Dancer Makes A Bold Statement At Competition, Leaves Audience In Tears

The Moment Of Truth

YouTube/NBC World of Dance

He stopped for a few seconds to catch his breath. His heart was racing at a million miles an hour. The routine was over, and now he had to go up and face the judges. He had no idea how they’d react to what they’d just seen. He knew he’d made a big gamble with his choice of choreography and it was time to see if it paid off. But when he looked up and saw the expressions on the audience’s faces, he wanted to melt into the floor.

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Multicultural Family

Facebook/Jaxon Willard Dance

But nobody really knew how much this routine meant to 16-year-old Jaxon Willard. In truth, he had been building up to this moment for a long time. As a little boy, he was adopted by a Caucasian family and spent his childhood in the city of American Fork, Utah - a place that is only 0.4% African-American. Though his adoptive family loved him very much, it was not easy growing up as the odd one out.

An Outsider

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Jaxon was often the only African-American kid in his neighborhood and school. Inevitably, he became the target of jokes and mean comments from other children. Sometimes even well-intentioned people didn’t know how to act around him. This led him to feel lonely and misunderstood, unable to shake the sensation that he didn’t belong. Luckily, he always had the support of his adoptive family - especially one person who showed him an outlet to express his emotions.

Discovering Dance

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When Jaxon was 11 years old, his sister enrolled in an after-school ballroom dance program. He’d never imagined how much fun dancing could be until he was witness to his sister’s experience. Inspired and encouraged by her, he decided to participate as well. He discovered he was very good at it, and it was like a whole new world opened up to him. Just like that, he had found his passion. And he wasn’t stopping there.

A Natural

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After ballroom dancing, Jaxon studied hip-hop, jazz, ballet, and contemporary dance. He soon discovered he had an innate ability to choreograph his own routines. Most importantly, he realized he was able to take the vulnerability, frustration, and heartache he experienced in his own life and turn them into beautiful and emotional routines. He had found his calling, and he was ready to show his talent to the world. But the road would be rockier than he imagined.

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The First Disappointment

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In 2017, Jaxon learned NBC was holding auditions for a new reality competition show called “World of Dance.” At the time, he was part of a dance troupe, so they decided to apply as a team. The group made it through the Qualifiers and into the first round. However, their performance scored just 0.3 short of what they needed to get to the next round. They were sent home - but for Jaxon, it wasn’t over.

Getting A Do-Over

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“It was an amazing experience, but I also felt a little held back because I wanted to be able to share my experiences and stories, and hopefully inspire other people who are like me and who love dancing and just are trying to get through life like everyone else,” Jaxon told The Daily Herald about the competition. When he learned there would be a second season, he auditioned as a solo artist in the Junior division. Now he had a chance to truly shine.

Making An Impression

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From the get-go, Jaxon wowed judges and audiences alike. For his Qualifiers performance, he danced a contemporary routine to Kygo’s “Fragile.” The whole auditorium was in awe. For the second round, called The Duels, contestants compete in pairs against each other and the highest scorer makes it to the next phase. Jaxon was matched against a tap dancer named Lucas Marinetto. But it wasn’t his opponent he was thinking about.

Surprising Everyone

This is WOD

On the night of Jaxon and Lucas’ face-off, the young tap dancer went first. His performance earned him a score of 88, higher than other dancers who had won their Duels. Then it was Jaxon’s turn. Again, he chose a contemporary routine, this time to Jack Garratt’s “Surprise Yourself.” It was a very fitting title - his performance made everyone’s jaws drop to the floor.

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Moved To Tears

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Jaxon’s routine was as stunning as it was beautiful - the audience, in tears, gave him a standing ovation. When it was over, he ran to where his mother was sitting, knelt, and held her hands for a few seconds. Then he stood before the judges. “I’m looking around at the crowd, you got people in here crying, brother,” said judge Ne-Yo. It was time for Jaxon to reveal what inspired him to make such a bold statement.

Inspired By His Emotions

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“It’s about my feelings towards my birth mom, and how I was angry and I felt abandoned by her,” started Jaxon, before taking a moment to breathe as he was on the verge of tears. He explained how he suppressed those feelings because he didn’t want to hurt his adoptive mother, and finally came to the conclusion that there was no reason to be mad and instead he should be grateful for the family that he has now. The judges were immensely moved by his words.

God Gave You Wings

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“God gives us a set of circumstances in life. Everybody has their story,” said judge Jennifer Lopez. “He gave you wings on your back by giving you your mom, by giving you your family, by giving you this talent. And without your story, you wouldn’t be able to be the artist that you are today.” Judges Ne-Yo and Derek Hough also praised Jaxon’s performance, calling it powerful, elegant, and magical. Then it was time to learn his score.

It Paid Off

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The judges gave Jaxon a whopping score of 96, which was more than enough to beat Lucas and put him through to the next round in the competition. “I’ve been holding in those feelings for such a long time, and so it was just so good to just let it out and to not be worried about it anymore,” he said afterward. And while there’s still a long way for him to go before he is crowned the champion, Jaxon is already mentoring other aspiring dancers.

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Sharing What He Knows

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This year, Jaxon signed up to be on the education team for “World of Dance DX,” a two-day event in which current or former participants in the competition train and mentor beginners to improve their dancing and learn the secrets of making it to television. “What I’m most excited about, is to be able to share my experience of turning challenges & self-doubt into creative energy & inspiration,” said Jaxon. And what’s next for him on the show?

On His Way To The Top

World of Dance

Winners of the Duels round move on to The Cut, in which each division is assigned a mentor to coach the contestants for their performances. The top three acts in each division then move forward to the Division Finals. Only one contestant from each division will emerge from this round to face the victors of every other division in the World Finals for a chance to win the $1 million prize.

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