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Julianne Hough is visibly tired and slouched in a couch at a Los Angeles studio after her photo shoot. She apologizes for her fatigue, but her slump dissipates almost immediately when she begins talking about her new lifestyle website juliannehough.com.
“I never saw myself as a blogger or somebody that would give tips on anything until about a year ago,” the 26-year-old says. “I was out on my dance tour and meeting fans, and people would ask some random questions. With everything I want to do, and have a voice for on the personal side of things—like kindness and gratitude and compassion—I felt like I could do something really cool.”
Launched officially in March, Hough’s website features one post—on subjects such as hair, recipes, home decor—each weekday that encourages fans to do acts of kindness. In one recent post, “Smile Challenge,” she asked readers to find a moment in their life to smile. “It’s incredible what lifting the corners of your mouth upward does to our brain,” Hough wrote in the blog. “You can actually feel your smile releasing kind, happy vibes through your soul.”
In fact, just talking about it puts a grin on Hough’s face. “I know what it feels like to be sad or depressed,” she explains. “The only way to fix that is by being kind to others. And then that makes your day.
“I want girls to know they have the power within them to be happy and to feel great. That’s what those challenges are. It’s not to show how great you are; it’s more to get that feeling of, ‘Oh, this feels so good—to be happy!’ I just want everybody to be happy.” She laughs when she realizes she’s proving her own point. “This sounds like rainbows and butterflies right now,” Hough adds. “But that’s the gift I want to give with the gift I’ve been given.”
And she has a lot to smile about right now. She’s a judge on Dancing With The Stars, which will wrap its 20th season on May 19, and she and her brother, Derek Hough, will embark on their second annual Move Live dance tour on June 14. “Derek and I are getting heavily creative,” she notes. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a stressful thing because we’re trying to do it bigger and better than last year. And it was so good last year!”
Both the reality series and the tour tap into Hough’s love of dancing. She got her start on the fourth season of Dancing With the Stars back in 2007, when she and her partner, Apolo Ohno, took first place. Hough appeared in four more seasons before leaving to pursue her acting career with dance-centric films like Burlesque, Footloose and Rock of Ages. For her, returning to Dancing With the Stars last fall—this time as a judge—felt like coming home, especially now as the show celebrates its tenth anniversary.
“It was a great thing for me to be able to leave the show and venture out and still feel like they’re my family,” she says. “To be able to come back and be there one day a week—I can still focus on other things but feel a part of something that really is impactful in our society. Dancing is not just something for grandparents—it’s cool and sexy.”
She also believes it taps into something deeper, encouraging people to find confidence and freedom in their bodies. Hough emphasizes stamina and strength over skinniness, and on her lifestyle site she makes sure to advise fans to eat healthy and clean but never deprive themselves for the sake of appearance. In one recent post, the actress recounts an experience filming 2013’s Safe Haven, when the filmmakers insisted on a scene with her in a bikini despite her trepidation.
“By the way,” Hough says, “I still have not mastered feeling 100 percent confident in my body. I still have days where I look in the mirror and say, ‘Thanks, Grandma, for giving me my thighs!’ But at the same time, it’s all in your head. If you love your body, then your body is going to love you back. When you see yourself, you can sit there and pick pictures apart all day long. My boyfriend [NHL player Brooks Laich] tells me all the time, ‘Why is that whenever you take a picture and look at you, you want to take another one? Can’t you just be happy with the actual picture where we’re together?’ So I’ve now had to coach myself to look at a picture and not say, ‘Do I look good in it?’ but ‘That’s a great picture, overall.’”
It’s a sensibility Hough has been trying to pass along to her nieces, and one that she hopes her fans will embrace as well. Her lifestyle site is notably organic and raw, featuring mostly photos and videos of Hough without makeup. She wants everything she does, online and off, to reflect positivity and empowerment. “People see me on the cover of Allure or in a photo shoot like this or on Dancing With the Stars, and I’m super glammed up,” Hough says. “But if they only knew who I really am. I’m sitting on the floor, eating food, making out with my dogs.”
Next up is Fox’s live broadcast of Grease, in which Hough will play her dream role. She’s also developing a few projects for film and TV in the meantime, and plans to go to Africa with her stylist, Anita Patrickson, in September to work with underprivileged women. But Hough’s eye is already on the prize. “What I love is live performance, whether it’s on tour or Dancing With the Stars,” she says. “It’s the adrenaline and the pressure that you have to deliver. I know there’s going to be some haters, but hey, I’m living my dream.” She grins and adds, “I get to be Sandy in Grease! How awesome is that?”