Derek Hough has always been an advocate of positive affirmation both on and off the dance floor. So when the TIA Girl Club — an empowerment-focused community centered on the phrase, “Today I Am” — asked him to be their December “Trailblazer,” he was more than happy to do so.
“The words ‘I am’ are incredibly powerful. They can be used for good and for bad,” the Hairspray Live! star tells EW. “We often hear ourselves self-deprecatingly saying ‘I’m stupid’ or ‘I’m dumb.’ We just throw them out there, [but] they’re more powerful than we think. It’s important that we’re conscious about what we put after those two words.”
TIA Girl Club shares Hough’s concern, as it works to empower both girls and, as of December, boys, between the ages of 8 to 13, where there is often the biggest drop in self-esteem among kids. One of the ways the movement encourages tweens to express their true selves is by providing a subscription-based Empowerment Box (a.k.a. the TIA Treasure Box) that is curated by that month’s chosen role model, or “Trailblazer.”
Hough’s involvement is notable in that not only is he the first male role model to be featured, but it’s also the first month where there is a box aimed at boys. While both boxes include fun items like beanies and bracelets, they also include posters and handbooks filled with advice.
When Hough was thinking of what kind of message he wanted to send, he turned to one of his own mentors, Tony Robbins, for inspiration. “[He] talked about ‘changing your state’ and for me that was very powerful. That was something I kept with me throughout my own life,” says Hough, adding that that “state” includes everything from the language people use and their focus to their “physiology, mental, and emotional” states.
Hough, who answered a few questions from the TIA Girl Club community for the boxes, says that one of the things his younger fans frequently ask him is how he overcomes negativity or obstacles. “Staying positive is an emotional muscle. It’s just like, to work yourself out physically, you don’t just go to the gym once and go, ‘All right, I’m done for life.’ You have to do it repeatedly.”
Hough has a few people he’d consider trailblazers, too. Among them are his sister, Julianne (“She’s broken the mold of what is expected of a performer”), Jane the Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez (“She put on this Young Women’s Honors Gala — I’m so proud to be friends”), and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart (“There’s an expression, ‘to happily succeed [than] to succeed to be happy,’ and you can tell they’re happily succeeding”).
Both of Hough’s curated boys’ and girls’ boxes are available on the TIA Girl Club website.