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 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.