How Dance Phenom Jaxon Willard Became Insta-Famous Overnight

Photo by Christie Gibson, courtesy Jaxon Willard

For contemporary dancer Jaxon Willard, having over 57,000 followers on Instagram comes with the territory of being a top contestant on "World of Dance" last season. The 17-year-old American Fork, UT, native watched as tons of fans flooded his account after his first national TV appearance—people around the world connected with Jaxon's emotional and super-vulnerable performance expressing his feelings about being adopted. But what's it really like to become an Instagram sensation overnight? And how is Jaxon's life different now? Here, he tells his social media story. —Courtney Bowers

Humble Beginnings

I joined Instagram in 2012, when I was in seventh grade. I would post whatever I wanted, like ugly selfies and funny videos, because I had about five followers. Then, as I started dancing, I gained more and more followers, and I suddenly felt like I could only post videos of me dancing or doing cool tricks.

Going Viral

The day before I appeared on "World of Dance," I had about 5,000 followers; by the morning, I'd jumped to 11,000. I remember the exact moment—it was super-overwhelming because it happened out of nowhere. I was just hanging out with my friends! "WOD" releases in different time zones, so before it even aired in my state, half of the world had already seen it. There was so much activity my Instagram stopped working and I couldn't refresh anything. I had to delete the app and email them to fix it.

Jaxon's Instagram page

A New Normal

Getting so many followers so quickly was a huge change. I get noticed in public all the time. I'll be in the mall or on family vacations and people will stop to ask for pictures. I'm very grateful for it, because it means I have a lot of love and support, but it definitely is different.

Overall, my friends at school are really supportive of me. No one gets mad or jealous—they're just happy that I'm able to make a name for myself in the dance world. Sometimes, though, they don't really get it. If we're hanging out together and someone recognizes me, my friends are really surprised and say, "Whoa, I didn't know it was that big of a deal."

Staying Balanced

I never read the comments on my page, my dad usually does. But I'm aware I've gotten some negative ones. They actually motivate me to do better. I just strive to be better than I was before.

A lot of people also tell me that I have to post frequently on Instagram to stay relevant, but I've never understood that. After I appeared on the show, I felt like I was finally able to post things that showed off more of my personality.

When I do feel too much pressure to post, I know it's time for a break. I took one for a while after Nationals this past summer. I felt like I had to perform well and place high because people knew me from "WOD" and were expecting me to do well. I started thinking that I had to dance for them instead of for myself. When I placed third at both Nationals I attended, a lot of people were shocked and that's when I decided I needed to get off of social for a bit. I needed to remember who I was, and that competition isn't my whole life. I dance because I love it and not because of the attention.

I only follow my friends' accounts on social media because I feel like if I get caught up in really big names, I'll feel pressure to post just like them. I don't ever want to change how I post or what I post about. It's so important to always stay true to yourself. You can't get caught up in how many followers you have. I really try not to forget who I was before my Instagram went viral.

A version of this story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Becoming Insta-Famous Overnight."

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