When veteran dancer Poppin John started this season on “World of Dance,” he seemed like a long-shot contender. He was older than most: 34-years-old, which is geriatric by competitive dance standards. And his dance style was subtle, which disadvantaged him against the high-flying stunts of many of his competitors. But his performance during the Cut proved that we shouldn’t have doubted him. Watch it above.
Poppin John came awfully close to being eliminated after his very first performance. He barely escaped the Qualifiers with his average score of 85.3, which included a score of 84 from Ne-Yo that would have knocked him out on the spot if Jennifer Lopez and Derek Hough hadn’t scored him a little higher. As a result, he was an underdog going into the Duels, but he pulled off an upset against his head-to-head competitors DD Flection. And he decided to surprise us again in the Cut.
While being mentored by judge Hough, John showed off a red heart balloon he’d be using as a prop during his routine. Hough was immediately concerned, but John explained his concept and allayed all our fears. It would be an uncharacteristically emotional popping performance inspired by his wife, who has made sacrifices to support his dance career. He imagined what it would be like to lose everything, and he put all those feelings into the piece.
Popping is distinguished by its fine-tuned, robotic movements, so you don’t necessarily expect emotion to come out of it, but John opened his heart, literally and figuratively, when he burst the balloon against his chest and then reached out desperately for it at the very end. And in addition to showing off his sensitive side, the balloon also gave him the opportunity to emphasize the intricate quality of his movements. There were times when the balloon seemed to be moving independently of him, or hovering completely still as he moved around it.
That dynamite routine resulted in one of the highest scores of the night: 95s from all the judges, including Ne-Yo, whose initial skepticism about Poppin John just got popped like a balloon.