A SHEPPARTON Latin American dancer and her partner are taking on the world. SARAH HUDSON reports
Here's a tip: if you ever meet a professional ballroom dancer set to compete against the world's best, do not ask what dress they plan on wearing.
Because, according to Amanda Garner, who will compete at the international Australian DanceSport Championship on December 10-13, a dress is secret women's business.
Particularly one that cost $2500 and has been made by a British designer.
"I can't tell you that. It's a secret," says the award-winning Latin American dancer from Shepparton.
"It's very important to come out and surprise your competitors and the audience with what you are wearing.
"All I can say is it's different to anything I've ever worn before."
If you think $2500 is pricey for a frock, then consider the whole dance package.
Amanda dances with her boyfriend, Sebastian Costa, who lives with her in Shepparton and together they teach at the family-run Excell Dance Centre.
She says Sebastian's specially designed pants and shirts can be equally as pricey as her dresses, while dance shoes cost about $200, with tanning, makeup and hair all adding to the bill.
Each weekend they travel to Melbourne to compete and train.
"We just had a lesson with a woman, an ex-world champion, who comes from LA, and the lesson cost $97 for 45 minutes. We had 27 lessons in eight days and in a few weeks we're going out to LA to do more training with her.
"It's not cheap, not at all. It's quite an expensive sport."
But she says dancing has paid dividends not only to herself but to her family and Sebastian.
Amanda won Channel 7's Dancing with the Stars when she partnered former Sunrise weatherman Grant Denyer, and went on to partner former Backyard Blitz host Jamie Durie.
Both she and Sebastian have instructed and choreographed for Channel 9's series Canal Road, have appeared in the dance spectaculars Burn the Floor, and they are currently Australian Professional Latin American finalists.
Amanda began dancing at the age of seven, partnering her four older brothers.
"My mum and my dad's sister were best friends and they thought it would be good to take all the kids to dancing," she says. "My brothers weren't that into football, so I joined in.
"I partnered my brothers for four years. "At the lower level it's called medallist the judges just judge the solo dancer, so I acted as partner."
She says by the age of 12, when she and her brother Steven registered as a dancing couple, and won a lower-level Victorian championship, she knew dancing was her future career.
At that stage, she was having dance classes about four days of the week and travelling to Mulwala, an hour away, for lessons.
"Especially at that age I loved learning the dance steps and loved the costumes. It was a great way to express myself. An outlet.
"And you never get bored. I'm 24 now and have been dancing since I was seven and I have so much more to learn."
In 1999, her family opened the Excell Dance Centre in Shepparton.
At that time, Amanda, at the age of 14, partnered her brother Jeremy, who now performs with Burn The Floor around the globe.
"I'm now the only one in the family competing," Amanda says.
"Performing like Jeremy is a very different side to dancing.
"Sebastian and I have just come back from China, where we did Burn the Floor for three months, and we'll be going to Orlando after Christmas to do the same show there.
"But I enjoy competing. It's much more challenging."
Sebastian and Amanda have been dancing together since 2007, when they became boyfriend and girlfriend.
"A lot of people find it difficult dancing with their boyfriend but for us, it's easy," Amanda says.
"We rarely spend even an hour apart. We do pretty much everything together."
Last year, the couple turned professional and competed at their first DanceSport Championship, where they were finalists.
This year, they will share the dance floor with 1300 other competitors from different levels and from more than 10 countries.
They will perform in the Latin American section, which includes the cha-cha-cha, samba, rumba, paso doble and jive.
Considering the amount of ambition and expectation under one roof, does the backstage bitchiness famously depicted in Strictly Dancing exist?
"It does happen, as it would in anything where a judge is judging on their opinion, in something subjective," Amanda says.
"It's the biggest dance competition in Australia with the best in Australia and also internationally. It's very competitive."
The 63rd Australian DanceSport Championship is at Hisense Arena in Melbourne, December 10-13. Details: http://www.theaustralianchampionship.com.au/