The United States Tournament of Dance was founded in 1976 by Verona D’Amato (Ellis) and George Connelly. Verona and George successfully ran the George Connelly Dance Studios in New York for thirty years encompassing the studies of Performing Arts, Ballroom, and Drama. Together they held memberships in Dance Educators of America, Dance Masters of America, Society of Teachers of Dancing, Dance Teachers Club of Boston/American Society, Competition Teachers Council and the Professional Dancers Federation. In addition Verona served for thirteen years as the executive Secretary of the National Dance Council of America as well as an accredited adjudicator in both Ballroom Dancing and Performing Arts. During this time the duo ran several successful Ballroom Championships across the United States as well as directing world events on the international level.
Their experience in producing and directing Ballroom competitions, and vast knowledge in the field of Performing Arts, prompted them to start the United States Tournament of Dance, Inc. ( a nationally recognized performing arts event) in 1976. Verona and George took all that they knew from running Ballroom Championships and applied it to Performing Arts. They were able to maintain the elegance and prominence of a Ballroom competition, while being organized and punctual in a ‘family friendly environment.’
By 1977 the USTD was licensed to award US Title Divisions in 12 Title categories including; Petite Miss Dance of the US/Young Mr. Dance of the US/Junior Miss Dance of the US/Junior Mr. Dance of the US/Mr. Dance of the US/Petite Miss Acrobat of the US/Young Mr. Acrobat of the US/Junior Miss Acrobat of the US/Junior Mr. Acrobat of the US/Mr. Acrobat of the US/Miss Acrobat of the US/ and of course Miss Dance of the US. International titles were also implemented at that time to accommodate competitors who traveled from Canada, England and as far away as Australia to attend the competition.
Sean Flanagan, current President and CEO of the USTD, and nephew of Verona, joined Verona and George at the age of seven and began to travel with them serving as the “Official USTD Runner.” Together with the USTD staff, they helped to create the structure and framework for modern day performing arts competitions.
In the early 1980’s George was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that quickly engulfed him, and eventually took his life. Verona as well as the entire family were devastated at his loss. It was at this time that Sean took a more serious role in the USTD, learning at an early age how to set up the events, deal with hotel management, control inventory, and handle all logistics. Sean’s mother Deanna became Verona’s right hand, by overseeing the financials and assisting with scheduling and management. Michael Flanagan, husband to Deanna, and father to Sean assumed the role of Merchandising Director. Through this time of change and expansion, the USTD maintained the same standards and values that it had been been known for since 1976.
In 1989 Natasha Aslett traveled from Australia to compete at USTD Nationals, it was here that she met Sean Flanagan Four years later, Natasha returned to the United States. Sean and Natasha fell in love and were married a few years later. By this point Sean became assistant director and event coordinator of the USTD under Verona. Natasha, who trained with the Royal Academy of Dance and the Australian Ballet and who was a teacher of National Dancing began teaching and judging extensively across the United States. Having owned and directed her own studio in Australia, accompanied by several professional performance credits, Natasha was in high demand and adjudicated many USTD events.
In January of 2002, after having run a studio for thirty years, and the USTD for twenty-six years, Verona retired. Michael Flanagan was regrettably forced to leave his position as Merchandising Director due to an ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis. It was at this time that Sean Flanagan became President, CEO, and sole owner of the United States Tournament of Dance. Sean’s 20+ years with the USTD coupled with his business background and degree respectfully earned him this title. Sean’s wife Natasha Flanagan was appointed Championship Director, Deanna assumed the role of Scruiteneer, and Lou Cordileone became the Event Coordinator.
Sean and Natasha, who are often affectionately referred to as the modern day George and Verona, have begun an expansion process that will take the USTD far into the future. It is their hope that their two children will one day continue to provide talented young competitors the opportunity to compete in a professional setting where fairness and fun come first.