Internal Rhythm and Beat in Him
“I was tied around my ankles and hung up in a tree, and went to six different schools in a short amount of time. I know what it feels like to be isolated, singled out, or attacked. I can empathize with that,” shares Derek Hough, 33, who has supported The Trevor Project and GLSEN. “It really should be simple of just being human and having compassion and being understanding. We can destroy ourselves, just by questioning our identities not just in an LGBTQ-community way, but just like, ‘Who am I? Who do I want to be?’ It's not about what you get in this life, it's about who you become.”
That said, the World of Dance judge has worked with the Dizzy Feet Foundation to make dance education accessible in all communities. “Well, dancing for me, it saved me, really. I went to schools and never felt like I fit in. I was trying to do the sports and play football and try to make friends. When I went to dance, it was like, it's this instant sort of connection of like, ‘Oh, wait. This is amazing.’ There's so much encouragement here, and there's so much joy and hard work,” says Hough. “I feel like we unlearn dance a lot of the times as we get older, but we want to move! We want to dance.” Hough believes dancing is primal to who we truly are, and is in our human DNA: When one looks at a baby or toddler before they can walk, they bob their heads and try to sway back and forth to music. “Dance is learning about yourself and giving you this confidence and this weirdness. It’s just unparalleled. It's such a beautiful thing,” the two-time Emmy winner further elaborates, adding that when he was teaching on Dancing with the Stars, Amy Purdy looked at him with tears in her eyes and said, “This is the first time I felt connected to the woman in me since I lost my legs.”
Hough was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, and made the big move to London – a microcosm of the world filled with a rich variety of nationalities and cultures – at age 11 to perfect his skills as a ballroom and Latin dancer. His trek to school was an hour’s train ride every day. He would stare out the window, put his headphones in, and dream about his future. “I realize now how important that ritual was of being on a train and being around people and the energy. I'm looking out the window and thinking, ‘Wow, I'm this kid from Utah, and here I am in one of the greatest cities in the world.’ I felt so fortunate and grateful,” he recalls. Additionally, and maybe surprisingly, he was also a drummer in a punk rock band. “I had long hair, painted my nails, wore guyliner, and would afterwards change into a sparkly Latin outfit for dance competitions,” he describes.
Eventually, Hough landed the lead role in the musical adaptation of Footloose while in England. He was traveling all around the country and had to pay for his own expenses. He was doing eight shows a week and at one point stayed with an older lady with twelve cats. “It was so fascinating and an interesting experience because I had no money. I had nothing to show for it. I was working so unbelievably hard. I literally was at a deficit, but it was a passion thing,” he says. He then came back to the States because he needed a break. Dancing with the Stars was on tour at the time, and he was asked to be part of it. He garnered attention while performing on tour and was asked to be on the television show. Hough initially declined but was asked again a few months later – he was ready to commit and would later become the only six-time champion in franchise history of Dancing with the Stars.
Writer: Dylan Worcel
Photographer: Seung Lee (www.kokumastudio.com)
Photographer Assistants: Mason Kim & Hyejin Pak
Fashion Editor: Lassalle (@stylebylassalle & @stevenlassalle_ - www.stevenlassalle.com)
Fashion Editor Assistants: Star Campbell (@starcampbellstylist) & Marcus Butler (@marcusbstyle)
Men’s Grooming: Sara Tintari (using Baxter of California & skyn ICELAND)
Videographer: Wanhi Lee
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to The Henry (@thehenryrestaurant www.thehenryrestaurant.com)