Craig Sjodin/ABC
March 13, 2010 12:00 AM

Dancing with the Stars has imported a new professional dancer from Down Under! Damian Whitewood, who spent the last nine years traveling internationally with the dance company Burn the Floor, will be staying put for a while on Dancing‘s 10th season — or so he hopes!

“I’ve got to step it up a few notches to get back into the competitive scene,” Whitewood, 32, tells PEOPLE. “I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The Perth, Australia, native has plenty of experience under his belt: He started dancing at age 10, and by 15, was jet-setting from dance competition to dance competition. “I thought, ‘My mates are still in school, and I’m traveling the world. Not too bad!'”

At 16, Whitewood got a degree as a hairdresser, so he had a career to fall back on if dancing didn’t work out. But he won’t have to be wielding a hair-dryer anytime soon. Instead, he’s training up partner Pamela Anderson on the cha cha for the March 22 premiere. “I was nervous waiting for her to come through the door,” he says. “But she’s very down to earth, very genuine, and very nice. She’s family oriented; she’s got two boys who she’s always running around with.”

But can she dance? “She has no dance experience whatsoever,” says Whitewood. “It’s totally foreign to her. She obviously has to loosen those feet and ankles, and relax a little bit more, but that only comes with time.”

Thankfully, she’s learning from a true pro. In addition to dancing in Broadway productions, Whitewood has been an Australian Champion in Latin American and Ballroom dancing.

As for Apollo Ohno‘s recent joke that Anderson is “too top heavy” to win Dancing, Damian says, “Keeping your weight forward, that’s a good thing, right? Her weight is over her toes!”

Top heavy or not, Whitewood says he knows the secret to a good performance. “If we have good chemistry and we’re having fun, everybody can relate to that,” he says. “It’s about a man and a woman, up close and personal, dancing together.” –Lisa IngrassiaCraig Sjodin/ABC

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