From Brooke Burke to Jennifer Grey, Derek Hough has led some of Hollywood’s hottest leading ladies across the ballroom floor—but it’s practically impossible to take your eyes off him. After all, the “Dancing with the Stars” dynamo captivates crowds with his high-energy choreography, daredevil feats of footwork and confident charisma. It’s no wonder the most recent season of the show was the highest-rated yet—especially in light of Derek’s “three-peat” win. Just in time for Season 12 to kick off, we’ve got eight fun facts you may not know about the reigning “DWTS” champion.
1. Derek’s flair for fancy footwork runs in the family.
Everyone knows Footloose and Burlesque star Julianne Hough is Derek’s sister, but he actually has three other siblings, too. “When I watch old home videos, we were always dancing for the camera, holding performances in the family room,” Derek says. “Being the only boy with four sisters, I had to make it on my own amongst all the women.” And their love for dance must be in their DNA—their grandparents were dancers, and their parents were on a ballroom dance team in college.
2. Derek’s favorite class growing up was hip hop, not ballroom.
In the early days, Derek trained at Utah’s Center Stage Performing Arts Studio (also home to fellow “DWTS” star Ashly Costa!). One of Derek’s first dance teachers was Rick Robinson, a high-energy hip-hop guru who took Derek under his wing. “He was the one who introduced me to dance and made me think it was cool,” Derek says. “His energy, the way he teaches and his charisma have spilled into me.”
3. Way before “DWTS,” Derek was already a competition champ.
While training as a young dancer, Derek was on the competition circuit attending competitions including New York City Dance Alliance and L.A. Underground. (He even won NYCDA’s Junior Male Outstanding Dancer title!) “As a kid from Utah going to NYC and L.A., it was a really eye-opening experience,” Derek says. “Competing was great because it created short-term and long-term goals—reasons to get better.”
4. He’s a perfectionist.
Derek holds himself—and his partners—to an incredibly high standard. But at one time, it was almost too high. “I mentally self-destructed on competition days,” Derek says of his early days on the ballroom scene. “I was terrible—I would fall apart, I would throw up. I’ve always danced better in rehearsals than I’ve ever danced in any competition.” Derek credits his time on “DWTS” to helping him let go, saying it taught him “to have more patience.”
5. The “DWTS” schedule is demanding, but Derek’s no stranger to hard work.
While training with the Ballas family in London, Derek undertook an extremely intense training regimen. His days were filled with classes at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, where he studied everything from math to acting to music. After school, Derek, Mark Ballas and Julianne honed their Latin ballroom skills until 11 pm every night. Weekends were filled with lessons and competitions, and the rigid routine repeated every week. “It was a seven-day training regime that was hardcore and full-on,” Derek remembers.
6. The Ballas family changed the course of Derek’s dance career.
When he was 7, Derek met ballroom legend Shirley Ballas while taking master classes at Center Stage, and she immediately took notice of the budding superstar. “He and Julianne were like little stars,” she recalls. “One time, he didn’t come to class. I inquired about where he was and found out they were going through family difficulties. I asked someone to get in touch with him and, out of the blue, he asked if he could come live with me in London.” Derek and Julianne went on to live with Shirley, her then-husband Corky and son Mark (now both “DWTS” pros as well) for close to a decade.
7. Derek loves to take risks—on and off the floor.
Rick Robinson affectionately calls Derek “wild and crazy”—and we can see why! He’s been known to do everything from back-flipping off the judges’ table to breaking the “DWTS” rules with illegal lifts. Although Derek credits Corky for inspiring his “out of the box” ideas, Shirley Ballas says Derek’s been a daredevil ever since he was a tiny dancer. “He loved gymnastics and was always trying different tricks,” she says. “We tried to make him feel like he could conquer the world. If you instill fear, fear is what you will have—Derek is fearless.”
8. If it wasn’t for “DWTS,” Derek might not have returned to the U.S.
Derek was a star of the stage way before he stepped out on the small screen. While still in London, he had the lead role in the West End production of Footloose, and last year, he starred on Broadway opposite “DWTS” pro Kym Johnson and “SYTYCD” fave Mary Murphy in Burn the Floor. Without “DWTS,” Derek says he might have taken an entirely different course: “I was in London, busy doing my thing, and got the opportunity to come do the show,” he says. “I couldn’t pass it by.”
Best friend: Mark Ballas. They even started a band together!
Specialty: Latin dance
Ballroom cred: World Under 21 Latin American Campion, two-time Open British Champion (Blackpool), two-time International “Open to the World” Champion, two-time US Open Champion, three-time “Dancing with the Stars” champion
“Dancing with the Stars” partners: Jennie Garth, Shannon Elizabeth, Brooke Burke, Lil’ Kim, Joanna Krupa, Nicole Scherzinger, Jennifer Grey
Derek’s Pals Dish
Mark Ballas, on why Derek has been so successful on “DWTS”: “Derek’s been blessed to get some amazing partners, but aside from that, he is a gifted choreographer and an extremely hard worker.”
Rick Robinson, on Derek’s natural dance talent: “In my eyes, Derek was, is and will always be the kind of kid you don’t really have to teach. I gave him instruction and he took it to another level. He was always happiest when he was dancing.”
Shirley Ballas, on her early advice to Derek: “When you’re going to an art gallery and you see a piece of art, you can look at it for hours. With dance, it’s what you have in a fleeting moment or glance. Your art is who you are at the moment in time—there is no repeat performance. That’s what I’ve always told Derek, who is like a piece of art in his own right.”