WORLD OF DANCE Recap: A Disappointing Message At Divisional Finals

World of Dance - Season 1

WORLD OF DANCE’s Divisional Finals crowned the champions in each of the competition’s three Divisions. These six performances and their resulting winners should have been reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, with some severely over-produced numbers that probably made Derek Hough feel like he was back on his previous reality competition home of DANCING WITH THE STARS, the Divisional Finals made for a slightly disappointing showing. And Les Twins’ win in the Upper Division might have been remarkable for some viewers. But for anyone who’s either danced with an injury or found a space for themselves in the sport despite an actual disability, the message was far too problematic and distracted from the twins’ otherwise enjoyable performance.

The winners.

The first Divisional title awarded on WORLD OF DANCE came in the Team Division. Kinjaz delivered yet another precise, fluid number; but something about their performance felt cold. That left the door wide open for Swing Latino to take the Team title, which the group did with their characteristically flashy style.

In the Upper Division, Les Twins defeated Keone and Mari. More on that later.

That left the Junior Division competition between Diana Pombo and Eva Igo to close out the WORLD OF DANCE Divisional Finals. After an entire introductory piece about Diana proving that she could have fun like any other eleven-year-old girl while dancing instead of always being so serious, it was unclear whether pointing out Diana’s youth would mean she’d pull off an upset or suffer a loss. In the end, Eva Igo, three years Diana’s senior, simply out-danced her…but not by as much as one might expect after all of that build-up. While young, both of these ladies are no stranger to competitions, after all.

If there was a difficult choice to be made in these WORLD OF DANCE Divisional Finals, the Junior Division title was probably it. Take away the excess amount of staging and production, and you’d still find yourself with two incredible solos. (Side note: I’m not sure about this “a bit more dancing” comment from Ne-Yo. If it wasn’t dancing, what was Diana doing all along? Right. Dancing.)

If anything, Diana’s decision to do something a little bit different might have hurt her chances; but not being able to quickly apply the technical note given by Misty Copeland — to use her feet better — in the previous round of the competition probably didn’t help either. Of course, there’s always the fact that Eva Igo was nearly unbeatable from day one, in both technique and performance quality — regardless of what Jennifer Lopez may suddenly have to say about “something missing” in that first audition.

The disappointment: “But now, with three legs, it’s going to be just harder.”

Keone and Mari, like basically every other group of dancers (or soloist) in Divisional Finals, performed very well; but their piece could have stood to have been more about the dancing and less about…everything else. It’s not like they’ve ever needed flashy makeup or lighting to tell an entertaining story with their movement before, after all. Regardless, they earned a seemingly massive 95-point score when they competed for that Upper Division title, which made the odds anything but in Les Twins’ favor — especially since Laurent injured himself just days before the finals.

Cue melodramatic pause.

It was as if an ankle injury was the end of the world. At one point, Laurent even said, “the competition is dead. I cannot do anything anymore,” which had yours truly rolling her eyes so hard they almost fell out of her head. Dancers at home: Raise your hands if you’ve twisted, rolled, or otherwise banged up an ankle and still managed to finish a jumping combination in ballet class. Or maybe your knee’s in so much pain you’ve given up on feeling anything else but — yet you’re still out there on stage, performing all day at a national competition.

Insert any other number of “injured, yet still pushing through” stories here.

With Laurent’s misstep (or miss-twist, as the recap indicated), the WORLD OF DANCE narrative became even worse than your typical reality series’ “oh no, an injury! End of the world!” type of story. Laurent was on crutches two days before Les Twins were set to dance in the Divisional Finals. Honestly, if the next scene had been of the twins doing their own hip hop version of SAVED BY THE BELL’s “The Sprain,” we might have been able to call this whole thing a win. That is not, however, what the choreographic choice turned out to be.

Ne-Yo warned that, in order to win, Les Twins would have to really focus on their emotional connection —  as if that’s something that hasn’t always helped make them special — and then it was time to see how Laurent and Larry were going to overcome this (not remotely career-ending) injury. Their answer to dancing with (not-at-all) only three legs? Laurent performed in a wheelchair, while Larry executed much more in the duo’s traditional style.

Was the dancing great? Absolutely. Was milking the injury and then turning it into some sort of miracle moment remotely appropriate? Nope. WORLD OF DANCE, thy disease is ableism.

The judges’ panel, supposedly full of dance experts, was all about praising Les Twins for taking “something that was a negative and [turning] it into a positive,” as J-Lo put it. Ne-Yo took the tone deaf message one step further: “You are just as dynamic with one foot missing…The chair, in my opinion, took nothing away from you because once you started moving — once the beat kicked in — you might as well have been standing up. It was that dynamic.”

It was if nobody had ever heard of dancing without the use of both legs before — as if the very thought was the biggest shock in dance history.

Laurent didn’t even belong in a wheelchair. He and Larry were not actually dancing “with three legs.” But the brothers were treated as if they were the biggest heroes of all time, simply because Laurent used his already known talent for dancing through his entire being when he happened to be seated.

Forget about the fact that even DANCING WITH THE STARS has proven that “missing” limbs don’t have to take away from individuals’ dancing abilities. Both Noah Galloway and Amy Purdy did extremely well on that particular series. As a reminder, Galloway lost both his left arm and left leg during his second tour of duty in Iraq; and Purdy is “missing” both of her legs, thanks to a bout with bacterial meningitis. Both mastered a variety of dance styles as amateurs, with partners they’d only known for a relatively short while, and without sitting down to do it.

