Dancing With The Stars, Derek Hough

After Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough topped the Dancing with the Stars leaderboard last week with a 24, rumblings about the Dirty Dancing star's so-called "dance experience" heated up again — an unfair dig at her, Hough tells TVGuide.com. "Would you ask Adrien Brody to play piano at Carnegie Hall? Or would you ask Hilary Swank to fight in a professional boxing match?" he says. "Jennifer learned to dance 23 years ago for that movie and she played a person who didn't know how to dance. She wasn't learning new routines and dancing live week in and week out. I can see why people think that, but they're not the same." In fact, the Emmy-nominated pro has a slightly more difficult path to a record third Mirrorball trophy as he must choreograph around Grey's neck injury. Find out how he plans to do that and more.

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TVGuide.com: Congrats on getting the top score. What did you think of your performance?
Derek Hough:
Thank you! I loved it. It was a serene performance. Not to sound cocky or anything, but I knew it was going to be a good dance for her because it fit her so well. But at the same time, you never know how she's going to do either. She's never done live performances ever, so I wasn't sure how she was going to react to being in front of a live audience, but she did awesome. I was really happy with how well she did.

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TVGuide.com: Were you surprised the producers gave you a song ("These Arms of Mine") from Dirty Dancing?
Hough:
A little. I didn't know if it was good or bad. I knew everybody had a song that sort of applied to or was representative of them, like Audrina [Patridge] had "California Gurls" and Bristol [Palin] had "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)." I think it was appropriate. I knew they would make a Dirty Dancing reference anyway, so why not the first week, I guess. It was the elephant in the room. But now is time to do dances that are not related to that at all.

TVGuide.com: I take it that means no Dirty Dancing homages, which you probably should avoid, right?
Hough:
We don't want to re-create something that's so perfect. I definitely want to give people a different memory of her and a different experience. That routine and movie are so iconic that if it's not broken, don't fix it. As much as some people want to see [an homage], I think there are a lot who don't want to see one. Plus, legally, I don't think we would be able to reproduce it. It's time for new things. Also, Jennifer and I can't do as many things because of her neck injury, so I'm trying to be as creative as I can to create routines that can still be crowd-pleasing, but without highlights that other people may be doing. No crazy tricks or lifts or stunts for us, but we're still going to put on a show.

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TVGuide.com: What was your reaction when she broke down as you were choreographing because she thought of Patrick Swayze?
Hough:
I was very surprised because she was excited and smiling right before. But, you know, she wears her heart on her sleeve. She's not one of those people who will bottle her feelings up. It was uncontrollable. If she's upset, you will see it. If she's excited, which is the case most of the time, you will see it. You didn't see it last week, but she's usually cracking up and rolling on the floor with peals of laughter. She's very expressive, a lot of fun and full of energy. The Viennese waltz was very, very emotional, but that's not her true personality. You'll see new side of her in the jive. I want people to see that fun-loving side of her because that's who she is.

TVGuide.com: How is the jive going?
Hough:
It's going good. It's a tough dance because you need lots of stamina. Your legs are burning like crazy. It's a little like a boot camp. I'm pushing her on: "Keep going! Keep going!" She's not a trained dancer, but I think she has it in her blood. It's in her bones. She has that natural dance ability that just comes out when she gets on the floor. That's definitely her advantage.

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TVGuide.com: What does she need to work on the most right now?
Hough:
Maintaining information and things that we go over. We have to repeat things over and over again so she can develop muscle memory. Some people may not be as good or as natural a dancer, but they can pick up choreography really fast. They might not look good doing it, but they get it quickly. With her, she looks good, but it takes her a little bit longer. She actually follows very well, but she's not certain with what she's doing and I want her to be certain. If I'm not with her, I want her to know her steps.

TVGuide.com: How'd you think everyone else did?
Hough:
I thought everybody did fantastic. I think the standard this year is higher. It's a lot more competitive, which makes it more exciting. I was surprised David [Hasselhoff] left. I think we all were. I thought he would have a huge fan base behind him, especially having recently been on television and whatnot, but that's how it goes. That's the show for you. It's unpredictable and it's going to be interesting this season if this first week is any indication.

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TVGuide.com: Your Emmy-nominated paso doble with Chelsie [Hightower] last season remains awesome. Any plans for another musical/dance number this season?
Hough:
Yes, definitely. I have an idea kicking around. It's the early stages and I haven't decided who'll be part of it yet. It'll keep it very minimal and very stripped down. So keep an eye out!