Entertainment Theater Julianne Hough on Her Broadway Debut, New Chapter: 'I'm Focusing on the Things That Make Me Happy' Julianne Hough stars in POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, on Broadway By Jeff Nelson Jeff Nelson Instagram Twitter Jeff Nelson is the Senior News Editor, Entertainment at PEOPLE. For nearly a decade, he has worked across the brand's entertainment verticals, reporting on breaking news and writing and editing across platforms, as well as securing A-list cover exclusives, including Barry Manilow's coming out and an at-home interview with Madonna. Jeff has appeared as an expert on Good Morning America, Extra, HLN and SiriusXM, as well as at RuPaul's DragCon as a moderator. He studied magazine journalism at Drake University, graduating with a B.A. in Journalism & Mass Communication. People Editorial Guidelines Published on May 11, 2022 10:00 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Julianne Hough. Photo: jenny Anderson Julianne Hough is back at center stage. After a break from the spotlight, the Dancing with the Stars pro made her Broadway debut last month — but it wasn't in a flashy musical, as most fans might expect. Instead, Hough is showing off her comedy chops in the political satire POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, in which she plays Dusty, a freewheeling farm girl who is more than meets the eye. "This play gives permission to women that all parts of us can exist, that we don't need to be just one thing," says Hough, 33, who knows what it's like to be misjudged. "I think as a woman in general, you're always going to be underestimated. In earlier stages of my career, there was a moment of needing to prove my worth. But as I've gotten older, I don't feel the need to prove anything; I just am who I am." RELATED GALLERY: Meet All 33 Young Performers Making Their Broadway Debuts in West Side Story Julianne Hough. Emilio Madrid With Hollywood projects on pause amid the pandemic, she dedicated time to self-discovery and expanding her businesses (Fresh Vine Wine, which she started with her friend, actress Nina Dobrev; and KINRGY, her dance-based fitness program). "I tried to use that break as a personal-growth moment and to reconnect with friends and family and, most importantly, myself," she says. Hough's life changed drastically over the course of the past couple of years. After some serious soul-searching, she ended her marriage to retired hockey pro Brooks Laich, 38. The pair separated amicably in May 2020, nearly three years after they wed, then finalized their divorce this February. "You think about what's important and what you would be left with at the end of your life," Hough says. "[It's important to] clear space so that you can put your energy and your heart into the things that you're really passionate about." With her split behind her, Hough is facing her future with renewed hope. Julianne Hough. Bruce Glikas/WireImage "My heart is open. I'm leading with love but not necessarily searching for anything. I'm focusing on the things that make me happy. I'm focusing on going to the flower shop and buying beautiful flowers to make my house feel great. And I'm focusing on being the best version of myself," she says. "I'm excited to be in this state of openness." When the opportunity to appear in POTUS presented itself, Hough jumped at the chance to realize a goal — and relocate to New York City for a fresh start. "This has been a dream of mine — not only to be a part of a show like this, but to be a part of the Broadway community," says Hough, who has bonded with POTUS 's all-female cast — including Rachel Dratch and Vanessa Williams — who came to her aid when she caught COVID-19 during previews in April. "I truly feel a sisterhood. They've really shown me what friendship is." Hough in POTUS with (from left) Suzy Nakamura, Vanessa Williams, Julie White, Lilli Cooper, Rachel Dratch and Lea DeLaria. Bruce Glikas/WireImage POTUS opened last month and will run through August, and the production, which scored three Tony nominations on Monday, covers a range of timely topics, including abortion. During the May 3 show, amid reports the Supreme Court may overturn Roe V. Wade, Hough received a standing ovation when her character delivered the line: "I volunteer at a clinic back in Iowa. Affordable, safe reproductive health care is a basic human right." "That night was so powerful," Hough says. "For a hot second, all of us onstage were like, 'Are we going to cry right now? Do we keep pausing? Do we allow the show to be stopped for a second?' And we were like, 'Yes, we should. This is a really important moment, and it needs that space.' It was palpable." Adds Hough: "I think every single person, whether it be onstage or in the audience, felt the gravity of that line, because of everything that's happening at the moment. That line was always powerful, before [that] week, and yet it had a different context to it. It even makes me emotional right now. That is what is so incredible about live theater: you get to have the pulse of what's happening in the country, in the nation, at your fingertips and it can kind of just come through you. It's a collective experience." Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human-interest stories. With an acclaimed Broadway debut under her belt, Hough is relishing her latest success and looks forward to what's next. "Being in this play with these hysterical women, it's just broadening and hopefully expanding myself as an artist," she says. "This is just the beginning."