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Derek Hough: “People equate discipline to a negative feeling; where for me, discipline, the word that pops in my head when I hear the word discipline is freedom, is like I can command my body to do certain things because of this discipline, and it's freeing. You know what I mean? it's a cool feeling.”

What do Derek Hough’s eyes tell you? I see a gentle soul with some sadness. He thinks it is his vulnerability.

“I think that being with four sisters, that female energy, that sensitive, that compassionate, that female energy, which is beautiful … just being sensitive and being sort of vulnerable to certain emotions and to people, and the feelings, and I really find so much strength in that vulnerability and I'm thankful for it,” said “Emmy Award winning and New York Times Best-Selling author Derek Hough, the only six-time champion in franchise history of the hit ABC show ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” as described in his biography. Hough is coming to MGM National Harbor on April 19 to perform solo for the first time, as he usually tours with his younger sister, Julianne Hough.

That female energy is what sparked his interest in dance: “Actually my older sister, Sharee, started dancing and all my sisters started to go to dance and I just, I didn't want to go to dance; I wasn't really interested. I was just in the parking lot, in the car, waiting for them, and my mom was like, ‘Well, why don't you just go in?’

I was like, ‘Well, no. I don't really want to go there.’ So she pretty much made me go to start with, otherwise I was just sitting in the car. But as soon as I went in there and I heard the music, I got to dance with the girls and stuff. I just, I loved it, and I fell in love with it. And then it's amazing what happens when you move your body in sync with the music. I picked it up pretty fast because I had been playing drums since I was eight years old, so rhythm was kind of already inside me. Rhythm was already ingrained in me. So, like learning counts and learning dance steps and rhythms and beats, I started to pick it up; it was just a really special experience.”

Hough was sent to London at age 12 to live and train with the top dance coaches in the world and got a scholarship to attend the prestigious Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. How did this experience shape who he is now?

“I had an amazing opportunity to move to London when I was 12 years old to go train with coaches and go to school, and I think it was a very, very important time for me to hone in my craft and my discipline, traveling around the world, and competing and going to school. And it was just a really important time for me, just to sort of learn that work ethic,” answered Hough.

Dance was one of the reasons he was bullied as a student in Utah’s public schools.

“Even though I was so young, I was being bullied at school in Utah and I wasn't really enjoying school and stuff. So, the opportunity to go and train with the best, to go to London, where all the best teachers were and where all the competition, the best dancers were in that field, even though I was a young kid, I knew that it was an amazing opportunity to start. I pretty much begged my parents, like ‘Can I please go, can I please go?’ And they were gracious enough to let me go just for a few months, but a few months turned into like 10 years because I was doing so well. I was winning, I was training … and I was doing well in school and I just wanted to just keep doing that.”

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It looks like you enjoyed school in Britain more than school in Utah. So, why do you think you were bullied?

HOUGH: Well, I think that the school that I went to in England was, like a theater arts school; it was for the arts. You know, it was academics in the morning and then we did vocation in the evening... Where I went to in Utah, it was just a normal public school and I was just awkward. I just didn't fit in. I would get into fights; I would get beaten up and I honestly don't know exactly why that was the case, but there were a few cases, for sure that it was just because I danced, and they just picked on me and bullied me.

So, it was great going from being sort of like, not wanting to go to school, because I didn't want to be made fun of, or beaten up, or whatever it might be, to go to a school in London to where it was like, “Oh wow, I'm actually celebrated that I'm good at dancing,” or “I'm picking this up,” and so it was a big reason why I actually ended up really loving it.

Is it tough for boys to be interested in dance?

HOUGH: Not really, not anymore, and I think that's so wonderful. That, for me, warms my heart so much because, you know, for me, my personal experience, not everybody's had that experience. My personal experience, I was bullied when I was a kid for being a dancer, but now because of how dancing is on television and on social media and seeing all that with the dance crazes and stuff... And you know, now it's like when I see kids who were my age and they say that they're a dancer, like young boys, they're like the most popular kids in their school because they're a dancer, you know.

Let me ask you about working with Jennifer Lopez as a judge on the NBC series “World of Dance.” Did you discover something new about her after working closely with her?

HOUGH: Nothing crazy different, but I think what I did discover with her, which I loved, was just seeing how great she was firsthand with her kids. I think it was really cool for me to see when I was with her, we'd be in the middle of filming and her kids will FaceTime her, and everything would stop and she would take time no matter what for her kids in those moments, even when she was working. And I just see Jennifer Lopez, the pop star, the boss lady who just comes in on the stage and just owns it, wearing all the amazing couture, and the diamonds and all those amazing things, which is who she is. But who she is also is this really delicate, sweet, loving and caring mother, to see that firsthand was just a really, really great thing to see. It was really great.

You associate dancing with feeling free.

HOUGH: You know, as for me, choreographing and rehearsing and stuff like that can be quite stressful, because you're trying to perfect it and you're trying to get it right and be creative and come up with ideas. But when it clicks, when you do it great, it is a very freeing feeling. It forces me into the moment, and very often, we're not living in the moment and the present; we're very often thinking about what we’ve got to do in the future or what we've done in the past. And with dancing, you have to be sort of present in order to do these moves with your body. Or, if you're dancing with a partner, it takes an incredible amount of focus, and when you're focused, you become present, and where focus goes, your energy flows.

Also, through the discipline of it, it is very freeing. People equate discipline to a negative feeling, where for me, the word that pops into my head when I hear the word discipline is freedom. I can command my body to do certain things because of this discipline, and it's freeing. You know what I mean? it's a cool feeling.

You come from a family of dancers. What do you think took you further as a dancer?

HOUGH: I think for me, it was a few things. One, I was at this dance studio in Utah called Center Stage and it was just a great environment to feel inspired and enjoy dancing. Then, I think what took me further and over the edge was moving to London. That's where I was training; my schedule there was 6 a.m., wake up, get two trains to school (it took an hour to get to school everyday), be in an environment where it was artistic, and where it was just a creative environment, and then go home, eat really fast, then going after school to dance practice until about 11 o'clock at night, where we would practice in this really moody, cool room. It has kind of a weird, sweaty smell, you know, it was kind of grimy, but it was like exciting.

Then every Saturday, where you usually have a day off, we would actually have dance lessons all day. Then practice again Saturday night, and then Sunday we would go travel and go do a competition somewhere, whether it be in Liverpool, or Birmingham, or Manchester, or France, or Italy, or wherever it might be in the world, we would travel. So, it was like a really strong regiment that really allowed us to excel and to improve in what we did at a young age. So luckily, fortunately, when the opportunity came around for, say, a musical theater show or “Dancing with the Stars,” we were prepared. So it was that preparation meets opportunity sort of thing.

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