The first episode of “The Duels” is looking a little different this year, with the biggest difference being the combination of teams and smaller acts in the same division. Instead of having four categories, there are now only two: upper and junior. This is likely due to having fewer contestants this season. Going into the duels, there will be 10 acts fighting for a spot in each division, with five from each advancing to the cut and an additional act from each division who will earn their respected spot from the redemption round.

To put it into perspective, typically there are 10 acts among four divisions, with a total of 40 acts competing for a spot in “The Duels,” whereas this season the number was cut by half for a total of 20. Unfortunately for viewers, this means fewer episodes of World of Dance. The reasoning behind why the setup was altered so drastically this season is unknown. Many have suspected it is due to the coronavirus outbreak, but filming wrapped up mid-March before the country forced shutdown.

However, there are still many talented acts fighting for a spot in “The Cut.” On Tuesday, “The Duels” kicked off with the upper division going head-to-head to determine who was the best, and the infamous duel mentality was real and present. The dancers got down and dirty by proving they were ready to fight. 

First to take the floor were ballroom dancers Jefferson y Adrianita and Luca and Alessandra. The judges chose them to go head-to-head based on their similarity in styles, yet they noted there was only room for the superior duo. The difficulty behind Jefferson y Adrianita’s routine to "El Rey Del Timbal" by Tito Puente was off the charts, yet their professionalism masked any effort that may have been present. Guest judge Twitch, who has the responsibility of choosing which act gets a spot in redemption, said the routine was crazy, amazing and inviting. He put it simply: he was in heaven. 

As for Luca and Alessandra, their performance to “Drop” by Diplo was slower paced and not as difficult. Hough described the two as having an “ooze” to their partnering dynamic. “I think you are two of the best performers in the competition,” J-Lo said. Although the judges gave them generous compliments and believed them to have potential, it was clear they fell flat compared to Jefferson y Adrianita, which resulted in Luca and Alessandra not receiving a single vote from the judges. This means they still had a chance in redemption, but for now, Jefferson y Adrianita would be the first act to advance to “The Cut.”

Next upper division competitors to battle head-to-head were teams “The Rise” and “UPeepz.” Derek Hough said these two teams were chosen to duel each other given each team’s history on World of Dance. Myson Junior from “The Rise” previously competed on junior team “Elektro Crew” and had made it all the way until “The Cut,” whereas “UPeepz’s” students, “VPeepz,” took home the junior team title and finished in fourth place. 

Both teams have to prove they are better than those that came before them, and first up to attempt was “UPeepz.” Their routine to “Hotel Room” by Pitbull had intensity, high energy, character and pleasure. At the end of the routine, the team even served “The Rise” a plane ticket home to top it off. Being dressed as bellhops with luggage carts did it for J-Lo. “I LOVE this concept,” Lopez said. “You guys really stepped it up since the first time we saw you.” She went on to compliment their tricks and choreography. However, Ne-Yo thought the tricks could be more powerful, and Twitch thought formations could be clearer. 

“The Rise” had a lot to prove after Ne-Yo said they would have to “work for it,” following “UPeepz’s” performance. “The Rise” showcased as a sassy routine to “Don’t Cha” by The Pussycat Dolls. The boys shed their masculinity and brought something unique to the table. Hough thought the performance was strong from start to finish. Twitch even went as far to mention their “incredible pockets, “painted pictures” and “formation changes” that kept it exciting. Though, “The Rise” fell short once, it came time for a dancer to replace his sneakers with heels and execute a back handspring stepout. Ne-Yo “could see the effort in the trick,” and Lopez confessed she was distracted by the quick-change.

J-Lo started out the voting with a yes for “UPeepz.” Ne-Yo gave his vote to “The Rise,” and Hough would then be the deciding vote and he awarded it to “UPeepz.” 

Lastly, judges paired up Kurtis Sprung with ballet duo Styles and Emma. Since “The Qualifiers,” Styles and Emma were an immediate standout. The two received three yeses without hesitation. As for Sprung, the judges were not entirely sold on his first audition. They gave him many corrections, with the main one being working on conveying his emotion in order for the audience and judges to feel it and not just him. They felt as if he was speaking another language they couldn’t understand based on his first performance.

Nonetheless, Sprung’s performance to “Bad” by James Bay did not disappoint, and everyone, even viewers at home, could practically feel the emotion behind the dancing. It was dedicated to his girlfriend as an apology for the times they had reached turmoil, making it more personal and relatable for both him and the judges. The judges believed this performance was an immense improvement from the last time. Lopez even described him as having wings when he dances. He had a clear “balance between his story and portraying it to the audience,” Twitch said. It was clear he gave it everything he had, and the judges commended him for that. 

As for Styles and Emma, their technique and lines were unarguably impeccable. Lopez described their performance to “Someone You Loved” by Lewis Capaldi as “elegant, tender, soft but connected.” However, she wished there had been “a couple more moments where (she) was blown away.” Twitch also hoped for the duo to move together as a duo a little more. Withal, Hough was their biggest fan of the night. “The power you exude is exceptional,” he said. Hough undoubtedly gave Styles and Emma his vote while Ne-Yo and J-Lo gave their yeses to Sprung, sending him through to “The Cut.” 

In two weeks, World of Dance will return with the remainder of the upper division acts battling against each other. We will also see which eliminated act Twitch feels is most deserving for a second chance following the redemption round.