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'Dancing With the Stars': Pro Derek Hough talks training, tanning, and having to put Baby in a corner

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I am feeling so aliiiiiiiive! Dancing With the Stars begins tonight (update: read EW’s season 11 premiere recap here), and its most exquisite professional specimen Derek Hough, 25, has graciously agreed to answer some of our burning ballroom-related questions each week in between training sessions with his Star, Dirty Dancing actress Jennifer Grey, 50. Keep it clean! You know that’s always been Derek’s motto.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First song and dance?

DEREK HOUGH: Our first dance is Viennese Waltz – can’t reveal the song though.

Have you decided on a nickname for your partnership (Grough, etc.) and was it extremely difficult to narrow down the field? I personally like Baby Derek.

We went back and forth a lot on our team name and logo. We finally settled on Jenougher which clearly is a take on both of our names.  We had a great “iconic” logo that we wanted to use but for legal reasons we weren’t allowed to. Our first take on everything was ‘Baby Derek’ and our logo was going to be Jennifer holding a baby in her arms that had my head. It would have been fantastic.

Speaking of Baby Derek, do you think you were cuter as a) a baby or b) an adult ballroom dancing stud?

Definitely as a baby. When Dirty Dancing came out I was in Dirty Diapers.

Why do you think Jennifer Grey was paired with you? Do your strengths as a trainer correspond to some of her dancing struggles? What is the personal chemistry like?

She and I get along great. She has an amazing sense of humor and has the best one-liners. I already feel like I’ve known her forever. Her ballroom dance experience is limited so teaching her really is starting from scratch. I wish I knew how the producers paired people. If anyone knows please tell me.

How many “Don’t put Baby in a corner” warnings have you had to deal with? Won’t it be impossible to avoid putting her in the corner because ballroom dancers MUST use all the surface area of the floor?

I plan to put Baby in all corners of the dance floor during our various routines during the season. We are going to give the audience every opportunity to say “No one puts Baby in a corner.”

Are you planning any Dirty Dancing homages in your routines? Specifically, will you attempt later in the season to have her “fly” down into your arms from the platform? Or does that seem too cheesy to do right away? (On the other hand nothing seems too cheesy for DWTS!)

Jen has had a couple of neck surgeries that make that move literally impossible for her to do. I’ll have to be a bit more creative in pulling off a tribute to Dirty Dancing.

It must be terrifying to go from not really appearing much on TV/film to going LIVE in front of millions doing something you’re not even trained in. How do you deal with a partner’s fear?

Everyone who does Dancing with the Stars gets that initial stage fright and that “oh crap” moment hits them as some point. The best advice that I give my partner is to focus on me, concentrate on what I’ve taught them and you won’t even notice the audience.

Can you explain the situation (ha) with the training facility — everyone practices in the same big complex, right? How often do you get to spy on each other? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen in the past two weeks?

We have this great studio that the BBC built for us that has six dance studios in it. There’s one studio in the middle of the building that you can see into if you’re in the two studios that are located upstairs. We all often pop into each other’s rehearsals to check out the competition but also to take breaks, to smack talk and to encourage each other. Nothing wild has happened yet but someone did install a pull-up bar in one of the doorways so at various times you’ll see people trying to do pull-ups. Maybe some of the guys are feeling the need to get their muscles defined this season.

Is there a really competitive spirit in the air right away during the training weeks, or is everyone just hoping to not be eliminated first?

You don’t think about being eliminated actually. You concentrate on nailing your routines and for the most part everyone really is supportive of everyone else.  It’s always competitive but healthy competition.

How did you spend the summer?

After the last season finished I headed straight to Europe to be part of one of the biggest concert tours. After that was finished I spent a lot of time in London, I essentially grew up there – I lived there for 10 years. It was great being back.

Are you allowed to get your own tan or is that discouraged in favor of DWTS-administered spray tans?

I personally do not get spray tanned at the show or outside of it. It’s all personal choice. They have a lady come to the rehearsal facility once a week and spray whoever wants it.

Leave your questions for Baby Derek in the comments!

Read more: EW.com’s ‘DWTS’ season 11 premiere recap

Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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