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After Months of Prep, 'World of Dance' Competitors Clash With World's Best

Kinjaz dance crew and Keone and Mari Madrid are competiting against 45 other groups on NBC's "World of Dance."
World of Dance - Season 1
Keone and Mari Madrid during their qualifying performance in NBC's "World of Dance"Justin Lubin / NBC

LOS ANGELES — For members of Los Angeles-based dance crew Kinjaz, joining the cast of NBC’s summer series “World of Dance” wasn’t an easy decision.

“There was definitely not a feeling of, ‘Oh my gosh we’ve gotta do it,’” Kinjaz founding member Mike Song told NBC News.

“I mean, there’s been other dance shows but not one where most of the best dancers in the world came out at one time.”

In 2015, the crew was the runner-up on MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew,” a show various members had danced on in past seasons with different groups (Kaba Modern, Jabbawockeez). So taking time out of what Kinjaz calls their “brotherhood of artists” to participate in another show was not a simple choice.

“It was like a [deep sigh], ‘We know what we have to do, like let’s do this because it will be great on so many levels,’” Song said.

The same goes for married dance duo Keone and Mari Madrid. The San Diego-based couple have a considerable following on YouTube and went viral in 2015 after choreographing a piece to Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” the video of which has earned over 1 billion views. Keone Madrid has also choreographed for K-pop group BTS.

The pair decided to compete on “World of Dance” partly because of the talent both in front of and behind the camera: Jennifer Lopez serves as executive producer and judge on the show, while Emmy-winning choreographers Nappytabs (Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo, also married) are producers.

Kinjaz performing their qualifying dance for NBC's "World of Dance"Justin Lubin / NBC

Lopez is joined by singer NE-YO and dancer Derek Hough on the judges’ panel. Actress Jenna Dewan Tatum rounds out the cast as host and mentor.

“Getting wind of who else was doing the show, I’m not gonna lie: if I was watching the show and I wasn’t a part of it, I would be super bummed,” Keone Madrid told NBC News.

“World of Dance” began in 2008 as an online competition before being developed into a network show with Lopez’s production company, Nuyorican Productions. Forty-seven dancers and dance crews compete under three different categories — Junior (under age 18), Upper (ages 18 and over) and Team — for a grand prize of $1 million. Competitors hail from all over the world, including the United States, Colombia, and France.

Keone and Mari Madrid's qualifying dance for "World of Dance" followed a couple falling in love.Justin Lubin / NBC

The risks of putting life on hold have paid off for both teams, so far: Kinjaz and Keone and Mari have passed the initial qualifying rounds with dynamic routines that took months to choreograph and execute.

“What the show doesn’t capture is we had been training for months and literally had all the guys at the studio every day for this 90-second routine,” said Song.

The martial arts-tinged hip-hop piece included intricate fingerwork in addition to complex footwork.

“The judges caught our intention, even with the minute details of the fingers. All those things — we wanted to bring out those moments. All of our hard work paid off,” member Ben Chung told NBC News.

The routine earned Kinjaz the third highest score in the qualifying rounds, and with 13 dancers, it was also the largest group the crew had ever had on-stage for a televised performance.

For Keone and Mari, prepping for qualifiers meant re-working a routine they had previously danced and competed with as part of a company. The high-energy urban piece — which included elements of jazz and contemporary — won judges over with its quirky storytelling about a couple meeting and falling in love, a case of art imitating life as the two met in the dance community.

“I think the interesting thing between me and Mari is that we both have very different individual styles. When we do get together, it’s kind of like a third person choreographing,” said Keone Madrid.

As partners in dance and in life, the couple joked about having to schedule time apart from each other while other couples do the opposite. “We generally just like being around each other which is very important. But I think our challenge is the fact that we spend so much time together,” Mari Madrid told NBC News, laughing.

Both teams will next compete in the “duels” round, where high-ranking teams in each division choose a rival to go head-to-head with in an elimination duel. That could mean facing off against their peers in the dance world, like the Jabbawockeez.

RELATED: Eight Years After ‘America’s Best Dance Crew,’ the Jabbawockeez live their ‘JREAMZ’

But it’s all friendly competition, with an emphasis on the “friends” part — Keone Madrid dances as a member of Kinjaz outside of the show.

“We were rooting for [Keone and Mari] hardcore. We were like, ‘Let’s see each other in the finals,’” said Song.

Kinjaz during their dance from the qualifying round of "World of Dance."Trae Patton / NBC

Keone and Mari, who say they draw inspiration from everything from movies and music to everyday tasks like walking the dog, hope audiences will be moved by the richness of the dance world.

“I mean, there’s been other dance shows but not one where most of the best dancers in the world came out at one time,” said Keone Madrid. “It was such an amazing thing to see backstage, like holy crap, there’s this talent not just in urban and hip-hop, but ballroom and flamenco and tap. It really is a world of dance.”

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