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International dance troupe teams up to 'Burn the Floor'

Damon and Rebecca Sugden, Kym Johnson and Trent Whiddon, and Scott Cleaver and Vanessa Polimeno are six members from the cast of "Burn the Floor." And like most of the cast, they are championship ballroom competitors.

Burn the Floor, formed by Harley Medcalf in 1999, after seeing a ballroom extravaganza held at Elton John's 50th birthday bash, is just another way for the dancers to do what they love to do — dance. The two-hour production, choreographed and directed by Jason Gilkison, features 32 dancers from such countries as Australia, Denmark, England, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. The dance concert also features vocalist Angela Teek.

Dances spotlighted in the program include the lindy hop, mambo, samba, rumba, waltz, salsa, jitterbug and tango, just to name a few. "We don't have to worry about judges," said Polimeno. "We still worry about how we look, how we move and how we present ourselves. But there's more of a fun, relaxed feeling when we dance on stage."

"We get to focus on just dancing," said Johnson. "We can focus on the steps and the moves without getting nervous."

Still, there are other challenges the dancers face as Burn the Floor performers. "We have that inner pressure of trying to make and dance in every show," said Damon Sugden. "We are very dedicated in making sure each show is a special show for our audience."

In fact, the Sugdens were so dedicated that their honeymoon was spent touring with the show. "We don't have time for anything else," said Rebecca Sugden. "The whole cast dances together, travels together and eats together. There is really not a day when we can take off."

Luckily, for the dancers, they all get along.

"We're pretty loose-knit as a group," said Whiddon. "We're all addicted to dancing and really can't think of anything else we would rather do than tour the world and dance with our friends."

But no matter how careful the dancers try to be, there are times when injuries and sickness will take their toll. "Those times, we try to cover for those who are hurt or sick," said Cleaver. "We know the routines and presentations well enough to perform without drawing attention to the absences."

For the record, the Sugdens have been the Australian representatives for five years — the only Australians to win the under-21 International Championship in London. They have also been the Asian & Pacific Champions for four consecutive years and have reclaimed their Australian Championship three times.

Johnson danced for Australia in the World Championships and was featured in Baz Lurman's film "Strictly Ballroom," as well as numerous TV commercials and fashion parades. Johnson's partner Whiddon has become one of Australia's top juvenile and youth competitors. He was recently a finalist in the Junior British championships.

Cleaver and Polimeno won first place in the World Gold Cup Junior Latin category in the 2001 National Capital Dancesport Championships and the World Gold Cup Junior Latin Open at the World Championships in 1996. Other titles the couple has won include the Singapore International Adult Open to the World Latin in 1997 and the Adult Open in the World Latin in 1997.