Dancing From Down Under

by Laura McHenry / Photos by Rod Foster

Tune in to ABC on a Monday night and you’ll get an eyeful of glitz and glam rivaling any show on the Vegas strip. The flashy costumes, the sultry moves and the big personalities of Dancing With The Stars add up to chart-topping ratings and Facebook-worthy fodder. But peel back the layers of sequins and spray tan, and you’ll see substance over style. The professional dancers on the show are well-trained athletes with drive and motivation, “overnight sensations” who have worked their whole lives to get to this place. No one proves that more than Damian Whitewood.

With soap-opera good looks and a swoon- worthy Aussie accent, Damian’s first impression packs quite a punch. But sit down with him for a cup of coffee and conversation and you’ll meet one of the most down-to-earth people in the city. Growing up in Perth, Australia, Damian’s life was simple. His parents chose to raise their children in a place that afforded many opportunities, but not without a tremendous amount of hard work. Damian’s mother was a ballroom dancer, so he found himself at the studio quite a bit as a child. The lure of the dance floor won and by age 15, Damian was competing regionally.

With competition fees, coaching and costuming, dancing is not an inexpensive art form. Damian’s mom, a hairdresser, told him that if he was serious about dancing, he needed to find a way to support his passion. So he did. He became a hairdresser to make some money on the side. He quickly learned, however, that his mother wasn’t doing him any favors. She would not hire him to work at her salon. She wanted him to make his own way. So once again, he did. Damian found a job at a neighboring salon and made enough money to keep dancing. Believe it or not, he cuts his own hair to this day!

Damian flew through the ranks of competitive dance and became Australian Champion, WA State Champion and Australasian Champion in Ballroom and Latin American styles. He also represented Australia in the Worlds Youth Latin in Germany, the Worlds Youth Ballroom in Russia and was a semi- finalist at the Blackpool International Championships in the UK.

In 2000, Damian was contacted by the producers of “Burn The Floor,” a slick, sexy stage show filled with the best of ballroom dance. Damian toured with the show, living his passion for the art without the pressure of competition. It was on this world-wide tour that he met Peta Murgatroyd, his partner in the show, and now his partner in life.

Along the way, Damian has shared the stage with the likes of James Brown, Shirley Bassey and Deep Purple in Monte Carlo. He has appeared on Dancing With The Stars in Australia and the US and So You Think You Can Dance in Australia and Holland. This season of Dancing With The Stars has thrust Damian into the spotlight, literally and figuratively. With a partner as high-profile as Pamela Anderson, he has found himself on TV talk shows, radio spots and of course, winning the hearts and votes of millions of Americans.

The pressure is intense: choreographing their routines, costuming the two of them, and working with Pamela to help her be the best she can be. It’s non-stop adrenaline until the results show. Then it’s back at it again. And Damian loves every minute of it. Every week, it’s an opportunity to “figure out how to get the best out of yourself.”

Having lived on both coasts of the US, Damian feels very much at home in LA. The weather, of course, is a huge draw, but he also loves the energy of the city. He intends to put down roots here and see what Southern California has to offer. He’s thankful he has Peta to share this new chapter with. When asked what’s next for him, Damian doesn’t spout off big plans or have his future completely mapped out. But he has a calm sense that he is where he needs to be right now. The next thing for him will reveal itself in perfect time. It’s this humility and gentleness that complement his performance side. The facets of this man are many.

Damian’s star is rising. And it casts a warm glow on everyone fortunate enough to know him.