Derek Hough Talks Getting Back on the 'DWTS' Dance Floor for Season 29

Derek Hough DWTS 2020
Q&A
ABC/Kelsey McNeal

In an unusual move for a judge, Derek Hough steps out from behind the table to dance a Paso Doble with girlfriend Hayley Erbert on Dancing With the Stars Monday, October 19.

The couple will perform the ballroom routine to "Uccen" by Taalbi Brothers. It's not surprising that Hough is shaking things up as he likes to keep his professional life varied, witness his return to the show this year not as a pro competitor, but as a judge.

TV Insider chatted with the amicable Emmy winner about getting back out on the dance floor, how he feels his judging is going, and what kind of programming he’d like to star in and produce in the future. Read on for the scoop!

Why the Paso Doble, and how have rehearsals been going?

Derek Hough: It’s one of my favorite dances. And I’ll say this – we’re sore! It’s funny. We’ve been doing things this year while in quarantine to stay healthy, but that can't prepare you for dancing full-out. We’ve been practicing a lot and doing ice baths to recover.

It sounds like you’re going to give a competition-level dance.

Yeah, it’s funny. I’m very comfortable and at home on the dance floor, but I never take being there for granted. I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to perform, to be in people’s homes, to entertain them. Also, to dance with my girl is awesome!

You said last week that the competition really starts now. How so?

I remember that it would take me a few weeks to get into a rhythm when I’d compete on the show. I think it takes a few weeks into the competition to build momentum. That’s about how long it takes for being on the show for it to really become your world. The first couple of weeks after joining the show are, "Oh, this is fun!" But as you get into it, you can get tunnel vision and your goals are more focused. There’s a mental shift. The marathon begins. It gets tough, but it’s also exciting. This year’s competition is quite the event. It switches from week-to-week as to who’s in first place.

Have you found there’s more time to critique couples as the field narrows? 

Yes. I want to give as many specific notes that I can without it turning into a lesson. As a dancer, I always appreciated the judges giving me specific things to work on. I’d be like, "Oh, you want me to work on my arms and my frame? I’ll work on that." Clarity is power.

It’s been said the pre-dance video packages are as key in getting votes as the dances themselves. Do you agree?

Absolutely. I think that’s what makes Dancing With the Stars so unique and special — it’s not just solely the dance. It’s the packages, the dance, and then, even talking with the host after the dance. People are strong in different areas. Some people might not be the best dancer, but boy, they sure are charismatic individuals. Ty Murray [partnered with Chelsie Hightower in Season 5] was the most charming and nicest dude. He’d make people laugh. He went to the semi-finals. I believe that fans vote on the dancing, but also the connection that’s made. I’m rooting for everyone. I want to see everyone do well. When you see that couples are taking specific notes, it’s not just about listening to the judges, it’s really about making them better dancers.

Your social media posts with Hayley are fun. Have you found Instagram to be an outlet to showcase your creativity?

Absolutely. I go through phases in my life where I go deep into reading and learning. This year, I realized I wanted to bring some joy, silliness, and light to people’s lives. It’s been enjoyable and has brought us closer together. We’ve been having a good time. It’s good.

 

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L-O-V wait for the E

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Last week, the show played a sound effect to judge Bruno Tonioli being booed but…there’s no audience!

The producers have done an amazing job of making the show where you can tune in and just forget about what’s going on [in the world]. We’re all constantly being reminded on TV and in media what’s happening and, yes, we should all be safe and cautious. I do think that the joy of Dancing With the Stars is that it’s two hours of pure entertainment, dancing, and escapism.

What do you bring to your role as a judge having been on the program as a competitor?

It’s interesting. I forget what week it was, but so many people called me and said, "You were tough tonight!" I thought, "I was?" I don’t intend to be. I just want to be honest and encouraging. I’ve always appreciated specific notes, my celeb to feel encouraged, and also being given something to strive for the next week. Being in that position, I feel very comfortable and at ease. Not having the audience in the room is quite interesting because it feels like you can talk one-on-one intently with the couple. We don’t’ really hear the audience [sound]track. We can hear it a little bit, but not really. It’s there, but not like if there were 500 people in the room.

Do you find that not adding extra dancers, props and special effects to routines is good or bad for the show?

It’s just different. I know people are missing seeing the troupe dancers. As a choreographer, I love having multiple dancers in a routine. You can create more. I miss that. The good thing this season about not having all that is that it brings the show back to its roots. It does remind you of the first 10 seasons. A lot of people said the show got away from itself. That might have been my fault. As a pro, I was always wanting to do more. We got into these big performances, but I love doing that. I miss the troupe, the pro dancers ... and integrating them with the show. However, it’s a positive thing to also get back to the roots of Dancing With the Stars.

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The pro dancer also shares his thoughts on the changes for Season 29's host and judges.

If the show is renewed, next year will be the 30th season. What would you like to see?

There’s got to be something that allows you to reflect on such a monumental achievement with a 30th anniversary. I’m curious to see what they’re going to cook up. In preparation for tonight’s dance, Hayley and I have been looking at some old dances from the show. We’ve been rehearsing at this studio which is actually the same one I rehearsed in with Jennie Garth [my first celebrity partner ever]. I hadn’t been back to this particular studio since. When I walked in, I thought, "What a journey. Who would have thought?"

Without getting into specifics, can you talk about what kind of shows you’ll be developing/pitching to ABC? I’m guessing it’ll be programming in your wheelhouse – not, say, CSI: DWTS, which would be a different network anyway!

(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. Here’s what’s funny about that, and maybe I’m selling myself a little short, but I got this script one time to read for the role of a lawyer. I thought I wouldn’t cast me as that! I’ve dabbled in a lot of different things, different styles of shows, movies and TV. I love them all, but what I enjoy the most is having a variety, doing specials that incorporate people. I’d love to do shows where I interact with people across the country and even the world, serving them in some way and where I can also bring entertainment. I don’t want to say I get bored, but I like keeping things different all the time.

Dancing With the Stars, Mondays, 8/7c, ABC