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So You Think You Can Dance winner interview

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Michael Becker/Fox

SPOILERS for the season 12 finale of So You Think You Can Dance are ahead. Do not read any further unless you want to know who took home the title of America’s Favorite Dancer on Monday’s show.

The 12th season of So You Think You Can Dance has come to a close, and America’s new favorite dancer has been crowned: Gaby Diaz, from Miami, Florida, is the series’ first tapper to take home the top prize.

“I really wanted to represent team tap well this season,” Diaz told EW after the finale show, during which she and the rest of the top four performed some of their favorite dances of the season. “That was a big thing for me, was trying to bring it home for the tappers, and I’m happy I got to do that for all the tap dancers that have been on the show and have made it so close and done such an incredible job, and really paved the way for me to get here.”

Diaz was part of Team Stage in this season’s new Stage vs. Street format, which put classically trained stage dancers in competition with street style dancers. “I thought it brought a lot of flavor to the show,” Diaz says of the new approach. “I think I was a little nervous about it at first, but the street dancers did so incredible, and it was so wonderful to be around their energy and learn from them.”

Past competitors tWitch and Travis Wall mentored Team Street and Team Stage, respectively. “I don’t know how I would have done the show without Travis,” Diaz says. 

Dancers from both teams had to expand their horizons and perform in styles outside their comfort zones, and Diaz cites a Bollywood routine as her favorite that she did in an unfamiliar style, but a contemporary duet, which she chose as her dance to bring back last night, as her No. 1 highlight from the whole season — as well as “this moment today,” she says of her victory, laughing. “This was pretty cool.”

The show has been on for 12 seasons now, and celebrated its 10th anniversary this summer. Many current competitors — Diaz included — watched So You Think You Can Dance and were inspired by it as children. “I always joke around with Travis and tell him, ‘I was 10 when you were on the show!’” Diaz says. “I bother him about it all the time.”

More seriously, however, Diaz expressed her gratitude for the series’ existence. “It’s just really keeping dance on the forefront, and it’s great to have a show that’s about the dancers,” she says. “We’re not dancing backup for an artist. The show is about us, and for us, and letting us share our craft with America. It’s just really beautiful.”

Now she’s in a position to be an inspiration to young dancers, and shared the advice she would give the little kids who dream of appearing on SYTYCD in another decade. “If you love dance, stick to it,” she says simply. “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, because you will hear from everyone: you’re not right, blah blah blah, whatever… Keep going. Stick to it if you love it, because you can achieve so much as long as you put your heart into it.”

Diaz and her fellow dancers in the top four — her Stage teammate Hailee Payne and Team Street dancers Virgil Gadson and runner-up Jana “Jaja” Vankova — all have an evident, deep bond between them. “They know how much I love them, and how proud I am of all four of us,” Diaz says. “I love getting to dance with all of them, I love them all, and I can’t wait to go on tour with them. We kept saying that we would genuinely have been proud of any one of us who would have won.”

As this season’s winner, Diaz will take home $250,000 and will be given the opportunity to perform with Jennifer Lopez in Vegas. “It means the world to me,” she says. “I’ve gained so much more than just winning the show. I’ve learned so much on this journey, and I’ve met the most incredible people, and I’m walking away with so much more than just this title.” 

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