It could have ended in Dallas last June, when 18-year-old Miami tap dancer Gaby Diaz auditioned for season 12 of the FOX reality TV competition So You Think You Can Dance. Diaz didn’t make the cut that time around, after performing a routine the judges described as way too busy. But they offered good notes on how to punctuate her performance, and Diaz ran with them.
The following week, she auditioned again in Detroit, bringing a routine with a beautiful blend of musicality, drama, and emotional depth – which earned her a spot in the Las Vegas callbacks later that month. When judges chose the top 20 dancers on July 6, Diaz was among them. The only tap dancer chosen for season 12 – she became part of the stage team for the first season of the show to divide dancers into stage and street teams.
On September 12, her persistence paid off big time. Diaz was chosen champion for the 12th season of So You Think You Can Dance. Now 19, she’s joined other top performers for the So You Think You Can Dance Season 12 Tour, which launched in Texas in October. The U.S. leg of the tour includes more than 50 performances, to be followed by more than a dozen shows in Canada before the tour wraps up in late January of 2016.
The tour comes to Comerica Theatre in Phoenix on Saturday, December 12. For a city without a thriving tap scene, it’s a rare opportunity to see an accomplished tap dancer take to the stage. “Tap is kind of a dying art," she says. But Diaz will be performing several additional styles as well, as she did throughout season 12. Diaz says folks who hit the Phoenix performance will see not only “some of the best routines from the show,” but also new group routines and solo performance.
“There’s not a lot of tap anywhere,” Diaz says. “It’s a difficult style to pick up.” Most studio kids start out in ballet, she says, and it can be easy to get discouraged with tap if a dancer isn't musical.
But Diaz, whose parents put her in dance classes when she was just three years old, didn’t have that problem. “My dad played music,” she says. “I have a pretty musical ear.”
Diaz danced competitively as a child and also took ballet classes while growing up, but says she didn’t start serious training in classical dance until high school. Diaz attended a performing arts high school, and recalls taking ballet and modern dance classes “every day for four years.” Today, she credits those classes with helping her develop her strength.
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“I liked learning all different styles,” Diaz says. She’s concerned that many dancers aren’t exposing themselves to styles of dance beyond their own specialty, and says that being cross-trained has definitely made her a better dancer.
Other dancers participating in the current So You Think You Can Dance tour include Edson Juarez, Jim Nowakowski, Hailee Payne, and Derek Piquette from Team Stage — as well as Team Street dancers Megan "Megz" Alfonso, Eddie "Neptune" Eskridge, Virgil Gadson, Jessica "JJ" Rabone, and Jana "Jaya" Vankova. The four alternates on this year's tour are Yorelis Apolinario from Team Street and Moises Para, Marissa Milele, and Alexia Meyer from Team Stage.
For skeptics who worry that shows like So You Think You Can Dance are dumbing down dance audiences, she offers this perspective: “So You Think You Can Dance put dance in the forefront.” It’s about time, she says, that dancers aren’t being relegated to dancing before or behind some other act. “Dancers should be the stars of the show.”
The So You Think You Can Dance Season 12 Tour performs Saturday, December 12, at 8 p.m. at Comerica Theatre, located at 400 West Washington Street in Phoenix. Tickets are $38 to $68 and available through 602-514-2919 or comericatheatre.com.