Dancing With the Stars: Juniors recap: Our tiny dancers take on Disney's biggest hits
Praise Ariel! It’s Disney Night on DWTS this week — both Juniors and Geriatric versions. That means fun songs we know and love, lots of big productions, and some character work. It can also mean a lot of pressure for our wee ones, who have to take on a routine that comes with high standards just because the music is from a beloved movie. The tots mostly handle it well!
Sophia Pippen and Jake Monreal
Mentor: Sasha Farber
Samba, “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid
Yikes, what a tough song for the samba. The good thing about it is that last week Sophia was asked to play up her personality, and that’s easy to do when you’re handed a character as big and bold as Ursula (I know she’s very mean but isn’t she kind of fabulous?). Sophia also gets a little help from her godmother and DWTS alum Kim Kardashian. Kim thinks she was hurt on the show by not being as open as she could’ve been, so she feels Sophia’s pain. The samba routine is just okay. Again, the music is a little awkward, but Sasha does a lot of clever things with the choreography. Mandy calls out Sophia’s legs and Val calls out her arms, and that’s like the majority of a person’s body, so maybe she has more than personality to work on.
Judges Score: 19/30
Mackenzie Ziegler and Sage Rosen
Mentor: Gleb Savchenko
Contemporary, “Colors of the Wind” from Pocahontas
Let’s not mess around here, Mackenzie definitely has contemporary dance experience. I know she’s a kid but an advantage is an advantage and it is really apparent in this routine. The biggest obstacle here is the lifts. Lifts are hard no matter how old or how strong you are, so they’re especially tough for these teens. Gleb’s choreography is gorgeous, although I could use a little more emotion pulling at my heartstrings from the actual performance. Adam apparently felt it — he has chills. Val thinks what Mackenzie is doing is extraordinary. And Mandy, Queen of Contemporary, was very pleased with the light, feathery routine.
Judges’ Score: 27/30
Ariana Greenblatt and Artyon Celestine
Mentor: Brandon Armstrong
Samba, “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” from Lilo & Stitch
WHAT. Brandon gives Ariana a PROP in a SAMBA and this girl doesn’t miss a beat. Prop work is hard! As Mandy points out, Brandon’s choreography in this cute hula-based routine is on point. It captures both the spirit of the samba and the spirit of the movie. Val commends Ariana for getting the “samba bounce” down (it takes a lot of core strength and she has such a tiny core!). Adam is just in love with her consistently well-done performances. With Ariana’s technical skills improving each week and her and Artyon’s adorable chemistry (they’re wearing Brandon out, for sure), is this the couple to look out for?
Judges’ Score: 25/30
Mandla Morris and Brightyn Brems
Mentor: Cheryl Burke
Jazz, “Un Poco Loco” from Coco
This week, Mandla is tasked with showing off some machismo. He’s portraying an arrogant mariachi player and he needs to sell the character. He gets through the technical steps of the jazz (this one has a lot of paso, to be honest) well, but doesn’t always hit the mark when it comes to performance. Mandy is happy to see that Mandla really worked on his legs and footwork this week—she can see improvement. Val, however, is underwhelmed. It’s not his best routine of the competition, but, hey, at least the kid looks good in his pink jacket.
Judges’ Score: 21/30
Miles Brown and Rylee Arnold
Mentor: Lindsay Arnold
Charleston, “One Jump Ahead” from Aladdin
Miles and Rylee feel like another front-runner couple in this competition. He makes it look so easy whenever he gets on the dance floor. And this Charleston routine, with a lot of Charleston content (swivels for the win), is not an easy one. Lindsay puts together a big Aladdin production number with the baby troupe, yet still, with all the extra dancers and props, the judges love to see that Miles is the star. He commands the stage whether interpreting the character or doing some traditional Charleston moves. “A lesser dancer would’ve been lost,” Mandy tells Miles. She’s a fan. How can you not be?
Judges’ Score: 27/30
Alana Thompson and Tristan Ianiero
Mentor: Artem Chigvintsev
Foxtrot, “Something There” from Beauty and the Beast
Thus far in this competition, we’ve only seen Alana in fast-paced styles. And let’s be honest, she’s gotten by mostly on personality. So this foxtrot, a much more refined, elegant dance, is a real test of how she’s doing in the competition. She doesn’t really pass Artem’s School of Etiquette (I would watch that show), but she is all class on the ballroom floor. Who knew? There’s not a ton of foxtrot content, but the judges are impressed to see Alana show a different side of herself. A true Disney princess transformation!
Judges’ Score: 21/30
Sky Brown and JT Church
Mentor: Alan Bersten
Contemporary, “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
I CANNOT WITH THESE TWO NUGGETS. I mean, I have a Pavlovian response when it comes to this song, so I knew I’d be crying, but Sky and JT are just so wonderful and SO TINY that now I’m crying for a multitude of reasons. Someone send help. Alan uses Sky’s gymnastic skills to their advantage and this contemporary is full of tricks. But also with emotion! Adam applauds Sky’s ability to tell a story with her movement and Mandy tells her she had her at hello (and by hello she means the first moment of he routine when Sky is looking out at the ocean). You know their scores will be great but then Sky grabs the mic to tell girls to “have fun, be brave, and don’t let anyone stop you” and it’s like, do scores even matter at this point?
Judges’ Score: 24/30
Jason Maybaum and Elliana Walmsley
Mentor: Emma Slater
Foxtrot, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story
Is Jason the perfect Junior Star to play Woody from Toy Story or what? The freckles, the gangly limbs, the ability to both have fun and be stressed out at the same time. It’s a perfect match! And he handles the tricky foxtrot choreography well to boot (get it?). Mandy points out that he tackled the quick-quick-slow nature of the style well. Val too is impressed with the footwork. Adam loves that Jason really showed up as a partner for Elliana this week — he actually led her across the floor. He’s definitely not the best technical dancer, but he shows improvement each week.
Judges’ Score: 22/30
Akash Vukoti and Kamri Peterson
Mentor: Witney Carson
Jive, “Zero to Hero” from Hercules
Akash here gets to live the dream on Disney Night: The kid gets his own work out montage. Hercules is known for his strength and muscles and Akash is, well, not. He has a lot of work to do to embody the character. Again, this routine ends up being a big production number and I wanted to see more jive content (who am I, Len Goodman? I wish), but it’s hard not to enjoy Akash and Kamri dancing together. Val critiques Akash’s legs a little bit, but mostly the judges stick to the “you’re a great performer,” “you dance from your heart,” “you fill the room with joy,” lines they’ve been giving Akash since week one. I mean, they aren’t wrong.
Judges’ Score: 21/30
Listen, I appreciate the efficiency of these shows being pre-taped (and that they can cut out a lot of the children crying — my heart is too weak for that sad business), but it really puts the pressure on anyone dancing in the beginning of the night. People have short memories, and if you’re depending on the live audience vote to get you through, that’s a tall order for the first group up. And it very much dooms our eliminated couple: From Team Sasha, Sophia and Jake. This is hard!