WORLD OF DANCE Recap: Let’s Get Dueling

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With the qualifying rounds complete, the next phase of WORLD OF DANCE promised to be “the biggest, toughest, most intense round of the competition yet.” In the Duels round, pairs of contestants in each category competed against one another for the first time. After each pairing was judged, whichever dancer (or team) had the highest score advanced to the next round, while the lower-scoring competitors were sent home — regardless of how well they performed. With varying levels of competitive experience, differing styles, and even different numbers of dancers competing against one another, anything could happen. And even some of the early WORLD OF DANCE favorites were in danger of being cut.

Let’s get these dance battles started. First up, Fik-Shun versus Nick Daniels.

As would be a theme throughout WORLD OF DANCE’s first round of duels, this matchup was difficult to watch. Two very talented, yet extremely different, dancers had to compete against one another; and there was really no way for the outcome to be considered a win. While the judges at least had their scoring guidelines to help them, anyone watching from home was bound to have either a style bias or an opinion about whether or not it was fair to pit an already tv-famous dancer against an unknown.

But the show must go on — and the rules are the rules.

Before Fik-Shun and Nick danced, WORLD OF DANCE judge Ne-Yo reminded viewers that Fik-Shun’s audition was, at least for him, surprisingly emotional. But Nick also blew the judges away: “He doesn’t just match Fik-Shun in raw emotion — he might outshine him.”

Fik-Shun’s solo was exactly what fans have come to expect from the former SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE winner. The middle section was full of tricks, simultaneously highlighting the hip hop dancer’s musicality and ability to manipulate his own body. As someone who watched Fik-Shun’s journey on SYTYCD, though, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d seen it all before. While his qualifying piece was something new and special, this could kind of be filed under “Yep, that’s Fik-Shun!”

Nick Daniels, on the other hand, performed a solo that felt like a master class in marrying technical dancing with raw emotion. With the effort to put as many “power moves” into his piece as possible, Nick may have seemed almost frantic in some places. Then again, given some of the skills he was attempting (and executing very well), appearing anything other than frantic was probably never going to be an option. Adding a nice sense of contrast in movement quality, Nick’s fall toward the end of his piece seemed effortless and made him look like a beautiful rag doll. Moments like that one highlighted the sense of defying anatomy that the WORLD OF DANCE JUDGES would later compliment.

Judges’ comments and scores: Derek Hough thought Fik-Shun’s body control was “unprecedented,” but he warned that he didn’t want to have the feeling that he was watching freestyle all the time. When it came time to critique Nick Daniels, Ne-Yo and Jennifer Lopez were particularly impressed with his emotion.

After stressing over which scores to submit for Nick and worrying over how to choose between the two dancers, the judges claimed that the result was going to be really close. Evidently, “close” means a three-point difference. Fik-Shun advanced with a score of 90.7, besting Nick’s 87.7.

Given the melodrama leading up to the result, I was expecting the margin to be more like three tenths of a point. I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for an “upset” of sorts. No such luck.

Next up: Swing Latino vs. Miami All Stars.

After seeing Swing Latino’s audition as part of the final group of qualifiers, the outcome of this particular duel was pretty obvious before it even happened. Any chance that Miami All Stars may have had was taken away the second Swing Latino was allowed to watch their rehearsals and add one new trick to their own number for every trick the Miami All-Stars had in theirs.

Honestly, that type of behavior wasn’t necessary for the win and wasn’t exactly what I’d call good sportsmanship; but if it’s not strictly forbidden by WORLD OF DANCE, more power to Swing Latino for taking advantage. At least, I guess that’s the way we’ll have to look at it???

There was no way for Miami All Stars to overcome Swing Latino’s insanely fast, intense footwork and massive throws. They put forth a valiant effort — that throw to straddle was so high that it nearly resulted in the dancer hitting the ceiling — but it just wasn’t happening.

Judges’ comments and scores: Jennifer Lopez was actually dancing at the table when Swing Latino performed, so that about sums things up. She asked the team if they were going to keep throwing women through the air until they won, and Derek Hough called their tricks “death-defying.” The judges also praised Miami All Stars: Ne-Yo mentioned that he felt like he was watching a Broadway performance and J-Lo called it “a party from beginning to end.”

But Swing Latino’s 91.7 killed Miami All Stars’ 88.3. After both teams had left the competition area, the judges even said they had no idea what the latter team could have done to win. (Meanwhile, a three-point difference was sooo close in the first duel…But 3.4 felt like a landslide here. Ok.)

