The hottest reality show of the summer is back for a second round of some of the most mind-blowing dance routines ever put to the stage. Jennifer Lopez' "World of Dance" was a breakout hit for NBC last year, and she's looking to go even bigger with Season 2.
By the end of the first night, they'd already done it with an incredible, death-defying Latin number that earned the highest judges' score ever handed out during the course of the show, while another young dancer brought the entire judging panel to tears. And this is just the first round!
This season, producers are mixing up the competition slightly by modifying the competition categories. We'll still be dealing with the Junior (17 & Under, 1-4 Dancers) and Upper (18 & Older, 1-4 Dancers) divisions; last season all the Juniors competed together in one category.
It all kicks off with the Qualifiers, a free-for-all round, with no head-to-head competitions. But acts need to score 80 points out of a possible 100 to advance to the next round. Each act is judged 0-20 points in each of five categories for a possible total of 100 points.
A quick reminder about me: I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer, all for this moment: armchair judging a dance competition. From a young boy learning a shuffle-ball-change to performing with the St. Louis Ballet Company, I experienced the ups and downs of one of the most difficult physically demanding sports on the planet.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Ne-Yo, Jennifer Lopez, and Derek Hough. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe. In each category, I'll be ranking them from worst to first, revealing my top two acts at the end.
These guys won a competition to be declared the best hip-hop dancers in India. They've incorporated some elements of Bollywood into their style to create a unique signature fusion. And what a great way to start off the show. There was some outstanding visual play throughout that routine, and a joyous playfulness that was infectious. What really struck me, though, was how crisp and tight they were together. It was hip and modern in a way that American audiences could embrace while staying true to their cultural influences in a way that opens hearts and minds.
What an unexpected treasure this adorable duo turned out to be. They made an incredibly brave decision to introduce themselves to the judges in a dance choreographed mostly with blindfolds on, but then they spotlighted their spatial awareness. The little touches they did to spot where the other one was, and the way they worked beautifully together even with their eyes closed was truly magical to watch. Strong technique, wonderful precision in movement and a connection that elicited a genuine emotoinal response when Sean uncovered Kaycee's eyes and ultimately set her free.
If you're going to put white sleeves on the arms of your entire crew, we're going to be paying attention. This crew had some energy, but there were issues with synchronicity from the beginning. That choreography demanded the kind of tightness groups like the JabbaWockeez brought to life, but this crew was dancing more like umpteen different dancers who maybe all learned the same routine, but this was their first time trying to being it to life. The choreo was fantastic, by the way, with all of that "stank" the judges were talking about. It just reeked of attitude in all the right ways. It just wasn't executed as sharp as it needed to be. These guys could become phenomenal with a little more time and polish.
Adopted into a white family, Jaxon processed some of the turmoil that has brought into his sense of self (with bullying especially) through a contemporary piece. This was a powerful piece in more ways than one, as Jaxon displayed incredible strength and control over his body. He also has impeccable physical awareness as he pushed some of this flips and turns further than I've seen before in contemporary. At 16, it was a powerhouse audition, and that doesn't even tough on the emotional power of the story he was telling. On top of that, he was adorable hugging himself and hiding behind his own arms in his shyness and insecurity. If this kid ever learns how truly great he is... I'm not crying, Jennifer Lopez is. Okay, so am I.
You know who hit the hardest in the premiere? This all-female group of hip-hop dancers. There was no sultriness in their routine and they didn't need it. What we got instead was some of the fastest arm movements I've ever seen and downright aggressive classic-style street dancing. The ladies struggled a bit coming into and out of a couple of lifts; we shouldn't see you working, but they have so much energy and pizzazz they're very watchable. They work well together, but they weren't pushing themselves. This might work on a street for entertainment, but to compete they're going to need to show off challenging formations and tricks and moves.
Legendary pop performers and lockers in Japan, Hilty & Bosch brought their technique stateside to prove they were the best in the world. Like last season's winners Les Twins, the other dancers immediately recognized them and paid homage to their storied careers so far. When they did hit the stage, I found myself wishing for a little more precision out of them. Their energy level was high, but they didn't really bring the wow factor that I was anticipating. Maybe it was too much hype, or too straightforward choreography, but this show has blown the roof before, and it didn't happen here.
Now that is how you perform on a dance competition. This couple brought plenty of solid Latin technique as they moved across the floor, but then they hit us with lifts and tricks and stunts the likes of which I'd never seen before. We had a stunt Latin doo last year, but they forgot to incorporate basic salsa or really anything between their moves. This Chilean duo brought us the best of all worlds including a lift into a male splits and the most non-stop convoluted high-flying closing lift I completely forgot to breathe through.