Interview: Dancing With The Stars Pro Derek Hough

Derek HoughDerek Hough has been a fixture on Dancing With The Stars since he joined the cast in season 5.  Since then, he and his dance partners have won the competition five times, he’s choreographed some of the show’s most memorable dances and he’s won an Emmy. This season, Derek faces his biggest challenge yet — he’s dancing on DWTS on Mondays and then flying back to the big apple where he performs ten shows per week in the New York Spring Spectacular featuring the world famous Rockettes. On the day that I interviewed Derek — just after the season premiere — he’d appeared on a live talk show, met his idol and performed a matinee show! And his day was half done! If there are three things Derek has more of than anyone else in the world, it’s creativity, talent and energy! Here’s what he told me…

Wow Derek, between Dancing With the Stars and New York Springtime Spectacular and flying back-and-forth, how are you going to do it all?
Well, I just got a new assistant for the first time in my life, and that’s how I’m going it. And well, as of now, I don’t even know if it’s possible. We’ll see — just kidding [laughs]. It’s really about time management; I say, NET time— “No Extra Time.” It’s sort of one of those, any chance I get, I’m thinking about a routine, or choreography, or a concept, and making sure that I’m fully committed to Nastia and our dance when I’m with her, and when I’m here — at Radio City — I get myself prepared and ready to go and go out there and put on a show. I think it’s really about not thinking ahead too far that I get overwhelmed. It’s just taking each day as it comes, eating healthy, and drinking really good fluids.

Are you going to become a master of sleeping on an airplane?
I hope so! The other day, my plane was delayed for 4 hours, and I got in at 3 in the morning to L.A. and I was up early for rehearsals for the show. It was crazy. It’s definitely difficult. And what happens when you get really tired, you get restless. It’s also important for me to not drink coffee, and not use sleeping aids. You think, “Oh I need a coffee or I need something to help me sleep,” but for me it’s none of that. It’s all about health. For me what’s been helping me go to sleep and relax is meditating and breathing. As simple as that sounds, just breathing and doing breathing exercises put me to sleep in a calm state.

Tell me about juggling performances and juggling practices with Nastia. 
Well, it varies. It varies every day. Most days I’ll have 2 shows a day, and I’ll either rehearse in the morning with Nastia. Tomorrow, for example, my rehearsal with Nastia is at 8am, and then we’ll go until noon or 1pm. I’ll have a matinee show around 2pm; my performances are 2 or 3pm, depending on the day, and I’ll do an evening show. It’s a full day; there is literally no extra time.

You were not a part of the cast when they originally announced the returning pros. How close did we come to not having you in Season 20 of DWTS?
It was a done deal. Then as I was rehearsing New York Spring Serenade, I was looking at my schedule and I joked around and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if I did both? Theoretically speaking it is possible, but it probably sounds like it was too much.” After I’d thought about it for a week, and started imagining actually doing it, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be crazy, wouldn’t it be epic if I could pull it off?” It’s also a challenge, and what I realized, for me, what I love and what I’m passionate about are challenges. I love taking on things that are difficult, or that pushes me, or that forces me to grow and I got excited about it. Obviously, my partner would have to be based in New York or else it’s not going to work, and they found somebody, but she ended up pulling out last minute for some reason and I thought, “well, it’s not meant to be, no problem.” And then, 2 days before the announcement, they found someone else, and they told me that she goes to school in New York City, so it worked out perfectly. And it was Nastia! So it was serendipitous and it all came into alignment. So yeah, here we are!

Derek Hough
Nastia and Derek wow on #MyJamMonday.

What was your reaction when you learned Nastia was your partner?
I was very excited and very relieved. Relieved, because she’s an athlete and therefore she already knows how to work hard. I know that with a schedule like this, we’re going to have to work very hard and really quickly. It’s going to be physically tough and also it’s going to be tough because when people hear a contestant’s name and you see them dance and you’re surprised and it’s exciting. With Nastia, there’s a sense of expectation, so it’s going to be a big challenge. I think what people think and assume that when you have someone with ability or natural ability it makes it easier. The truth is, it actually makes it harder because there’s more pressure, there’s more expectation, there’s almost more, you know, you have to try to exceed what everyone else thinks. But also it’s a way to practice, realizing that the only pressure that exists is the pressure that you make for yourself. No one is actually putting pressure on you, only you create the pressure. So for us, we’re jut going to go out there, enjoy ourselves and hopefully survive.

Who are your biggest competitors on this season?
I don’t know; I think everyone has their own strengths. I think it’s too early to tell. Everyone has their own lane and you try not to compare yourself to other people; you try not to compete with other people, you just kind of stay in your lane and do what you do. And for me, it’s something that’s benefitted me in the past.

Did anyone surprise you in the premiere?
I loved seeing Noah. I loved seeing Noah because I’d worked with Amy Purdy and knowing a little bit about prosthetics now, and seeing him … it’s completely different, it’s a whole other experience and so it was amazing. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest things that I love about being a part of this show is being a part of a show that is courageous and brave enough to welcome and encourage amazing stories and amazing human beings to come and do things like that. This is one of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this season. It’s a monumental season. It’s a milestone, and I just feel like it didn’t feel right not being a part of this particular season, given that milestone.

