The Sad Truth About Derek And Julianne Hough's Childhood

Note: This article includes mentions of abuse.

Both Derek and Julianne Hough have credited their childhood spent at a dancing academy with achieving everything they have over the years, but that's not to say that period was a walk in the park. On the contrary — from moving to the other side of the world at a young age to intense schedules and even abuse, they had several hurdles to overcome as kids.

Derek and Julianne's love of dance began when they were both kids growing up in Utah. Their passion for performing took them to London at an early age, where they both attended Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. It was an incredible opportunity for them, for sure. However, the experience also came with some serious challenges. For starters, while they had each other, their parents and the three other Hough siblings remained stateside. 

Though Derek and Julianne lived with a family friend, they were also thrown into a world of self-sufficiency, and in a 2014 joint interview with People, Julianne revealed that she ended up getting lost on one of her first trips to the academy. "I remember one of my first days there I got off at the wrong train station ... I was just standing there thinking, 'Where am I?' she recounted. Of course, they both figured it out and, in the same interview, Derek said he believed it set them up for success as adults. Even so, homesickness and wrong trains weren't the only things they would contend with. 

Julianne Hough was treated badly

When Julianne Hough joined the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts, she was just 10 years old. However, she shared that ballroom dancing meant she was viewed as a lot more mature than she really was. For starters, she was required to wear full makeup — something she told People upset her because she had no pictures of herself looking like a normal 10-year-old. However, even more tragically, it opened her up to a lot of abuse from the adults around her. 

As Hough revealed in a 2013 interview with Cosmopolitan, "While I was in London, I was abused, mentally, physically, everything." Things only intensified in her teen years — and Hough shared that one of the people responsible also made her feel as though there was no way out. "I was told if I ever went back to the United States, three things were going to happen. One: I was going to amount to nothing. Two: I was going to work at Whataburger. And three: I was going to end up a sl**. So, it was like, I can't go back."

Understandably, that took a major toll on her, and in a 2019 interview with OnStage Blog, she hinted that she'd lost her passion for dance. "I had to fall in love with dance again in 2013 ... I now dance with joy and freedom instead of perfection," she shared. We're glad to see she managed to fall back in love with it in a healthy way. 

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

For Derek, the academy was a welcome change

While Julianne Hough's early years had some very low lows, for her older brother, it became a welcome respite from what he'd endured back home before their big move. As Derek Hough told OnStage Blog, "While dancing in Utah, I was bullied so much, that I went to different schools." Suffice it to say that being in an environment where everyone was performing helped with that. 

Another thing Derek loved about the experience at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts was the nearly round-the-clock schedule. Speaking of the packed days, busy evenings, and filled-up weekends, he explained, "We were so immersed in it, learning a lot of life lessons and building character. Having discipline gives you freedom." 

It's safe to say Derek thrived there, then. However, the reason behind it is a little heartbreaking. Speaking of his love for ballroom competitions, he told OnStage Blog, "On a human level, I always felt not being good enough. Success equals love, and if I won, I will be accepted." It's not exactly hard to see, then, why a hardcore schedule dedicated to helping him become the best dancer he could possibly be was something he enjoyed. 

The Hough siblings are super grateful for the experience

It's pretty clear that while they have a close relationship, Derek and Julianne Hough had different experiences at Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. However, one thing they're both very clear on is that they are grateful for the experience. 

Speaking to OnStage Blog, Julianne explained, "There were hardships in London, but it made me who I am today." She also shared that even with everything she faced, she was willing to push through the challenges to achieve her goals. "I was fearless and knew this is what I wanted," she said. As for her take on parents who were reluctant to let their own kids dance, she told OK that she understood the concern. "You should want to protect your kids," she said. However, she stressed that with the right communication and guidance, sometimes, kids, or at least teenagers, needed to be given the opportunity to make their own decisions. 

As for Derek, it's pretty clear moving across the globe was the best decision he ever made — or, rather, that his parents let him make. Speaking to People, he shared that while he wasn't surprised that many were shocked at his parents letting him and Julianne make such a big move on their own, he believed it was what set both of them up for success. "I think it's great that they saw an amazing opportunity. That is the reason we are here today," he gushed. It may have been an unorthodox childhood, but for the Houghs, it ended up working out.