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Florida Sunshine Challenge Recap

By Rebecca Kelley – Organizer and National District 10 Director (the Carolinas)
Contributing Author
Photos by South by North Photography

What can I say that hasn’t already been said about the Florida Sunshine Dance Challenge?  Of course, maybe some of you who were not able to attend would like to know what happened over the June 7-9 weekend.  Okay, I will tell you, but the best way to enjoy the fun and all the talk around town with your fellow dancers is to put the 2025 Florida Sunshine Dance on your calendar!

Ilya Shklyaryk & Emma Stein
Junior I couple Ilya Shklyaryk & Emma Stein danced their first competition on Saturday night of the Florida Sunshine Dance Challenge.

For competitors who traveled on Thursday, the Tallahassee Chapter made special practice accommodations at a local library.  They also lounged about and enjoyed some free time as tourists visiting major Tallahassee attractions.

Friday Night:  Registration opened with music from the Javacya Chamber Orchestra. As they arrived, Officials, competitors, vendors, and other special guests all received a free Florida Sunshine Dance Travel Mug! They then enjoyed a fun meet and mingle with light hors d’oeuvres while getting a chance to see and dance on the competition floor for the first time. The evening wrapped up early with a little social dancing.

Saturday Morning:  Bright and early, competitors all dressed in their Standard and Smooth gowns, were ready for the day to begin. The competition began on time with a Competitor Parade, and couples took to the dance floor for the first event. It was a fun day full of great music, dancing, fun, and friends.

2024 marked a few milestones for the Florida Sunshine Dance:

First milestone: This year was the competition’s first year to have a Junior I couple — Ilya Shklyaryk & Emma Stein — who took center stage with the International 10-dance.  This was their first USA Dance Competition, and because of the intimate nature and the overall welcoming feel, their parents and coaches said it lessened their nervousness.  Some of the coaches’ comments were “Great competition…love the hardwood floor!”  They further commented that the event was, “warm and inviting, personal, and had a genuine ‘at home’ feel….We will be back next year!”

Second milestone: Ten Special Olympic dancers from the Cape Coral, Florida’s Freida B. Smith Special Populations Center entered their very first competition. Due to the nature of the Special Populations Group of Cape Coral, the entries were pre-recorded and sent via email. They looked great and everyone enjoyed their positive energy.

Paul Brawner & Lolita Brawner dance their American Smooth to the delight of the crowd.

Third: The competition awarded Top Teacher and a “Pot of Gold” award to the Professionals.  Top Teacher 1st place went to Roger Howell (Tallahassee, Florida), 2nd place – Michael Singleton (Jacksonville/St. Augustine, Florida), and 3rd place – Ben Clark (Tallahassee, Florida).  Looking ahead to 2025, we all wonder, will Roger hold the title next year or will someone else take it?

The Saturday morning session ended with lunch for all competitors and officials and was followed by the Special Olympic Events.  Waltz, Cha Cha, Merengue, and Tango were some of the dances.  Carol Davis, who oversees the dancers of the Special Populations Group of Cape Coral was present to receive all their medals.  We hope more will enter the competition next year.

After the Special Olympic Events, there was a Jack & Jill Four-Dance (Waltz/Foxtrot/Cha Cha/Swing) and a Jack & Jill West Coast event.  Randomly selected and paired, five followers and five leaders were able to enjoy each dance with all five partners.  28 dances back-to-back.  Yes, it was exhausting, but it was incredibly fun!  Once the followers got a chance to dance with each leader for each dance, the best were again paired and took turns to determine the best.  

Chris Page and Susan King demonstrate the flair of Championship-level Smooth.

Meanwhile, while the dancers in the Jack & Jill Four-Dance were resting, others danced in the Jack & Jill West Coast.  We had three leaders and four followers and they all danced.  Some danced a total of 35 dances before these two events were through.  A great big shout out to Leaders Paul Brawner (Tallahassee), Alayna Bussen (Texas), Terry Hague (Tallahassee), Jam Jenkins (Texas), and Ken Osborn (Florida & Iowa.) 

Winners of the Jack & Jill 4-dance were: Jam Jenkins & Amelia Rankin – 1st Place; Alayna Bussen & Lolita Brawner – 2nd Place; Ken Osborn & Joy Myers – 3rd Place; Paul Brawner & Ann Funk – 4th Place

Winners of the Jack & Jill West Coast were:  Alayana Bussen & Amelia Rankin – 1st Place; Jam Jenkins & Rebecca Kelley – 2nd Place; Terry Hague and Joy Myers – 3rd Place.

Saturday Afternoon began with the Latin and Rhythm events.  The room was energized, as the Junior I couple took to the floor with the Latin dances.  Ending the competition with a positive high-energy vibe, they danced their Jive to close out the competition.  It was the perfect ending to an incredible event. 

Florida Sunshine Dance Challenge hosts dancers from Austin, Texas; Grand Rapids, Iowa; and Cape Coral, Eustis, Tallahassee, St Marks, Miami, and Jacksonville, Florida. But there was more! Although the competition had ended, the dancing wasn’t over quite yet….

Saturday evening, everyone came back to enjoy a formal Gala.  Dinner was catered by Bella Bella Italian Restaurant, and attendees social danced to the big band live sounds of the Tallahassee Swing Band.  During the intermission, dancers from the Asian Coalition from the Big Bend performed.  A sweet moment was captured when the Tallahassee Board members presented Lolita with a bouquet of roses to show their appreciation for her extremely hard work for the Tallahassee Chapter and Florida Sunshine Dance.

Finally, the competition was concluded, but Sunday was Dance Camp and competitors rose early to participate in a day of learning.  Instructors and coaches this year were:  Susie Buck (North Carolina), Dana Edwards (Ohio), Patti Panebianco (New York), Inez Sahlin (Florida), and Martin Smith (Virginia.)

This year, South by North Photography (North Carolina) took photos of the Florida Sunshine Dance weekend, which included their 360-degree platform.  They did a tremendous job and will be back for 2025 at the Florida Sunshine Dance.

Saturday evening concluded with a Gala and live music!

The Florida Sunshine Dance would not be a competition without the sponsorship of COCA, the City of Tallahassee, Visit Tallahassee, and Leon County. Thank you!

Want more?  That was just the beginning of all the wonderful things that happened during the 2024 Florida Sunshine Dance.  So, do you still want to know more?  Then sign up and compete at the 2025 Florida Sunshine Dance so you can experience it yourself. 


2024 National Champions!

Competitions 2024-25

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