He may be known for burning up the floor and coaching celebs on “Dancing With the Stars,” but Derek Hough’s work extends far beyond the dance studio. Hough will be honored by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network at the org’s Respect Awards on Oct. 17 for his work to prevent bullying. Others set to be honored at the event are Julia Roberts and Danny Moder with the Humanitarian Award, and NBC Entertainment’s Robert Greenblatt, who will receive the Chairman’s Award. Hough will receive the org’s Inspiration Award.
As a kid, Hough found himself on the receiving end of such abuse, but instead of fighting back, he considered his tormenter’s perspective, and learned that bullying isn’t as simple as it seems.
“We associate bullying with a kid in a playground being picked on, but it’s so much broader than that,” he explains, stressing that those exhibiting the behavior are often victims themselves, and that the act can take many more forms that just physical violence.
On the Oct. 6 episode of “Dancing With the Stars,” Hough and celebrity partner Bethany Mota shed light on bullying, with a number focused on the subject.
Before making her mark on the Internet, the YouTube star said was also a victim of bullying and and was the target of words that belittled her confidence. Mota and Hough’s rumba, to a live performance by Colbie Caillat of her song “Try,” had the dancers literally wiping away hurtful words in exchange for positive messages and self-confidence.
“It’s really important to stress that, yes, don’t listen to the negativity but also don’t rely on the good things,” Hough says. “Accept them and enjoy them but don’t rely on them to make yourself feel good.”
That lesson is just one of the many that Hough shares in his recent book, “Taking the Lead: Lessons From a Life In Motion.” The dancer said that he was nervous when writing the tome, knowing that it would generate comments, but he says that he couldn’t ignore an opportunity to help others, and give them “shortcuts” for combating bullying and shakeups in confidence.
“Hearing some of the responses from adults, and especially kids, it’s amazing to hear the feedback and hear how it’s affected their life in some way, even if it’s just for that night or a moment.”
However, Hough admits that it can sometimes be a challenge to be the bigger person.
“We’re all guilty of being a bully at some point,” he notes. Hough adds that he’s even caught himself acting out of line on occasion. “Growing up in the dance world and having to be a perfectionist, it suddenly becomes acceptable to behave a certain way, because it’s ‘for the art,’” he says, “And the truth is, it’s not.”
Teaching is one of the tools Hough advocates for prevention. “The more collective knowledge (about bullying) that we have, the less a person wants to bully and the more a person being bullied understands what’s really happening. But to get to that point, it’s about enlightening and educating kids, and even adults.”
By sharing his own experiences, Hough hopes to inspire tolerance, and encourage kids to be unafraid to raise their voices. Accepting GLSEN’s Inspiration Award is “amazing – it’s a massive honor,” he says, and it’s “incredibly fulfilling, because it’s one of those things where you feel strange accepting an award when it’s something personally driven, especially when you’re still working on yourself and striving to be better. But I’m very, very honored,” he says.
“If I’m able to share any of the things I’ve learned it’s an amazing feeling.” Hough explains of being a role model – a title that he’s still not used to. “It’s an incredible gift that I don’t plan on wasting. I want to share as much as possible, with as many people as I can.”
The GLSEN Respect Awards will be held Oct. 17 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, beginning with cocktails at 5:30 p.m., followed by the program at 7:30.