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Photo: Derek Hough
‘Dancing With the Stars’ has helped make many of the people who have appeared on their show into big names (just look at Zendaya and Normani’s trajectories since making it to the top three on their respective seasons). One person it has launched into stardom did not appear on the show as a celebrity but rather as a professional dancer who evolved into a star in his own right: Derek Hough. From dancing to singing and acting and more, Hough can do it all.
Derek Hough – His Early Career
Derek Hough’s career began to take shape when, at the age of 12, he and his sister Julianne moved to London to live with renowned ballroom dancers and coaches Corky and Shirley Ballas who they had met through dance classes in Utah. He attended a performing arts school alongside his sister and the Ballas’s son and his good friend, Mark Ballas where he trained in many different styles of dance, music, theater, and gymnastics. During the period they attended the school, the trio appeared as extras in ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’, marking the trio’s first acting credits.
During this time, Hough was also a competitive ballroom dancer, having won the World Latin Championship in 2002 and the Blackpool U-21 Latin title in 2003, two of the most prestigious dance competitions in the world. He then transitioned into taking more roles in the theater rather than competitive dance, having appeared as an ensemble member in the West End production of ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and as the lead in the tour and eventually the West End production of ‘Footloose: The Musical’. After that, he turned back to dance for a while, moving on to one of his most notable projects.
‘Dancing With the Stars’
‘Dancing With the Stars’ introduced Hough’s name to America when he began appearing on their televisions every Monday in 2007 as a professional dance partner to the celebrities who came on the show. His first partner was ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ actress Jennie Garth who got him all the way to the finals and placed fourth overall in the fifth season of the show. During his 17 seasons as a pro, he never placed lower than sixth place and broke the record for the most wins of any pro (a record which he still holds), having won with six different celebrities.
His first win came in season seven with model and television host Brooke Burke and again in season 10 with singer Nicole Scherzinger. His win with actress Jennifer Grey in season 11 broke two ‘Dancing With the Stars’ broke two records for the show: Grey, at the age of 50, became the oldest contestant to win ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and Hough became the first pro to win more than twice. He won again with country singer Kellie Pickler in season 16, actress and singer Amber Riley (who was also the first and only Black woman to win the show) in season 17, and his final win in season 21 with animal conservationist Bindi Irwin.
‘Dancing With the Stars’ helped Hough win both of his Emmys and garnered him a total of eight nominations. He got his first win in 2013 for three of his routines from season 15, two of which were hair-raising routines choreographed for Olympian Shawn Johnson East and the other one having been danced in a rotating room, and was the first and only time the choreography Emmy has been presented during the Primetime Emmys. His second Emmy was won alongside his sister, Julianne, and choreographer Tessandra Chavez for a routine they performed during the season 20 finale alongside Sia to her song ‘Elastic Heart’.
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After season 23, Hough announced he would not be returning to ‘Dancing With the Stars’ as a professional dancer anymore to focus on other projects. However, he did return to the show in 2020 for season 29 on the judging panel (and to perform a couple of routines choreographed by himself and fellow dancer Hayley Erbert) and was recently announced to be returning to the panel for season 30 as well. In a statement upon the season 29 announcement, Hough said, “This show has been and will always be incredibly special to me. Coming back feels like coming home, and I couldn’t be more excited to be back in the ballroom.”
His Projects Outside Of ‘Dancing With the Stars’
Outside of ‘Dancing With the Stars’, Derek Hough has had much success in the dance world. Upon finishing his 17th season as a pro in 2016, Hough was announced as joining the judging panel for the Jennifer Lopez-produced dance competition show ‘World of Dance’ alongside Lopez and pop singer Ne-Yo. He appeared on that panel and as a mentor for all four seasons of the show before it was quietly canceled in 2020.
In addition to on-screen dancing, Hough has participated in several successful dance tours in the United States. He and his sister, Julianne, headlined three dance tours together, having done ‘Move Live on Tour’ in 2014 and 2015 and the ‘MOVE BEYOND’ tour in 2017. He also headlined a solo tour in 2019 which incorporated his dancing, singing, drumming, and guitar abilities.
Hough has choreographed and directed several music videos. He has danced in videos for Julianne Hough, Kate Voegele, his former ‘Dancing With the Stars’ partner Lil’ Kim, Cheryl, and one of his other partners Kellie Pickler. He has directed and choreographed videos for Mark Ballas, Lindsey Stirling, Michael Bublé, and for his own music videos.
While Derek Hough is best known for his dancing, he has also done a lot of acting. As mentioned before, he has been in shows on the West End in London before, with his biggest role there being the lead in ‘Footloose: The Musical’. In the United States, he has appeared in the Broadway dance show ‘Burn the Floor’ alongside many current and former ‘Dancing With the Stars’ professional dancers. In 2015, he was to star in the revival of Radio City Music Hall’s ‘New York Spring Spectacular’ but unfortunately had to pull out after a month of performances due to suffering a bad leg injury in ‘Dancing With the Stars’ rehearsals. He was also set to star in the Broadway revival of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ in 2016 but that was canceled before rehearsals could begin due to it being produced by the Weinstein Company.
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On screen, Hough has had several acting jobs. His first big television acting job was a recurring role on ‘Nashville’ as Noah West, an actor who befriended Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette. He also appeared as Corny Collins in NBC’s ‘Hairspray Live!’, providing an excellent showcase of all of his talents to a wider audience than most of his other projects. He has appeared in the main cast capacity in one film where he was the male lead in an independent romance/dance film alongside K-pop singer BoA called ‘Make Your Move’.
What He’s Up To Now
Hough currently has an overall deal with ABC Entertainment to develop specials and other entertainment programming for the network. In addition to that, he is currently appearing in the second season of the Disney Plus series ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ as the drama teacher for the rival high school. He also recently participated in the 2021 Kennedy Center Honors and performed two numbers in the Dick Van Dyke tribute: “Put On a Happy Face” from ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and “Step in Time” from ‘Mary Poppins’, a number which he performed alongside Van Dyke back in 2015.
Derek Hough is on track to become a legendary performer in a way that emulates one particular performer: Gene Kelly. And it is not just me saying this, Gene Kelly’s widow and official Gene Kelly biographer, Patricia Ward Kelly, has said so herself. When appearing on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ in 2014 to help Hough and his partner, Bethany Mota, emulate the magic of her late husband in their ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ performance, she said to him, “The thing about you, which I think is really great, one of the things, is that you pay attention to what preceded you. And I think that Gene always said that that was important; you need to study what came before, and you’re like that and you’re taking all those things and creating your own art.”
Derek Hough is more than the typical triple threat- and I am sure we will be seeing him even more on the rise in the future.
By Caroline Schneider
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Caroline Schneider has always had a fascination with television and film. She revels in analyzing and writing about her favorite television shows and movies while looking for the greater meaning within Cinema. Finding the elements that really make people think about deeper messages and trends – which is exactly what Hollywood Insider continues to do.