should take tap! It’ll help you with your musicality.”

(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)

Fast Facts

Birthday: March 9, 1996

Favorite color: purple

Favorite food: mangoes

Favorite movie: “Anything Leonardo DiCaprio does.”

Favorite music: Mumford and Sons

If she wasn’t a dancer, she’d be: “A chef! I’m dying to learn how to cook.”

Three emojis that describe her: 

These could be your new BFFs!

Calling all comp kids! Are you dreaming of making your small-screen debut? If you think your leaps are as strong as Maddie Ziegler's, your shimmies are as fierce as Asia Monet Ray's and your pirouettes are as sharp as Chloe Lukasiak's, now may be your time to shine! Here's the catch: Your mom (or dad!) has to be on board as well.

Why? The infamous Abby Lee Miller is looking for new kids and their parents to add to the cast of "Dance Moms"—and possibly "Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition."

Auditions for dancers 13 and under will be held in Orlando, FL (Oct. 25), Atlanta, GA (Nov. 8), and NYC (Nov. 23). Find out more and register at dancemomscasting.com.

See you on TV!

You had muscles like that at seven years old, right?

It's week two of Asia with the ALDC, and the drama surrounding this little firecracker has just begun. Here are my three most AWKWARD and AWESOME moments from last night's episode:

AWKWARD: Asia vs. Mackenzie. New girl Asia gets on top of the pyramid in her first week. Uh oh, looks like she’s just earned a big fat target on her back. But no, the moms are still ganging up on Mackenzie, claiming that she’s faking her injury. She loves to dance, people. She would not fake this injury! Plus, now she really wants to kick little Asia’s butt. I’m going to assume that, healed or not, Mac will be back next week. Team Mackenzie!

AWESOME: Asia’s solo. This is just so much better than her puppy dance from last week. She’s playing Rosie the Riveter, a tough cookie just like she is. Holy muscles, Batman! This girl is fierce. Everything about the choreography is super cute—and her costume is appropriate! Can I be Team Mackenzie and Team Asia?

AWKWARD: Flaggate (a.k.a. the group number). Asia isn’t doing most of the choreography, but she does get to run across the stage with an American flag. Essentially, Abby’s tacking a young kid on at the end to bring the overall age of the routine down. Isn’t this the same kind of thing we used to make fun of Vivi for in Cathy’s choreography? But the real drama comes when apparently the flag is held up the wrong way onstage. Someone must be blamed! Was it Paige’s fault or Asia’s fault??? We never find out, but I’m going to go with: Who cares? They looked great.

So pretty. And so not deserving of what Abby put her through this week.

AWESOME: Maddie’s solo and Chloe’s solo. My goodness, I love these two. This rivalry isn’t anything new. We spent most of Season 1 wondering if Chloe would ever be triumphant over Maddie (spoiler alert: she was!). After months of no head to head competition, they’re both onstage this week. Yippee! Chloe is elegant and clean and gets second place; Maddie is emotional and striking and gets first. Just goes to show, a little healthy competition goes a long way…

AWKWARD: I spoke too soon. Abby takes this Maddie vs. Chloe thing way too far. She kicks things up a notch by asking everyone (moms and kids) to vote for either Maddie or Chloe after watching them perform. Sigh. This does not seem like a productive activity. Maddie wins the vote by a landslide, leaving Chloe feeling terrible. Best moment: Mom Kelly votes for Paige. Hahaha. In your face, Abby.

AWESOME: Holly’s defense of getting an education. Mom Melissa has decided that Maddie and Mackenzie should be home schooled, and the other moms are not pleased. Yes, sometimes home schooling is the best option, but this is clearly not one of those times, especially with little Mackenzie, who’s too young to have decided whether she even wants a career in dance. Plus, she’d miss her friends! Holly does a remarkable job of explaining the seriousness of pulling kids out of school: “School’s not just about busy work. It’s about: Can you think? Can you be a citizen of the world and think for yourselves?” Yes, Holly! In the end, smart dancers are successful dancers.

And now (drum roll please) the QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“Asia might be a big deal on the Internet, but so is a dog who can bark his ABCs.” —Mom Christi

A dog who can bark his ABCs!? Where is this dog? Will someone send me a link, please?

