Star struck. That would be the first word that came to mind when I first saw Derek Hough at RootsTech 2019. The six-time Dancing with the Stars winner and one of the main judges on World of Dance carried a lot of charisma and finesse when he stood in front of the ruby screen for his interviews with the RootsTech ambassadors and I was impressed. But then when he opened his mouth, his words impressed me even more. For him dance tells a story – a story of his family history, a story of his confidence and a story of what in his heart. But the thing is, his message was one for all of us. How do we express our story, how to we find it and how to we share it with confidence and not foolish pride?

Derek Hough
The RootsTech ambassadors after our interview with Derek Hough.

He carried that same charisma when he spoke to a group of thousands on the main stage at  RootsTech later that night and I learned more of his story. Both his parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were successful and award-winning ballroom dancers. Dancing was a part of who he was and the way he learned to express himself along with his sisters who he lovingly calls his “beautiful hurricane.” But the road hasn’t always been easy and there moments in his teenage years where he felt burned out – sometime after he moved to London to attend a prestigious dance school with his younger sister, Julianne.

Related: My top 7 takeaways from RootsTech 2019

Derek Hough Keeps it all in the Family

At RootsTech, Derek’s father, Bruce Hough, introduced him and explained the family history behind dance and the importance of that story on the trail to Derek‘s success. “I tell you this story because it’s a story of generational connectedness through music and dance,” Bruce explained.

Derek agrees that he feels that connectedness and it’s been a way for him to remain close to his parents, grandparents and sisters throughout his life. “It’s the way we communicate,” he said. He has always enjoyed the time spent with grandparents who have been avid family historians, but also owes his dancing family history to who he is today. “I literally owe the fact I am here to today to the old, cha cha cha,” he joked.

This idea of continuing talents and family traditions is a delightful thought. What do I do just because my parents, grandparents and great grandparents did it too? For me, there is a strong tradition of good cooks on both sides of my family. Cooking is somewhat of an art form and family recipes have been passed down for generations. I also have a great tradition of seamstresses in my family. I’ve dropped that ball. Maybe I should pick it up and teach my children those skills like their grandmothers and great grandmothers. What is your family thing? I suspect there’s something in there if you dig a bit.

Derek Hough
Derek Hough shared some of his insights with ambassadors before his keynote address at RootsTech.

Related: Finding the angle to tell your life story

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Dancing Tells a Story

In our interview earlier, Hough explained that 70 percent of communication comes through body language, so of course that’s a big part of our story and how we relate to others. “A very small percentage is actually the words and tone,” he described. He noted that the music and lyrics married with the dance are one of his favorite ways to communicate how he is feeling. “When I hear music I see color. The whole room changes color for me,” he explained. He loves to encourage people to dance or just to move to express those feelings. He joked that the word “dance” can scare people off, so sometimes he just suggests people “move.” “It triggers something. It’s liberating,” he said with a huge smile. “And sometimes the smaller moments are the most important. A touch or a pause or the space between the music,” he said. But he also encourages people to let their story with their dance be natural. “Don’t do it for the sake of doing it, let it be something that is clear,” he said. He admitted that his favorite weeks on Dancing With the Stars was when he was helping the contestants to tell their personal stories through dance – and he said those were often the best dances, because of that storytelling.

Related: Natalia LaFourcade talks about music and her story at RootsTech

Derek Hough
Derek Hough explaining how dancing, music and storytelling all work together.

Being Under the Microscope

Derek has lived many of his recent years under the microscope with his fame. He’s been a part of live dance performances and recorded ones and learned from both. He has noticed an uptick in sharing or “over-sharing” of information and has often wondered if it can all be too much. “But I think it’s beautiful if it’s used for the right reasons – in a good way, in a positive way,” he noted. He is excited by the fact that he will have so much of what he loves doing recorded for his posterity. He also has tried to use the microscope to share good things and share positive energy.

Look for the Best in Others

Derek has tried to focus on the positive in all aspects in his life and has found that has helped to tell a better story of what he does and help to make a positive impact on others lives as well. “You use the same amount of energy being nervous or excited,” he said to the large crowd on the main stage. He said that with some of his dance partners on Dancing with the Stars he would try to get them to focus on the excitement rather than the nerves and it made an impact on their performances. “As we would stand there right before we would start I would remind them of a reason to be excited,” he told us. When things have gotten tough for him at times he came to the realization he needed to change his focus. “I started thinking, what if life isn’t happening to you, but for you,” he said. The audience cheered. “What if my enemy is my angel?” he asked. “It’s all how you look at things,” he said. With his large family and their dynamics relationships are important to keep strong, he said, expectations are high many times. “We have expectations for the ones we love…trade your expectations for appreciation,” he said. This statement really made me think. How can I change the way I view the ones I love  and appreciate more than I expect? He added that we are always thinking about how we worry because  family member didn’t do that for us or didn’t do what we wanted them to do. “Maybe we change that to what can we do for them,” he said. This will change the outcome of my life story for sure! “Where focus goes, energy flows,” he said. When people are truly focused, their energy increases, he explained. That’s a powerful thought and so true when I sit back and think about it. Am I putting my focus on the things that require the most energy? I hope so, but I suspect not so much all the time.

Derek Hough

My time with Derek was pretty sweet. I learned something more than his terrific dance moves (although those were pretty great too.) I came away with some questions about my own story screaming to be answered and a little more toned in to different ways to tell a story – and it’s not just with a pen a paper all the time. My youngest daughter is a dancer and I love watch her 7-year-old self communicate through dance. It’s something I’ve considered and seen from her little body and now I know it is true. Dance, music, the written and spoken word carry much power – they all tell our story and when listened to by many generations – it’s magic.

Derek Hough
Derek Hough’s book, “Taking the Lead” chronicles the lessons he’s learned as a dancer.


Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured in Meridian Magazine, and She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.


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