‘World of Dance’ Judge Derek Hough Explains Why Dance Is So Universal
For years Derek Hough toiled in a career that was largely ignored by the public. Now, he’s in front of millions of people, people who hang on his every move.
Hough, 33, is a professional Latin and ballroom dancer, choreographer, actor and singer. Since September 2007, he’s become known for his work on the ABC dance-competition series, Dancing with the Stars. He’s won the coveted final prize, a mirror ball trophy, a record six seasons.
Now, he’s using his expertise to work on another show: NBC’s World of Dance. He sits at the judge’s table alongside Jennifer Lopez, and Ne-Yo as they guide and mentor the world’s top dancing talent and troupes.
The competitors showcase their skills, ranging in styles from hip-hop and contemporary to ballroom, Latin and more, as they to battle it out with the best of the best.
As the contest intensifies, the field of dancers narrows, and in the finale, finalists vie for a life-changing million-dollar prize.
Hough thinks the public has taken to watching dance on television recently because, “there’s something to watching someone move and be free in their movement. That’s compelling”
He says that people watching recognize the fearlessness the dancers exhibit and that their skills evoke admiration and respect from the audience.
“It’s also inspirational to learn about where these dancers came from and what’s driving them,” says Hough. “ I think we can all relate to struggling and overcoming things. As a payoff you get exciting, moving, emotional performances. It hits all the emotions that we all experience.”
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Seeing dance explode in the way it has on television thrills Hough. “It’s been a part of my life so long, but it’s been this small world where everyone knows everyone, so to see it being displayed in a way where everyone can see it and it’s so popular is extraordinary.”
He feels that this show wouldn’t have worked ten years ago, saying, “It’s taken this surge of dance appreciation and education to make this happen.”
His co-star on the series, Lopez, has remarked that the million-dollar prize can really change a dancer’s life. Hough agrees wholeheartedly. “I one hundred percent feel that way. I’ll go on record and say I did eight different tours and I traveled to every corner of the world, competing every week. I won the world championships at age 19 and didn’t earn really a dime. Actually, you’re in debt because you’re paying for costumes and travel and so on. So, what I love that this [show] is where that blood, sweat, and tears are rewarded. Dancers have never gotten this kind of opportunity before, and I love being part of that.”
Moving from being a performer to sitting at the judge’s table has been a transition for Hough, but not a bad one. “It’s not painful for me to critique [the dancers]. I just try to remind some of them, that they’re good, but it’s not just about being good; it’s about being smart with choreography and music and all the creative elements. You have to have all of that, not just the dancing.”
Hough says that he can empathize with competitors because, “I’ve lost competitions I thought I was going to win and I was heartbroken and I bawled my eyes out, but it was those moments that really transformed me, and I try to instill that in these competitors.”
Dancing really is primal, says Hough, explaining, “We unlearn it as we get older in a way. When we’re kids, before we can walk or crawl, someone puts on music and little kids are bopping. It’s in us to move and feel music and enjoy ourselves. But as we get older, we get these restrictions, walls, and insecurities. All we want to do is be free. You don’t have to be a trained dancer, but we all want to move.”
He laughs as he says, “Even my grandpa! He’s this stoic guy, but one day I got him moving and his face and eyes just lit up. it’s there in all of us.”
‘World of Dance’ airs Sundays at 8/7c on NBC and is available for streaming on NBC.com.