Planning on spending the holiday weekend catching up with your DVR? Make sure you don’t miss Tuesday’s episode of “Dancing With the Stars.” In addition to sending two couples home (no spoilers here!), there’s an awesome number by hip-hop superstar Parris Goebel, a creative performance by Paula Abdul and, my personal favorite, a beyond stunning contemporary piece choreographed by some DS favorites, Derek Hough and Allison Holker. Some highlights:

Choreographers Allison and Derek set the mood.

Oh hey, Kathryn McCormick, looking gorgeous as always.

I see you, Melanie Moore.

Is that a slow motion jump? Mind blown.

Love the use of water. This gives “dancing in the rain” a whole new meaning.

Best. Closing pose. Ever

Forget to record the episode? Never fear, abc.com is here. Click here to watch.

 

Abby Lee Dance Company goes to Nationals! Considering how awesome everyone dances, there’s an awful lot of crying in this episode that I could live without. I’ve also chosen to ignore the Candy Apples in this recap, because they were just too annoying. (Although I did think the thirty seconds of Cathy’s creepy cackle perfectly illustrated her personality.) With that said, on with my top five moments:

5. Not that Abby generally holds back when insulting her students, but Abby calling Paige stupid was below the belt. Kelly storms out. Silver lining? This means she’s outside and free when she gets a call offering Paige a photo shoot. Yay Paige! We’re not really sure what this photo shoot was for, but it was a nice moment in the spotlight. She really is a beautiful kid.

4. So there's this new trend on “Dance Moms” where Abby waits until the last minute to cast a routine. It’s not fun for the girls, it’s not fun for the moms and it’s really not fun for me. This week, the routine in question is a solo, and the three contenders for the spot are Chloe, Kendall and Nia. In an unexpected twist, Abby makes the moms be the judges. Shocker of shockers, all the moms choose their own kids to win the part. Who will break this three-way tie? Mom Melissa, of course. (Do we think producers were upset about the lack of mom drama last week?) Melissa picks Nia! Yay Nia! I’m so proud of… wait, Abby doesn’t want Nia. You mean this whole letting-the-moms-choose idea was just a ruse?! Abby convinces Melissa to choose Chloe, which makes Kendall cry. "We already knew who was going to get it," says sad-face Kendall. Excellent point. Chloe’s happy to get the part, but she’s feeling the pressure. And now Chloe’s crying, too. I told you there was a lot of crying in this episode. Well done, Abby. Well done.

3. Maybe I’m still coming down from the excitement of meeting Maddie and Chloe last week, but I love that these two are constantly cheering each other on instead of pulling each other’s hair out. They both competed solos this week, danced beautiful, and (most importantly) beat Justice! As Abby so eloquently says, “Justice has been served!” Maybe the judges were as turned off by all the fake blood in his routine as I was. Anyway, back to the girls. Chloe’s beaming smile backstage while Maddie performed was just priceless. Time for crowning: Maddie got second place, and Chloe got first! Maddie was so happy for her. Mom Christi was a mess. So was I. Go Chloe! Cue the victory music.

2. Remember how nothing makes me happier than seeing Mackenzie dressed up like an animal? So obviously I was thrilled when Abby announced that this week, little Mac would be a killer bee. Wait, is that the same solo music that Vivi once used? Uh oh, I sense impending drama… Luckily, Mackenzie was so darn cute that nobody stayed angry for long. Basically, she put Vivi’s sad shimmying to shame. A well-deserved first place. “She’s not Maddie. She’s Mackenzie, and she’s an amazing little dancer,” said mom Melissa. Truth.

1. A moment of silence at a dance competition is a very rare thing, but Abby manages to inspire one with this week’s group routine. “My Last Text,” about a group of kids who die because they’re on their phones in the car (creepy!) was well danced, mature and super poignant. The audience was in tears and even Cathy called it “absolutely brilliant.” Not surprisingly, this number wrapped up the Abby Lee Dance Company’s clean sweep. All in all, an excellent way to end the season.

 

We know you’ve got a lot of reality dance shows to watch this year—“So You Think You Can Dance,” “Dancing with the Stars” and “All The Right Moves,” to name just a few. But get ready for one more!