But Laurent, who is already convinced his leg “is going to come back” for the WORLD OF DANCE World Finals, is the true hero for sitting in a wheelchair after a common injury — the pain of which many other dancers would have danced through anyway when the stakes were so high — and competing in his usual style of dance, with the twin brother he’s known his whole life.

Les Twins’ performance was excellent, as is expected of them at this point. However, everything surrounding its presentation to the WORLD OF DANCE audience was a misstep and a missed opportunity. Rather than letting the audience know about how tough dancing is — how many people push their bodies beyond sprains and strains, soft tissue tears and even more serious injuries on a daily basis — or maybe even point them toward companies that have been proving that dancing is beautiful from all body types all along, WORLD OF DANCE simply upheld certain ableist attitudes that we should be past by now.

It’s a shame that the series, which initially presented itself as a dance lover’s competition, is suddenly mucking up the point so badly — especially in light of recent stories regarding edited judges’ comments. So much for reality.

Of course, WORLD OF DANCE has never been about judges or narratives — not for most viewers, at least. So, we’ll support the dancers by watching the WORLD OF DANCE World Final next Tuesday, August 8, at 10/9c on NBC.


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  • Justin Ahn

    The Kinjaz choice was baffling. We already had seen it fail for Super Cr3w. Why would they decide to remove so much of their IT factor….perhaps to try and cater too much to the “emotional” side that this show has seemingly made their most important category?

    It is quite unfortunate that this overbearing factor has really squashed the dynamics of groups and left us with a lot of bland performances that are not indicative of their true ability.

  • Shana Lieberman

    I was a little bit confused about the group choice myself. In some ways, seeing the Young Lions advance against Jabbawockeez was a pleasant surprise — I liked seeing the way they fought to improve versus a group that already has massive amounts of success. Swing Latino, though, was flashy and exciting in auditions but then seemed to stagnate in the following rounds. Kinjaz, on the other hand…They had something new and exciting every week, so it definitely made no sense to send them home.

    I truly hope that, come finals, this series goes back to the promise that it had in the premiere. I really wanted it to succeed and, even with some of the mistakes, still do.

  • Joe Popp

    I disagree with your ableism argument. The problem here is the sad predictable immaturity of the judges to play the overcome obstacle, fighting through the “injury” drama to over score Les Twins. Keone and Mari were better performers on levels Les Twins have never experienced. This decision will make some and maybe me stop watching the show. This scoring was not based on objectivity of the categories they were to be “judged.” The lesson should be, “stuff happens” and the injury Les Twins suffered made their performance incapable of matching the performance of Keone and Mari. They weren’t even close.
    There is always personal bias with judges. I like Jennifer Lopez. But she has favored performers of color from the beginning; with her obvious bias towards Latin performers.
    Keone and Mari were the best all round talent in this competition. There storytelling was unmatched backed by incredible talent.

  • Shana Lieberman

    I think both issues might have been at play. The direct line from Ne-Yo about the chair taking nothing away was definitely of the “wow, can you BELIEVE it’s possible to still dance in a wheelchair” variety, at least as I heard it, and that definitely falls into one of the characteristics of ableism.

    Your point, though, absolutely played into the results, as well. There’s no way the personal bias wasn’t a part of this, and I think that’s the saddest part ever. On a series that was supposed to be about proving dance is just as much of a sport as anything else and showing the absolute best of the best to prove it, something has gone wrong along the way. I don’t know if it was done to make for “better stories” or a better way to appeal to the general audience, but the apparent move to ignore the judging criteria — which was one of the parts of the series that I looked forward to the most when I heard about it — is a shame.

    For comparison’s sake, it’s well-known that one Nigel Lythgoe of SYTYCD loves tappers. I often (mostly jokingly) write lines about “Tap Fanboy Nigel” and the like…But I do not believe, for one second, that he’s ever put that bias forth to the detriment of the series. If he had, we certainly would’ve seen a lot more tap and a lot less contemporary over the years. No tappers made the top 20 until season 6, and exactly zero of those three dancers made the top 10. Meanwhile, that series has always been very transparent about choosing dancers based on a combination of raw ability and a certain “star power” or audience appeal…but has, overall, been less about judges’ favorites. Wild.

  • Trisha Lord

    This opinionated piece disgusted me. I did not know Les Twins until NBC’s World of Dance. I enjoyed Les Twins enough to research their videos and previous work. None of the other dancers excited me enough to look at more than couple of their previous work videos. Les Twins has an impressive body of work and a documented video history of working through many injuries as dancers. Your judgment of an injury without having any true knowledge is shameful. The symbolism of this dance piece, the thought, depth, and complexity of the message is what had the routine win. If they would not have had the injury, and still produced the same number, the viewers who enjoyed this duo and style would have loved the performance. They deserved to win on this alone. K&M are beautiful modern dancers, but I felt the scoring was appropriate. I enjoyed all the dancers and yes I have danced, sweated/put in my time, and hurt while dancing. I still say only 1 duo stuck out and that was Les Twins. The beauty about having a dance competition is that you get to experience everything and open it to a broader audience. It does not mean that if your favorite group, or style of dance doesn’t win, you can put in a public forum caddy and callous comments. Your words will influence others, they hurt and are very close to bullying, these dancers do not deserve your negativity!!!

  • Shana Lieberman

    I’m sorry you feel that way. However, let the record show that it was NOT the injury that I judged but the way it was handled by the series and the associated choreography. That’s not bullying. That’s judging a piece of work.

    You’re more than welcome to respectfully disagree. And no, the “same number” would not have been likable without the injury — the associated judges’ commentary, were it to stay the same under such circumstances, would be even worse. In my opinion, which I’m entitled to as much as you are yours.