Over the course of 13 seasons on “Dancing With The Stars,” ballroom dancer Derek Hough has been paired with celebrities as varied as former talk show host Ricki Lake, country singer Kellie Pickler and Olympian Shawn Johnson.
This week, Hough releases his book “Taking the Lead: Lessons from a Life in Motion,” in which he delves into what it takes to transform a celebrity into a dancer and how to take what can be scathing criticism on live television.
Hough — who just completed his Move Live tour co-starring his sister Julianne — took some time to share a few of those lessons with us.
You will never be 100 percent ready
Wondering if it’s time to make your next move? Don’t wait until you are “ready,” says Hough. “It’s trial by fire,” he says. “You’re never 100 percent ready. That’s something I learned growing up in England [while being trained by dancers Shirley and Corky Ballas]. For me, with my personality, I’m such a perfectionist that I didn’t want to go out on the dance floor until I was ready.
“If it was up to me, I would have stopped myself,” he continues. “But Shirley just taught me to just get out there and just do it.”
Make an effort to get to know your partner/co-worker
“Each partner is so different, but that’s what makes it exciting,” says Hough. “Its all about adapting, it’s about figuring out what are their strengths and weaknesses.”
Work to bring out the best in your partner
Being a cast member on “Dancing with the Stars” means that you are one part professional ballroom dancer and one part life coach/therapist/chief motivator. “One of my favorite parts is working with celebrities and really trying to figure out what that fear is and seeing their eyes light up when they get past it.”
Sometimes you just have to learn as you go along
Longtime “DWTS” fans may be surprised to learn that Hough had never really choreographed professional routines before joining the cast. “I wasn’t a teacher, I wasn’t a choreographer. I was really faking it till I made it.”
Criticism isn’t personal
One of the hardest parts about performing on a show like “DWTS” is receiving criticism from the judges on live television just moments after a performance. “Truthfully, early on I got really nervous,” Hough recalls. “If it wasn’t good, it was my fault, it had nothing to do with my partner.”
He notes that his approach to the judges’ comments has evolved over the years. “Now it’s more like, ‘Am I happy with my performance?’ If I feel like [my partner] did a really good job, I kind of take [the judges’ comments] with a grain of salt. If it’s negative and I agree, I always say so.”
Two heads are better than one
Growing up on the competitive ballroom circuit, Hough sometimes found himself in direct competition against his sister Julianne and his best friend (and fellow “DWTS” cast member) Mark Ballas. “It was interesting, growing up and competing against each other,” Hough says now. “Competing on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is completely different. Now it’s more, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?’ and ‘Hey, can you come look at this?’ It’s much more collaborative now.”
Be calm before your big moment
“I tried to do this thing with [Paralympic snowboarder] Amy Purdy where we would just be talking about gratitude,” he says about the ritual he developed with his partner last season. “We’d just be naming things we were grateful for like ‘I’m grateful for my family,’ ‘I’m grateful for my friends.’ For Amy it would be ‘I’m grateful for this dress I’m wearing.’ And then all of the anxiety goes away and you are just feeling good.”
If you go:
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Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.