What are some of your ideas for this season?
It’s funny that you ask that. I’ve been rethinking my strategy because I think with movements and tricks and ideas, I’m rethinking my approach a little bit and how I’m going to approach this season. I did have some ideas, I wanna do this! And I wanna do that! And I think, I’m gauging it right now; I’m trying to see if I should go one way or another. To answer your question, having a partner who is very capable in certain areas and can do certain things, I want to try things that I personally haven’t done myself. I want to push myself to try things. And she may have an idea to try something crazy, so we’ll see. To answer your question, I’m always trying to grow and learn and this season, it’s my intention to do some “wow” moments.

In the seasons that you’ve been on Dancing With the Stars, do any of your dances stand out as favorites?
One that stands out for me was my freestyle with Kellie Pickler. It was just one of those moments where I loved the song so much and we picked it last minute, we didn’t know what we were doing and I choreographed it in a day. It just happened and it flowed and it came out of me and it flowed really well and she picked it up. And the day of the performance we couldn’t get it right; I kept dropping her, or the movement kept messing up and we could never get through it from start to finish. On the night [of the performance] we just threw our hands in the air and said, “Well, it is what it is; let’s just go for it.” And she nailed it; she nailed the routine. And even now, when I watch it back, at the end, I’m shaking her because the feeling of utter relief and excitement and joy of “I can’t believe we got through it.” It was an amazing moment.

How did you feel when your cousin Riker Lynch was announced as a celebrity contestant on this season of DWTS?
I was pumped, I was excited. I remember his whole family would come over and they would come see Dancing with the Stars and say “oh, it’s so cool!” And since then, they have a band, they’re really successful, they have TV shows. And now he’s on the show as a celebrity! So it’s cool to see it come full circle, and it also makes me feel really old.

Keeping it in the family, is it ever awkward to be judged by your sister Julianne?
I joke around with her, “Those who can’t, judge.” Obviously I’m joking and kidding; she’s very fair and I give her props because being a judge in not a really popular position to be in all of the time. You say things and you have your opinion. If I was in that position, I would be like, “everyone is amazing! Great!!” But she’s not afraid to voice her opinion and say what she thinks and I give her props for that.

What project would you like to tackle next?
One of the next things that I want to do, truthfully, is direct something. I look at choreographers who turned directors who inspire me, and that’s something that’s been on my list for a while, and it hasn’t been the right time, but in the next couple of years, I’d like to tackle.

Would you like to do stage or screen?
I think a big inspiration for me is Rob Marshall. He’s a perfect example of someone who was a dancer, turned choreographer and he’s an incredible director who has made amazing films. He’s somebody who I look up to as far as that process that transition, that evolution of creating and performing because for me, using cameras and cinematography, I love that. I love live theater but I love creating moments with video and telling stories in different ways. After all of these live shows, and theater and tours — my sister and I were doing a summer tour— I love that instant gratification with the audience, that instant connection. For me the next chapter eventually will be telling those stories through film.

Tell me about your tour, MOVE! Live on Tour…
Our tour, for me, that’s a passion project. That’s coming from our souls. If you wanna really get to know us, or really experience what’s coming from our souls and our hearts, see our show on tour. This is an absolute passion project. We don’t want people to go, sit in the seats and watch a show. We want people standing, dancing and moving. Our slogan for this show is “motion = emption.” The way you move directly affects the way you feel. That’s what we convey in the message of the tour. We want people leaving there feeling like they can do anything and be inspired and we want people to move. It’s going to be entertaining, fun, interactive and jam-packed.

Will it be you and Julianne be partnering? 
We did a tour last summer and it was sold out and this year we’re going bigger and better. We partner in some dances and we have 10 dancers of all different styles from hip hop, contemporary and jazz. We’ll be tapping, we’ll be singing. It’s full-throttle, it’s nonstop, it’s an exciting show and a show that we’re very, very proud of. We’re going bigger and better already; it’s going to be an exciting summer.

How are the previews of New Your Springtime Spectacular going?
It’s going great! We’re just in previews right now and most of our previews have been sold out and that’s 6500 people in each show, which is pretty crazy. It’s pretty amazing and it’s going great. It’s a family show, it’s a show for kids and it’s got a great, heartwarming message, with big production numbers and it’s a spectacle. It’s an experience and it’s exciting to be a part of it. It’s exciting to be on that stage. Also, to be there and being apart of a show where they’re re-creating the Rockettes brand. It’s the first time they’ve done anything like this with the Rockettes. It’s exciting.

What do you think about before you perform?
I put the music really loud in my dressing room; I pump it up crazy to get myself kinda hyped up. I actually have a little mantra that I say to myself before I go on stage. I have a little paragraph I say to myself every time before I go out there and it gets me in that frame of mind?
Do you say it to your partners as well?

I have in the past. I’ve done it with Amy Purdy. I would turn off the lights in the studio when she was feeling down; I’d turn down the lights and I’d yell it out and have her repeat after me. It’s an amazing thing, you can really change your entire body, your state the way you feel emotionally, it gets you into that place. It gets you right into the place you need to be. That mantra isn’t a secret, but I’m not going to share it (laughs).

Image © 2015 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved. credit: Adam Taylor