While twirling around the ballroom and winning mirror-ball trophies, fans wouldn't have guessed that Hough, now 24, was hiding a secret. "A lot of people got to know me through Dancing with the Stars and don't really know about my past before that, which I don't talk about much," she says.
That included her time at the prestigious Italia Conti Academy of Arts in London, where she told Cosmo recently, "I was a tormented little kid who had to put on this sexy façade because that was my job and my life."
But now Hough is looking forward rather than looking back. "I had to leave that situation and kind of come into my own again and I did," she tells ET.
With a blossoming movie career that includes the upcoming film Safe Haven, based on the book by Nicholas Sparks, Hough is able to reflect on difficult experiences and use them for her role as Katie Feldman, who is keeping a secret of her own.
"Being Katie, I relate a lot to her," Hough says. "The fact that she had been in one situation that just sucked the life out of her, and it was a bad situation, and she needed to change and move on and kind of find her own again. And through that you find love and everything."
The full interview with Hough airs Thursday night.