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.
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“USTD is by far our favorite competition. Nice venues, fair judging, and you can count on the events to be organized and on-time. They also provide a professional family-friendly atmosphere that my students love.”
Linda Machado – Director
Horizons Dance Center
“USTD has become a studio favorite for Savage Dance Company. This was our third regional competition with Sean and his staff. My dancers absolutely loved being challenged to perform up close and personal with the judging panel. My dancers told me they felt as if “they had to raise their game” and “perform harder!” There are several aspects and USTD traditions which I applaud: 1) I respect the way you circle up all attendees to recognize your title winners; this sense of acceptance is noteworthy in the competitive world; 2) I greatly appreciate your fast moving awards assembly. Holding on to your OVERALLS until the last awards assembly is brilliant! 3) I appreciate your alert and responsive judging panel. It is nice to see judges smile and laugh and comment expressively throughout the competition; 4) The creativity and the time spent in organizing and recognizing the special awards are greatly appreciated; and 5) The fact that Sean (the USTD Director on site) found me and welcomed me the first day of competition is most recognizable! I cannot begin to share with you the number of comp venues I have attended where the director and/or owner does not find me to introduce himself/herself and thank me for bringing my students to their venue throughout the ENTIRE weekend. With so many options out there today, it is nice feeling appreciated and welcomed. I think this sense of “family friendly” competition is what I love most about the USTD competition! Keep up the great work! See you again next season!”
Nichole Savage – Director
Savage Dance Company
“My studio has been attending USTD for several years! It is always my first choice for my dancers to receive the best competition experience. The judging is fair, accurate and encouraging. The staff is professional and personal all at the same time. The venues are always excellent. Every studio and dancer is important to Sean, the director as well as the rest of the staff. It is always the competition that my dancer’s look forward to and know they will get the best education.”
Tina Vittorioso – Director
Centerstage Dance Academy
“Hey Sean, Natasha, and the USTD Staff, I just want to say thank you to everyone for an awesome weekend. The kids and their parents are still talking about it! All the new parents said they felt like they have been attending for years. They felt so welcomed and at home. You all really create such an amazing atmosphere for not only the dancers but their families too. One of my favorite qualities of USTD. Can’t wait for Nationals!”
Dana Senisi – Director
Triple Threat Performing Arts Company
“We have been competing at USTD for many years and keep coming back! The experience is by far exceptional. The director of the program is very professional. He personally takes the time to greet everyone and thank them. If you ever have a question or and issue he is always willing to help out. The entire staff is top notch and always willing to help out in any way that they can. The judges give wonderful critiques for the instructors to work from and they also make a point to let a dancer know that they stood out by giving special awards. This is our favorite competition because it is judged fairly and you have to work for the awards that you are given. Also I am a small studio and this is the one competition that I feel does not just let the big schools win everything. Thank you USTD for being part of our dance experience and our dance family!!”
Heather Cavanaugh – Director
Heather Bennett’s Dancin’ to the Rhythm
“The Dance Connection, Binghamton, NY has competed with USTD for the past 15 years. We choose to attend USTD for numerous reasons, but the most important reasons are because of the level of integrity, professionalism, warmth and sincere love and commitment to the art of dance. Sean and Natasha Flanagan, along with their wonderful staff, continuously present both Regional and National dance competitions that provide qualified, professional judges, proper age/category for all levels of dance, an environment that supports camaraderie and continued learning and growth for the dancers. There are so many dance competitions to choose from., and we choose USTD! A class act in every way.”
Ann Szyannk – Director
The Dance Connection
“Joan Condlin’s Liverpool School of Dance has been attending USTD for many years and we love it!! The competition is super organized and the entire staff is friendly and helpful!! My students and families love being apart of their (USTD) competition family!!”
Mary Carrow (Director) & Staff of Joan Condlin’s
Liverpool School of Dance
“We as a school always enjoy your competition. Many of my students tell me that USTD is their favorite!!”
Kathy Hansen – Director
Kathy Hansen School of Dance
“Performing Arts Academy has been attending USTD since 2009, and it has quickly become a favorite for our studio. Owners Sean and Natasha have a hands-on approach that is reflected in the quality and organization of the competition. They are always adding new events and activities for the dancers, which makes for a unique and exceptional experience year after year. The events always run on time, and the staff is friendly and professional. USTD has truly raised the bar in the field of dance competition – our dancers feel both challenged and encouraged when they attend this event. The judging is fair and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. We look forward to continuing to be part of the USTD family for many years to come!”
Dawn Laviola Schaub (Director) & Meghan Frayne
Performing Arts Academy
Pompton Lakes, NJ
“USTD events are held at beautiful venues and skillfully managed with an integrity and expertise that reflects director Sean Flanagan’s authentic commitment to the passion and artistry of all the young dancers in attendance.”
Lisa Emmi – Director