Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

Why—and How—Gaby Diaz Went from "SYTYCD" to Hubbard Street Dance

"So You Think You Can Dance" alum Gaby Diaz has been a familiar face in the commercial dance world ever since she won Season 12 of the hit reality show. Not only did she return to "SYT" as an All Star, but she also performed alongside dance legend J. Lo and toured with Shaping Sound. Now, Diaz is adding a new and exciting plot twist to her career: She's transitioning into concert dance.

We caught up with the dance darling to get details on her new gig with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and to find out why she decided to make the leap.

What inspired your transition from commercial to concert dance?

I dove into the commercial world so quickly and got so wrapped up in saying yes to any and everything that I found myself neglecting my training. Once I stopped taking class every day, I was bored with myself as a dancer. It sounds harsh, but I really felt like I didn't have anything special or unique to offer, and I knew I was capable of more. It freaked me out to think I had reached the peak of my career at 20 years old, so I wanted to do something about it. I knew transitioning to concert dance would require me to train every single day, and I got excited just thinking about working like that again.

Did performing with Shaping Sound ease the transition to Hubbard Street Dance?

Shaping Sound sparked my interest in concert dance even more. The company bridges the gap between the commercial and concert worlds. Being able to rehearse something for an extended period of time and perform on a proscenium stage validated that I wanted to continue working like this. More than performing, I love being able to be part of a creative process.

How did you get involved with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago?

I first heard of Hubbard Street when I was in high school. I'd never seen the company live, but I followed them online and would look up clips of their performances on YouTube. I've always admired how technically sound and versatile their dancers are.

After one of the legs of Shaping Sound's tour, I came to Chicago for a few days before returning to LA. I went on Hubbard Street's website to see if there were any classes I might be able to take, and I came across information about their Professional Training Program, which they launched in the fall of 2017. I auditioned for the program, was accepted, and moved to Chicago the day after "SYTYCD's" Season 14 finale. Immediately, I was in class every day from 9am to 5pm. The growth I've noticed in myself after just a year in this program proves that this is where I need to be. I've had some breakthrough moments and am learning so much about myself as an artist. I've been asked to apprentice with the main company this fall, and I feel that's the perfect next step in my career.

Diaz (second from left) performing with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Ohad Naharin's "Decadance/Chicago" (photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Diaz)

You recently had your first performance with the company, dancing Ohad Naharin's Decadance/Chicago. What was that like?

Performing in Ohad's work was unreal. To have a crowd scream and clap in a concert dance show because they were so excited by it—you know you're part of something special. I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to perform that repertoire.

What have you enjoyed most about dancing with Hubbard Street?

I love being in an environment where everyone is so willing to explore. I feel safe to try new things and know I'm supported by not only the dancers around me, but by the faculty as well.

Are you leaving commercial dance for good, or are you still open to commercial jobs in the future?

I never want to say I'm leaving anything for good! But right now, I feel very fulfilled by the work I'm doing and want to continue to nurture it. I'm happier than ever!

How has the "SYTYCD" fam responded to your career shift?

"SYTYCD" will always be home. I still maintain close relationships with the other dancers, choreographers, producers, and even the hair and makeup team. Everyone has been very supportive and proud that I'm doing something that excites me and makes me really happy.

How have the skills you learned on "SYTYCD" helped you with this career shift?

On "SYT" I worked with many different choreographers in a variety of styles, and it taught me a lot about communication in the workspace. I've learned it's important to remain respectful of the people in charge without feeling you've lost your voice as an artist.

Diaz (4th from the right in the third row) performing in Hubbard Street Dance's "Decadance Chicago" performance (photo by Ian Robinson, courtesy Diaz)

Have there been any habits you've had to un-learn?

I'm working on learning how to take my time. Doing commercial gigs, I got very comfortable working at an extremely fast pace. It's frustrating going back to ballet classes and not being able to do a double pirouette on the left for two months. But I'm reminding myself that I'm in no rush. It's worth it for me to put in the time and effort.

What are your plans for the future?

Right now, the goal is to do work that I believe in and that fulfills me. I don't ever want to categorize myself as one type of dancer. Commercial dance, concert dance, and Broadway dance are all very different, and none is more valid than the other. I appreciate all the shapes and forms a professional dancer's career can take, and I'd love a taste of it all! I want to constantly find myself in an environment where I'm learning new things and am always growing.

What advice do you have for young dancers?

I hope to inspire dancers to see beyond what "success" looks like according to social media. That could be one person's way of life, but it doesn't have to be the only way. Choosing to do something different doesn't mean you've failed. As long as you're working hard to be excellent, you don't need anyone else's validation. Find what fulfills you!

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