Derek Hough danced his way to the top of the leader board and into America’s hearts on ABC's hit show "Dancing with the Stars” with his killer choreography and charisma. But all of those mirror ball trophies did not come without sacrifice. In his book, “Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion,” Hough, 29, shares the life experiences that have made him stronger, the life lessons he’s picked up along the way to become a champ, and some behind-the-scenes secrets to "DWTS."
Read an excerpt from his book, "Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion," below.
People are always asking me questions. I get tons on Facebook and Twitter, and people even stop me on the street. The questions are not just about dance; I get everything from “How do I lose 50 pounds?” to “You’re great at getting your partners to listen to you. How do I get my husband to do the same?” So when I put out the word that I was seeking questions for my book, I was flooded with tons of great ones. I couldn’t possibly answer them all, but I did my best to give you a good assortment.
Are there ever times when you feel like you don’t love (or even like) dancing? If so, what do you do to regain your joy for it?
There are definitely times -- not that I don’t like dancing -- but when I reach a point when I don’t feel challenged by it. The steps are overly simple, or the music is boring, and I definitely get into a place of not enjoying it. These are the times when dancing feels more like a job than something I love. When that happens, I have to step away from it. If I’m getting tired of dancing or choreographing, I’ll go to a concert and rock out, or jump on a wakeboard. I take myself as far away from it as I can. Then when I come back to it, it’s like dancing for the first time.
Can you recommend a dance style for beginners with two left feet?
A good place to start is a cha-cha. It’s got a very defined rhythm—you can’t go wrong with it. But here’s the thing: you’re going to pick up the dances you enjoy quicker. So try lots of different styles and see what feels right to you. What kind of music do you like? Motivate yourself!
If you could dance with anyone on the planet—living or dead—who would you choose to do a duet with and why?
Honestly, I think it’s evolved for me. When I was younger, Michael Jackson would have been the ultimate duet. He blew me away. Now, after seeing so many movies, I have to say I would like a trio: Fred Astaire on the drums, Gene Kelly on the taps, and me filling in the gaps.
I see how dance transforms the bodies of the stars on the show. I need to lose weight—can it do the same for me? I’m so unmotivated!
Absolutely. Dancing you enjoy, so you forget that you’re working out. We associate working out with work and with pain. But dancing is fun and you should go for it if it motivates you to move. All consistent movement helps your metabolism. But I’m not going to say don’t change anything else in your life. You have to be consistent with how often you move, and you need to eat healthily. You can’t dance in the morning and eat cheeseburgers and fries for lunch. What you see on "DWTS" is a combination of people dancing and changing their habits and their whole lives. In order to do the show, they need to be stronger and they need to be fueled. Your body is your machine; you’ve got to make sure it’s well-oiled.
'Dancing with the Stars'
How difficult was it during the first few seasons of "Dancing with the Stars" when you were competing against Mark and Julianne?
It wasn’t hard for me because we competed against each other growing up. Those days, it was hard-core competition. This felt a little more like fun competition for us. But when Julianne beat us that first season, Mark and I both said, “Well, that feels weird!”
Tell us something we don’t know about what goes on backstage at 'DWTS'! Any secrets? Anything we don’t see on camera?
I don’t want to divulge all our secrets, but here’s a good one: there have been a few wardrobe malfunctions in the past, especially with ladies and parts of their anatomy popping out. Obviously being on national TV, we want to avoid these fashion emergencies, so the women wear these things called pasties. We have an official person, a woman, who’s in charge of pasty checks. It’s her job (I’m not kidding) to makes sure nothing is revealed when it isn’t intended to be.
Who has been your favorite guest judge so far on "DWTS" and why?
Cher. The first time she gave a score, she didn’t say the number, she said her name. Carrie Ann says, “Seven;” Bruno says, “Seven,” and she says, “Cher!” I just thought that was absolutely priceless and hilarious.
Have you ever had to change a dance last minute? Why?
Oh, yeah. That’s what a choreographer’s job is—to be very flexible. With my partners, there have been times when we would be too nervous of the step and I’ve had to edit it out right before the live show. Amber is a great example. There was a move where she was supposed to grab me and I did a backflip. In rehearsal, I knocked her in the head. It made her too nervous, so we took it out right before we went onstage to perform it. I’m always changing things last minute, and I base it on what’s best for my partner and the dance. I used to be very set in my routines, but experience has taught me that you have to be able to change things at the drop of hat to get it done.
Do you hang out with the "DWTS" pros after the show? Are you guys friends?
We definitely all get along and support one another, out and about. We’ve known each other a long time. At the premiere of my movie, Val came to the after party. I finished all my press and I said, “Do you want to go watch the end of the movie?” I have a really tough time watching myself on screen so all I wanted to do was get out of the theater. Val could sense how uncomfortable I was and he knows how self-critical I am. He said to me, “Dude, you looked great up there. Are you gonna win an Oscar for it? No! But you’re on the right track.” I thought that was hilarious—nothing like a friend to put it all into perspective for you!
Is the Mirror Ball heavy? Where do you keep yours?
Yeah, they’re pretty heavy—but not very durable. They break easily. I keep all of mine downstairs in my office tucked away on some shelves. I don’t have them scattered around the house—that would be a little obnoxious. When the light hits them at the right time of day, it’s like you’re in Studio 54. Who comes up with those crazy team names—and what has been your favorite?
The fans! I think my favorite has been “Menough Said” for Maria Menunos and me.
Derek Hough on Partnerships
You have the gift of bringing out the absolute best in your partner, no matter who she is. Any tips for the rest of us? How can we learn to bring out the best in our own partners?
The first time I work with a partner, I’ll put the music on and I’ll watch them move in the mirror naturally. I will choreograph the dance, building on that natural ability. I don’t force them into changing into something completely different than who they are. It’s never “do what I do.” So to answer your question, I say start by identifying something your partner does well—the great qualities he or she already has—and build on them. Don’t try to force someone to be who they’re not. Appreciate what makes them unique and special.
Hough Talks Life in General
You have a lot of great motivational quotes, but is there one book that is your favorite? A saying that you always live by?
A book that really resonated with me was "The Power of Now," by Eckhart Tolle. I was living so much in the future and had such anxiety, and that book came along and those four words were life-changing. The sayings that motivate me change frequently; it’s based on the timing. Right now I like “Follow less people on Twitter and lead more in life.”
In the midst of all the success that you have encountered, how have you managed to remain so normal and genuine? How do you not let fame get to your head?
My family definitely keeps me grounded. Also, I don’t consider myself famous. Nobody is any better than anybody else. We’re all just human beings.
What’s a song that inspires you no matter what is going on in your life?
Everyone has a song that hits them at an important time in their life. Maria Menounos said hers was Madonna’s “Material Girl.” I was like, “Really? Okay.” For me, that song is “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap. I heard it at a time in my life when everything was becoming clear, and I’m anchored to it. Every time I hear it, I feel hopeful. It reminds me of dusk. It makes me feel happy to be alive.
Do you have a bucket list? And if so, what are some of the things on that list?
My bucket list is never-ending! I want to get my Indiana Jones hat on and travel the world. I want to take my mom to Paris and paint for a week, and my dad and I have always talked about hiking the Alps (I’ve got to get on that!). I want to try cave diving—kind of like scuba diving, but you go into these massive caves underwater with a flashlight. It would be terrifying, but incredible.
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Passionate, energetic, blond.
From the book Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion, Copyright 2014 by Derek Hough. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.