Winning comes naturally to Derek Hough: He's been a competitive dancer since childhood. Now, after setting a record for wins on "Dancing With the Stars," he wants to help others reach their best — in dance and life.
Hough, 31, is set to be a judge on the new competitive dance show "World of Dance," executive produced by Jennifer Lopez and slated to launch on NBC this spring.
The show gives dancers an unprecedented opportunity: Winning a $1 million cash prize.
"It's not just bragging rights. It's a million dollars," Hough said. "We're raising the standard of competition dancing. It's life changing for anyone, but for a dancer, it's certainly life changing."
Outside of television, he launched the "MOVE Live on Tour" with his sister Julianne, herself a dance star who headlined Fox's "Grease: Live." Together, the siblings host "MOVE Interactive" workouts, tour their show (their latest is MOVE: Beyond) and inspire the crowd to led healthy, vibrant lives.
His goal, he said, is to "take this audience on a journey and get them moving by the end of the show, where they're inspired and they can take something away from it."
Hough barely has a spare minute between filming the upcoming "WOD," directing music videos, such as for Michael Bublé, and gearing up for "MOVE."
So we speak on the phone while he drives to a shoot for "World of Dance," a show that he is impossibly well-suited for.
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After training and competing in Latin and Ballroom dance from a young age in Utah, he moved to London at age 12 to train with Corky and Shirley Ballas, the parents of his former "Dancing With The Stars" co-star Mark Ballas.
While dancing competitively throughout high school, he graduated from London's Italia Conti Academy of Performing Arts, and went on to be a world champion in Latin and ballroom. Years of competitions led him to "Dancing With the Stars," where he holds the record for winning the most Mirror Ball Trophies in the show's 23 seasons.
As a top competitor, he understands what it takes to win a battle the likes of which will be seen on "World of Dance."
The key, he said, is in the difference between showcasing and competing.
"If you're going to come on a competition show, what you are doing may be great but it has to be greater than who's going before you or after you," he said. "That's a big challenge."
That's not a factor everyone realizes, he said, observing that many of the "well-known dancers" competing in the show are highly talented, but they're facing serious challenges from lesser-known talent.
"They're incredible and nobody's taking that away from them," he said. "But when you put that routine in the moment up against someone else, all that doesn't really matter. It matters what's really happening there in the moment."
He added: "You can definitely differentiate the people who are there to compete and the people who just show what they do."
Communicating that will be a key to his input on the show, and part of why he was brought in. Studio executives were looking for someone with "the complete package — an extraordinary dancer with a charismatic personality," said Meredith Ahr, president of Universal Television Alternative Studio, one of the show's producers.
"Derek has been one of the defining names in dance for years, raising the bar with his talent year after year," Ahr said, noting his passion in everything he does: "It shows through in his mentorship with the dancers."
'World of Dance' cast Derek Hough, Jennifer Lopez, Ne-yo and Jenna Dewan Tatum. NBC
So far while filming the show, he has been able to critique some groups to help keep their momentum throughout an entire performance and "hide their weaknesses and showcase their strengths." Along the way, Derek said dancers have been stepping up their game.
"Some people come back the second time around and they improved immensely right before our eyes," he said. "There's been some surprises, some things that happen that even we were surprised about."
But according to Hough, it's not just his experience competing that makes "World of Dance" a perfect gig.
"I've always been a fan of people who put so much effort into something and dedicate their lives to it," he said. "The talent is incredible. It's some of the best in the world."
The show features an electric variety, he said, from hip-hop crews to contemporary and tap groups, soloists, ball room dancers, to cabaret dancers, flamenco, all of which he expects will capture the audience's attention and hearts.
He also believes shows like "Dancing With the Stars" have helped educate a broad audience about the art form. Ten years ago, he joked, he'd never have been able to talk about technical dance terms with non-dancers.
"People have become much more educated in dance through television," he said. "This past decade has been a real coming out party for dance."