Junior Division: Eva Igo vs. Kyntay.

WORLD OF DANCE really tried to frame this battle as an upset of some sort, but it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. Sure, Kyntay toured with Janet Jackson, and they were popular on social media. But to act like Eva Igo didn’t come into this “duel of the tiny powerhouses,” as Derek Hough put it, with tons of competitive experience would be to prove oneself completely incapable of doing a Youtube search. One might be able to make the argument that having a soloist compete against two dancers made for a somewhat lopsided competition, but even that wouldn’t stick.

Kyntay were great, but watching their routine felt like seeing a hip hop number at a dance recital. Maybe I’ve just seen some really good recitals (I have), but that’s the feeling their performance evoked. Unfortunately, that’s just not what you want to see when you’re talking about such a high-stakes competition.

When it was her turn to dance, though, Eva was simply remarkable. While her lovely technique was obvious proof that, yes, she’d rehearsed, her solo didn’t feel overly rehearsed. Eva attacked the stage with a level of ferocity and a maturity in performance that just shouldn’t be possible for someone her age. And her heart was on full display through every stretch of her toes, every arm movement, and every sassy little smirk she threw the judges’ way. That’s what you want on WORLD OF DANCE, not something that’s safe and belongs on your latest recital dvd.

(If I had to criticize anything, it would have to be to say that Eva could stand to relax her shoulders in a few places. They kind of lived too close to her ears for the beginning of the solo. Even if that was intentional to an extent, it still proved to be a bit much. But that’s your resident perfectionist being nitpicky for ya…)

Judges’ comments and scores: Jennifer Lopez said Kyntay’s routine was “adorable,” and Derek Hough called them “masters at the face.” But when it came time to talk about Eva’s performance, the praise was much less like it was being given to a child and much more like it was being given to a professional. Ne-Yo said Eva could single-handedly beat twelve dancers, and Derek said she was inhuman. J-Lo reminded everyone of the importance of creating an emotional performance: “It just goes to show you: It’s about making people feel something, and you absolutely do that when you dance.”

In the biggest point difference of the night, Eva’s score of 89 defeated Kyntay’s 82.7. Once Eva had gone backstage, Derek admitted that she was probably his favorite dancer so far. (Same, Derek. Especially since she’s so cute and humble when she’s not ripping everyone to shreds with her dancing.)

The final duel pitted Quick Style against their former teachers, Keone and Mari.

Keone and Mari went first. Much like in their original audition, their piece told a complete story from beginning to end. This time around, the couple managed to do really excellent work while “not paying attention” because they were texting while dancing. (Don’t try this at home. Texting while dancing is dangerous, folks!)

Once they ditched the props, the moves got even better. I’ve seen some choreography that I’ve considered to be too theatrical to really be called dance before, making it more like some weird type of performance art. But Keone and Mari have this uncanny ability to stay firmly on the dance side of that line, all while putting on what could easily be considered a play without words.

Quick Style was up next. Even though they hated having to battle it out against their teachers and friends, they vowed to “go full force” because they knew they would let Keone and Mari down if they didn’t. I’d hate to speak for someone else, but I highly doubt Quick Style are capable of disappointing their teachers. These dancers should not have been able to be so clean and together while moving so, well, quickly. But the performance wasn’t just about speed of movement, either. There was this really great level of personality present in everything they did. (Putting the “Style” in Quick Style, am I right?)

And, uh, using choreography that was created at Keone and Mari’s house took guts.

Judges’ comments and scores: Jennifer Lopez loved the way that Keone and Mari’s piece was “such a narrative on our world today,” and Ne-Yo said they were “just as dynamic as any big group.” Derek Hough talked about the couple’s talent for turning even the simplest of movements into something big.

Any easy win? Not exactly.

Proving they had yet another difficult choice to make, the judges were just as full of praise for Quick Style. Derek called them “the dopest boy band [he’d] ever seen,” and Ne-Yo said their performance was “perfection from start to finish.” J-Lo said this last choice might be the toughest of them all.

But a choice had to be made. With a score of 91.3, Keone and Mari beat Quick Style’s 89.3. Ne-Yo said Quick Style would have won against just about anybody else — tonight’s numbers say otherwise — and the group was encouraged to try again next season.

And that’s all she wrote for the first chunk of duels. Don’t forget to catch the next round of duels as WORLD OF DANCE continues next Tuesday, June 27, at 10/9c on NBC.

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