That’s right, “SYTYCD” producer and judge, Nigel Lythgoe, is at it again. His new show, “A Chance to Dance” premieres August 17 on Ovation. It follows Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, former Royal Ballet dancers and founders of London-based BalletBoyz dance company, on their quest to form a new troupe in the U.S. After a nationwide search, they select a dozen dancers who travel to Jacob’s Pillow to rehearse for a final gala performance. DS attended the taping of that final episode back in May, and afterwards, sat down with Nigel to talk about the show.

Dance Spirit: You filmed the entire show in only 6 weeks. What was that like?

Nigel Lythgoe: Getting it all together in that time was remarkable. They took two weeks to audition around the country, and it took two more weeks to do background checks on the chosen dancers. Then they went up to Jacob’s Pillow and choreographed the final number with the help of Allison Holker. Two weeks later, they performed at the gala in New York. I thought they were terrific. I was shocked at how good they were in such a short time. They looked like they’d been a company for a while.

DS: What makes this show different than other dance reality shows we’ve seen?

NL: The boys are sort of fish out of water. They’re not used to American dancers, and they didn’t know what to expect. And, unlike “SYTYCD”, they really only wanted contemporary dancers. But at the end of the day, it isn’t very different. It’s a competition, and it’s one big audition from beginning to end.

DS: Will we see you on the show?

NL: My contract with FOX excludes me from judging on any dance competition shows other than “SYTYCD.” But at the end, the 12 dancers in the company were supposed to go on tour with “SYTYCD.” Then we found out that this year we can only take 8, so just after the final performance when everyone was excited about the experience, the company was told that not all of them could go out on the road. I was there for that, to explain that to them. It was very tough, and there were a lot of tears.

DS: What will happen to the company after the “SYTYCD” tour?

NL: It’s Michael and William’s company. We were there to film the experience of creating it, but now it’s up to them what they do with it.

Tune in August 17 on Ovation for the first episode!

Get ready for Cat Deeley’s fierce fashion, Lil' C’s fictional vocabulary, Mary Murphy’s high-pitched holler and, of course, some insanely talented dancers! That’s right, "So You Think You Can Dance" is back for a new season tonight. And Season 9—with a brand new one-night-only format—will certainly be an exciting one. DS chatted with our favorite judge and yours, Nigel Lythgoe, about what we can expect.

Dance Spirit: How do you feel about this season being aired one night per week instead of two?

Nigel Lythgoe: Putting the results in the same show as the performances means we’ve got to be very strong in our thoughts. We’ll have to take into account the routine from the week before, what America thinks and then the routine this week, which America can’t vote on. The judges will be more important than ever this year.

DS: And what about crowning two winners?

NL: It’s a major change, but it’s something we should have done years ago to be honest with you.

DS: What’s your favorite part of the season each year—the auditions, the top 20, the tour?

NL: Well if you ask me towards the end of the series, I would say the end of the series, because we just get so tired at that point. But at the beginning, I love the audition process. I’m inspired by it to be frank with you. Not all the kids that I think are fantastic get through, but seeing so many dancers put their hearts on their sleeves and have the guts to audition makes me very proud.

DS: What’s your least favorite part?

NL: You’re not going to believe me, but rejecting people.  This is a professional competition, so we’re looking for the very best. Sometimes when we tell people they’re not good enough, you can see that their hearts are broken. Even with the bad ones, I want to say, “Keep dancing!”

DS: How was the turnout at auditions this year?

NL: Very strong. The turnout was equal to other seasons, but the standard of dance goes up each year. People get used to what we’re looking for, so they train themselves. The contemporary kids are doing a lot more hip hop. And, by the looks of it, the hip hop kids are even taking a few ballroom lessons.

DS: There have been rumors that "SYTYCD" is on its way out, but what do you see for the future of the show? Will this new format stick around for a while?

NL: Well I’m certainly hoping so. I would like to think that FOX will continue to think of us as part of its schedule, but that depends on viewers. At the end of the day, it’s a business. If we lose viewers, they’re going to drop the program. It isn’t up to me or to the format, it’s all about whether people watch. Just as a dancer accepts rejection if they’re not what a choreographer is looking for, this is something that I accept as a part of this business.

If it were up to us, "SYTYCD" would be here to stay. We can’t wait to find out who will be crowned America’s favorite dancers, and put them on the cover of our October issue! For the first episode of the season, tune in tonight at 8/7c on FOX.

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