Dance Alumni Spotlight: Gustavo Vargas ‘97

Gustavo (2)If someone had told Gustavo Vargas when he entered CSU as a psychology major that his dance career would take him around the world, working with some of the most popular artists and shows in the world today, he may have laughed in disbelief.

“I never thought I would’ve been interested in dance. As a kid, I was way more into sports – football, swimming, cross country, you name it,” Gustavo said. “But when I got to college, I realized I needed something different than just hitting the books.”

Originally from Mexico City and raised in Houston, Texas, Gustavo entered CSU on an academic scholarship for psychology. Seeing what a good dancer he was after some nights having fun in Old Town Fort Collins, a few of his friends encouraged him to take some dance classes.

Gustavo remembers his first dance classes very vividly, and how they didn’t end up being what he expected.

“I signed up for Modern dance because I thought it was ‘modern music of today’ – Top 40 jams,” he said. “But when I walked into Ammons Hall and heard Prince playing and saw what they were doing in the studio, it was something that I wasn’t expecting!”

As Gustavo progressed, liking the classes more and more, one of his teachers finally recommended something he never thought he would do, even after starting dance classes… taking ballet.

“’Oh no’ I thought when Randy Wray said I should take ballet,” said Gustavo. “I wasn’t going to do it, until she said ‘unless you think you can’t handle it.’ So I guess I did it on a dare, really – I never back down from a challenge.”

During spring break of his junior year in 1996, Gustavo’s friend Colleen Naus talked him into a trip to Los Angeles.

“She was the first one to really tell me that I could do this – be here in L.A.,” he said.

It wasn’t long after that trip, when Gustavo graduated in fall 1997 with a Dance & Musical Theatre degree, that he moved to Los Angeles.

“My mom thought I was crazy when I told her what I wanted to do after graduation, but I told her that I just had to try or I’d always wondering what could have been,” said Gustavo.

Despite Gustavo’s current success, it wasn’t always easy for him.

“I moved to L.A. with $300,” he remembered. “I was working double shifts at my waiting job and crashing on a friends couch for a while.”

A few months later, a friend called him about going with her to an audition for a music video. He was busy, he was exhausted, but he decided to go and crash the audition.

“I figured, I had nothing to lose,” said Gustavo. “And I ended up getting booked for the video by a new artist by the name of Brittany Spears for her new song ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’.”

Now his career has lead him to dance, choreograph, and tour with artist such as Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, MADONNA, Will Smith, Usher, Pink, Mya, Alicia Keys, Paulina Rubio, Roselyn Sanchez, Enrique Iglesias, N'Sync, Jessica Simpson, and Eva Longoria to name a few.

He has also choreographed and danced on Television shows such as American Idol-Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony Finale Show, Dancing With The Stars, So You Think You Can Dance-Canada, So You Think You Can Dance-USA, Bruno and Carrie Ann’s Dance Wars, Intro for America’s Best Dance Crew, True Blood, Eve, 7th Heaven, Drew Carey, Boston Public, Nikki Cox, American Music Awards, The Grammys, The Latin Grammy’s, Guys Choice Awards, American Idol, and Janet Jackson MTV-Icon.

See Gustavo's choreography

Gustavo has worked on movies such as The Bachelor, Be Cool, Dirty Dancing II-Havana Nights, Spanglish, Master of Disguise, Along Came Polly, Jackass II, Rent, and Indiana Jones.  He has also made his acting debut on the TV show "Strong Medicine."

“It’s been a great road! I’ve been fortunate and I’m so thankful,” said Gustavo. “I’ve gotten to see the world – Europe, Russia, parts of Asia, Australia – and I’ve partied with people I never imagined I’d meet.

Gustavo returned to campus in April 2014 to give a master class to CSU dance students and share his journey with them. His first time in the new University Center for the Arts, he was so excited for students today (and maybe a little jealous).

“They’re so lucky! It’s almost like ‘FAME,’ having all the arts in one place and not separated like they were before,” he said. “What a benefit to having your friends and fellow artists all in together where they can all be involved in what’s going on.”

Watch Gustavo's teaching technique

When asked what advice he would give to dance students today, Gustavo reflected:

“Everyone is so comfortable in their zone, but you need to get out of it to experience what usually ends up being the best opportunities,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to look foolish or even fail, because you’re only going to grow from that – open your mind and your heart to really learn.”

All About Gustavo:

Favorite Career Moment: Touring with Jennifer Lopez on and off for 10 years has been a great experience – and now we’re good friends.

Best CSU Memory: Seeing everyone standing and clapping at the end of my senior dance concert. I was the only CSU dance senior to have my concert on the main stage at the Lincoln Center, which was also the first time my family saw me dance.

Favorite Spot on Campus: In front of Lory Student Center on the West Lawn, because you can see the mountains there. Coming from the city – that was something I really loved.

What Are You Currently Working On: Teaching at international dance conventions and teaching master classes around the country, along with choreographing and helping develop some exciting new up-and-coming artists.

Let us know what you're up to! To submit your Class Notes, contact Carrie Care at

Gustavo Vargas Promotional Photo