During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans spent months quarantining in their home with family. We may repaint a bedroom or two. We may replace that leaky bathroom faucet. Or we may just gorge ourselves on junk food, bingeing television to whittle the hours away. Not Derek Hough, though. Not in the slightest.
“From a lifestyle or homebody perspective, we’ve been into these cooking shows,” Hough laughs. “I don’t know my way around a kitchen at all. Creatively, I’ve done a lot of art, a lot of tedious freehand art projects that I do. I play piano a lot and guitar. We’ve been embroidering jean jackets and making patches, tie-dye shirts. It’s been a full arts and crafts household for sure, which has been fun.”
Aside from what I will imagine to be Derek Hough and his fellow Dancing With the Stars alum Hayley Erbert bedazzling jean jackets, the couple also spent time choreographing elaborate and creative dance numbers for the ABC special series The Disney Family Singalong. You know, just like average Americans would.
The quarantined atmosphere wasn’t a challenge for Hough as creative start at home for him. Being an entertainer, Hough immediately jumped at the chance to not only stretch his creativity but also help bring joy to viewers struggling with the forced isolation. Being a massive Disney fan didn’t hurt. Thus entered the “Be Our Guest” segment of The Disney Family Singalong.
Hough started by making a edit of the music and recording initial vocals. Once he received approval, he and Erbert looked at objects around the house differently. Suddenly, everyday objects like plastic cups or bowls became choreography tools. They strategized on which rooms of their house would be best suited to both create a visually interesting segment and allow enough space for their choreography.
“It was just the two of us too, so everything had to be mounted up high or put on a tripod somewhere using a GoPro,” Hough explained. “It was really fun. It was hilarious because we were just running around our house in Beauty and the Beast costumes. But for me, being able to entertain and bring a little bit of joy in this very scary uncertain time was the highlight.”
After filming, the self-admitted control freak Hough and Erbert edited the material themselves, making their “Be Our Guest” segment a truly home-grown family product. It even integrated his sister, Julianne, who filmed her scenes remotely to integrate into Hough and Erbert’s scenes. End to end, the entire segment only took roughly two days. By comparison, it’s taken me nearly three months to replace mesh screens in my house. I’m still not done. But their finished product was incredibly well received and truly stood out from the other songs featured in the segment.
Impressed with the quality and ratings of the initial special, Disney quickly green-lit a second volume. Naturally, ABC/Disney reached out to Hough to request a second performance. Their only problem was, “How do you top ‘Be Our Guest’?”
“My first thought was just that: ‘How do we top this?’ How do we make it bigger and better and more magical. That’s the whole thing about Disney – it’s magical. They asked me to do ‘Step In Time’ (from Mary Poppins), and I was a little concerned at first because it’s a song that starts at 10 and stays at 10. So, I wondered how we would make this so that it feels like it builds and builds as it goes along even though the music is at a 10.”
To solve that problem, Hough went back to the original film and the imagery of chimney sweepers performing the classic number. In his opinion, the best part of the choreography is the volume of dancers on the rooftops of London. That led to Hough and Erbert wondering if they could somehow clone themselves as they were performing more intricate choreography.
“Literally as I’m saying that out loud, she’s on YouTube typing in ‘How To Clone Yourself’,” Hough laughed. “She’s such a tech wizard that she figured out how to do it, and that took so much more planning than Beauty and the Beast.”
To create the effect of multiple versions of Derek Hough performing the same choreography, Hough and Erbert started by marking sections of their floor to designate where Hough could dance each time they filmed to avoid overlapping with his “clone.” The “clone” look was achieved by adjusting a simple plastic cover over their iPad as Derek performed the choreography in each section. One sequence that, in the end, lasts around six sections but took several hours due to lighting inaccuracies and choreography issues. Their drive for perfection and desire to one-up “Be Our Guest” resulted in the equally jaw-dropping “Step In Time” sequence.
Whether or not ABC/Disney returns with a third segment is up in the air. If Hough and Erbert are called upon again, though, they’re ready.
“It has been in the back of my mind as to what we would do. I’ve got a few ideas if it were to happen again.”
Both volumes of The Disney Family Sing-along are available to stream on Disney+.