By Megan Lupo
Echoing the phrase, “Where the focus goes, energy flows” several times throughout the event, students were not only taught a Latin-infused dance, but were given words of encouragement by celebrity dancer Derek Hough to celebrate Rider’s Campus Fitness Day in the Student Recreation Center (SRC) on Feb. 2.
Giddy with the same excitement that the audience felt upon seeing a hyped-up Hough, he was just as eager to teach others how to dance.
“One thing that I’m really passionate about is getting people to move. Something I talk about often is that motion equals emotion. When you move, [that] directly affects the way you feel,” Hough said. “We’re so consumed and our minds are hijacked by our phones and TVs, [and other] technology that we forget to move. We’re sitting in our cars; we’re sitting at our desks. There’s not enough physical movement. And we were meant to move.”
And the crowd of 200 participants, according to Director of Recreation Programs Dianna Clauss, did just that.
In the middle of the SRC gym, an assemblage of athletic leggings and sneakers were taught, step-by-step, portions of a fast-paced, electrifying dance number by Hough, who mostly led from the stage.
For some in the crowd, this opportunity was not only a way to meet somebody admirable and famous, but to gain insight and career tips.
Sophomore musical theater major Tessa Douglas, who had been a long-time supporter of Hough, was impressed by how fun he made exercising based upon his promotion of positive thinking.
“Learning a dance from Derek was such a wonderful opportunity. The biggest thing that I retained from his inspirational talks in the point of view as a performer is that you have to love your craft,” Douglas said, vowing to incorporate his outlook when working out in the future. “When you do, you do whatever it is for yourself because that is the only person in the world that you need to perform for.”
Although Douglas had previous practice in taking a dance class, Hough emphasized that even those who were never formally trained in the art of dance have the innate capability to move to the tempo, citing how babies can bob to the beat of music before they can walk or crawl.
Hough further explained that what holds people back from showing off their full rhythmic potential is the development of self-consciousness, despite the health and social benefits.
“What dancing can bring that other physical types of activities don’t bring as much is a social connection, especially if you’re doing ballroom dancing where you’re actually dancing with somebody,” Hough said. “[Also,] studies show it’s really great for your brain. There’s a great expression that says, ‘When you’re body moves, your brain grooves,’ [which can improve memorization skills and retaining information.]”
When one student showed a hesitancy to dance in front of the tiny audience when Hough split the crowd up, he coaxed her out to the floor with a promise of support and danced with her one-on-one to overcome her fear.
In addition to uplifting the confidences of young adults, Hough is, also, ardent about breaking the stigma that is associated with male dancers, which is something that affected him when he was younger.
Growing up, Hough said that, although dancing around in his living room with his four sisters was a way they bonded, he was apprehensive about being bullied for liking dance class.
However, living in a new era of acceptance and tolerance, Hough is hopeful of seeing these sexist attitudes changing.
“I really feel like we’re living in a time now, where it’s like ‘You want to dance? That’s dope,’” Hough said. “Because for me, I was beaten up for being a dancer. I was tormented. It’s so awesome for me to see, especially young kids, young boys, who are like ‘I want to dance.’ And people are like ‘That’s really cool.’ People have been educated in the athleticism and creativity.”
Being a professional instructor on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars (DWTS),” Hough had witnessed the various athletes on the series continue to go to dance class to improve their mobility and dynamic movement for their sport.
“I see [former NFL player Rashad Jennings] in the dance studio all the time,” Hough said. “He was on the show a couple years ago, and he’s in the studio four times a week, dancing because he loves it.”
Stirring that same appreciation for the art of dance, Hough’s objective for the Rider dance class was for everyone to have a good time, as well as bestow wisdom that guided him throughout the years.
One notion that he aspired to bring attention to through his dance lesson is the importance and relevance of mental health, especially with today’s generation, he said.
“I just feel like one of the fastest ways to change the way you feel in a moment, in an instant, is the way you move your body,” Hough said. “If you’re in your head, you’re dead. Get out of your head and into your body. It’s definitely a way to do it.”
The issue of mental health is pertinent to Hough, as he said he suffered internal struggles of feeling unfulfilled in the midst of his successful career.
Even though he was a six-time champion on DWTS and two-time Emmy winner, he said he found his essence of purpose in serving others.
“When you’re outside yourself, I believe you’re truly connected with who you are. If you’re ever in a place where you’re feeling down or depressed, think about somebody else,” Hough said. “That’s one of the fastest ways to get out of that space. You’ll instantly feel a sense of ‘OK, what was I worrying about again?’ Once you think about somebody else, it’s the best.”
The idea to bring Hough to campus was through the collaboration efforts of the Student Entertainment Council, the Office of Campus Life and Recreation Programs.
Reflecting back on the event, students expressed enthusiasm about learning to dance from a master of his craft, as well as being influenced by his charismatic spirit, and are anticipating similar functions in the future.
“I really enjoyed the event that Rider hosted, and I hope that Rider is able to bring in more people like Derek to inspire more people to become active,” Douglas said. “Overall, I had such a fun time, and I can’t wait to see who comes next.”