Derek Hough is going from Dancing with the Stars to ice dancing with Olympians.
The five-time Dancing champ won't be at the Winter Olympics, but his presence will be felt when Meryl Davis and Charlie White take to the ice Sunday. Along with the two-time world champs and six-time U.S. champs' coach Marina Zoueva, Hough worked on the pair's quickstep and foxtrot in their My Fair Lady-themed short dance that has helped them remain undefeated this season (they haven't lost in 22 months).
"I was definitely not expecting that call," Hough tells TVGuide.com. "I still can't believe they asked me. I got lucky. I really did. It was an honor to help them out any way I could."
But Hough wasn't sure if he wanted the job at first. Find out why he was hesitant, what he's already brought back to the ballroom from the ice and more.
What was your reaction when Meryl and Charlie asked you?
Derek Hough: I was so flattered. I was like, "Whoa! What?!" It was wild. We know some mutual people through Kristi Yamaguchi, so they reached out last year and asked if I would be interested. I think they watched the show and I guess they liked my work. I couldn't believe it.
Was the shock why you didn't say yes right away?
Hough: There were lots of reasons — scheduling and the show and other stuff — but I really had to think about it because I wasn't really sure if I could do it. I've never choreographed for ice before and you don't want to be the guy who screws someone out of winning the Olympics! [Laughs]
I feel like you love challenges like that.
Hough: I do. For me, it's always like that. My first thought is, "Well, I can't do that" or "I don't know how to do that." But then that just motivates me to want to do it because you have to try new things. That's the only way you can keep growing and push yourself and creativity. When I say I can't do something, I must do it. Or if it's something I'm not quite sure I'm capable of doing — you're never really ready for something. You just have to go for it. I watched some of their routines and said yes and it was one of the best, most fulfilling decisions I've made.
Did they have a vision for the routine or something specific they wanted to work on, like the quickstep and foxtrot?
Hough: They knew what they wanted to do. They picked the music. They wanted to work on refinement and bringing the ballroom to the ice. There are obviously strict requirements of what they have to do, and one thing is the quickstep and foxtrot, and they wanted to get the positions and the feel of those dances down right. I was concentrating on the movement and fluidity and making sure they were continuous. We meshed really well together.
What's the biggest difference between choreographing for the ballroom and the ice besides the surface?
Hough: What's interesting is when you do certain moves on wood, you can stop instantly and change direction. On the ice, you try to keep the flow and keep the momentum. You're always going; there's no break like there can be on wood. That's something I didn't really realize until we started working. We were constantly adjusting things and changing things. I was in awe of their synchronicity. It was awesome to see how they translated everything from the wood floor to the ice.
You didn't work with them that long, but did you get choreographer's block at all? I'm guessing not being under the gun to come up with a routine in four days like you are on the show helps.
Hough: Yeah, that definitely helps. We didn't work together that long. I wish we did! ... I went to Detroit for a few days in April and then they came out to L.A. for a few days a couple months later. So it wasn't as stressful as the show is. But we worked pretty quickly. Their coach was there and she's super sweet. It constantly changes and evolves when you take it out on the ice. You just have to blast through a blueprint and you tweak and adjust and change things as you go.
Have you been keeping up with their contests this season?
Hough: Yeah, I've been watching videos. They've been killing it. ... To watch them get the highest score in history at the U.S. Nationals last month was so cool. I'm just really excited to see them at the Olympics. I'm not going, but I'll definitely be watching it at home and freaking out. I'll be losing my mind. They're so great and inspiring. They've been working so hard. Four years ago, they took silver, and it lit a fire in them. They said, "We want to go all the way." They went after it and they're the best in the world right now. It was an absolute pleasure from start to finish working with them and to be part of their journey.
You teased last year that you might incorporate something you learned from them into the show. Have you?
Hough: Yeah. I did it with Kellie [Pickler] in our freestyle. What happens when you're doing something like this is it makes you go, "What if we try this?" [In the freestyle] where she puts her feet on my shoulders and I start spinning her around, it's something you might see in ice dancing. I wasn't taught that, but maybe because I was working with them, I thought that was something we could put in.
That raises the question: Will you incorporate something again? Have you decided if you're coming back next season?
Hough: I haven't decided yet. We're still working things out right now. We'll see. It's just making sure everything's in order. I'm working on a book that's coming out in May called Taking the Lead and I have some other projects going on.
What if either Meryl or Charlie — or both — come on? They could withdraw from worlds next month and you guys always poach an Olympian after each Games.
Hough: [Laughs] That's true! If they ever do the show, that'd be awesome. I think they might want to defend their title.