SALT LAKE CITY — As soon as American Fork dancer Jaxon Willard finished his emotionally charged dance, the 17-year-old ran to the front of the stage to hug his tearful, proud mother.
But Willard’s mom wasn’t the only one in the crowd crying. Judge Jennifer Lopez and several members in the audience brushed away tears as they applauded Willard’s dance to Jack Garratt’s “Surprise Yourself” on Wednesday night’s “World of Dance” episode.
“I’m looking around at the crowd. You got people in here crying, brother,” judge Ne-Yo told Willard following his performance.
Making faces as expressive as his dancing, Willard’s moving performance began with a sense of pain and vulnerability before he broke into a wide smile midway through — with a triumphant leap to follow.
“(The dance is) about my feelings towards my birth mom and how I was angry and I felt abandoned by her,” he told the judges and crowd with visible emotion following his performance. “But then I didn’t know how to share these feelings with the mom I have now because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, and so I’d just suppress all these feelings. But then throughout my journey and my growing, I would just learn that I can’t just be mad at my birth mom because I don’t know the full story, and so I just have to be grateful that I have the family I have now, and I’m just so thankful for that.”
Lopez praised the elegance of Willard’s dancing and told him it was “an honor” to watch him perform.
“For me, God gives us a set of circumstances in life, right? Everybody has their story,” she said. “But then he gives you so much. He gave you so much talent. Honestly, he gave you the ability to fly. He gave you wings on your back by giving you your mom, by giving you your family, by giving you this talent, you know? And without your story, you wouldn’t be able to be the artist that you are today.”Comment on this story
Willard earned a combined score of 96 from the judges, beating out tap soloist Lucas Marinetto to advance to the show’s next round, the Cut. His performance comes on the heels of another highly successful Utah showing: Last week, Springville dancers Charity Anderson and Andres Penate earned the show’s first-ever combined perfect score of 100. The Pulse, an eight-member ballroom dance team from Orem, have yet to appear on the Duels round of “World of Dance.”
NBC's “World of Dance” airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. MT. Willard will next compete in the Cut round on “World of Dance.”