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The 36-year-old professional dancer first came onto the ballroom competition show when he was just 22 and has since worked his way up to be a full-time judge, now accompanying the likes of longtime panelists Carrie Ann Inaba, Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman.
Like many fans of the long-running show, Derek has a great sense of sentimentality when it comes to Dancing With the Stars.
"It's funny how I look back at my first season and I look about 12 years old and then I think about all the different things — winning six times, coming second twice, and then, of course, all the amazing partners and people I've met and performances — and now being a judge. It's just sort of a crazy," he tells Good Housekeeping. "Even though I was 22 when I joined the show, I feel like I grew up on that show."
Realizing that fans also hold the show close to their hearts, Derek says he understands why so many reacted so strongly to all of the changes in season 29. Some of those changes included Derek stepping in as a full-time judge for Len (who couldn't travel to Los Angeles amid the COVID-19 pandemic) and former longtime cohosts Erin Andrews and Tom Bergeron getting replaced with Tyra Banks, who is now a solo host of the show and an executive producer. When asked about his thoughts regarding all the recent changes as the crew heads into a new season, it sounds like Derek is all for moving forward.
"For me, whatever I'm apart of, I want to give my best to everything I do," Derek explains. "I think last season, [the Dancing With the Stars cast and crew] did an amazing job keeping the energy, especially with what happened."
He continued on to say he thinks Tyra and the team did an "exceptional job" putting on a live show amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even still, he gets that not everyone welcomed change so seamlessly.
"With every shift there are growing pains, with every change there are going to be opinions," Derek recognized. "And, by the way, for me, I always feel when there are different opinions about something, it just means people care."
He adds, "I understand the show has been around for a long time and there's nostalgia to it, but there's also room for growth as well."
Aside from discussing his thoughts on Dancing With the Stars, Derek also dished on some of his other exciting projects, including his partnership with Purina One. As a proud owner of four rescues — two dogs named Romie and Luna and two cats named Palo and Lily — the award-winning choreographer is doing his part to call attention to the brand's 28-Day Challenge, which promises pet owners that if they sign up between now and August 31, Purina will donate up to $28,000 to help waive adoption fees for rescues.
"For anybody who is going through anything in their life, [rescue pets] are so empathic," he explains. "They just improve the quality of anybody's life. They really truly do."
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