The road to ballroom dance glory passes through Sarasota next week.
The 41st annual edition of the Florida State DanceSport Championships brings the best professional and student dancers from all over the country and even around the world to the Ritz-Carlton July 30-Aug. 4.
"We'll have about 500 participants, and about 1,000 to 1,200 spectators," said Larry Dean of Lakewood Ranch, who organizes the annual dance event with his wife, Dianne. "We'll probably give about $300,000 in prize money, including scholarships for the amateurs. This will be one of our biggest purses ever."
The Sarasota event is the culmination of four ballroom dance competitions in the southern United States through the year. The others are in Orlando, New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale.
That four-event annual circuit is part of a larger competition that culminates in a nationally televised annual championship in Ohio.
Dean and his wife, both former dancers themselves, started the Florida State DanceSport Championships in the 1970s. It was held on the east coast of Florida for almost 30 years.
But when the Ritz-Carlton opened, former Sarasota mayor Gene Pillot, himself an avid an accomplished ballroom dancer and a friend of the Deans, suggested they move the event to Sarasota.
"He said 'There are a lot of people who love dancing over here. Have you ever had an event on the west coast?'" Dean said.
Pillot took Dean the Ritz-Carlton. They both though it was a perfect venue for the event.
"He said 'You like to have your events in four-star hotels. Why don't you move it here?' " Dean said. "So I did."
That was 12 years ago, and the Florida DanceSport Championships have been in Sarasota ever since.
Pillot has passed away, but his wife Beverly still dances, and will be participating in this year's Florida State DanceSport Championship, dancing with her teacher, Alan Williams.
Like Pillot, many of the dancers in the event are top students dancing with their teachers; others are professionals who travel the world entering competitions such as this one.
Most of the amateur competitions are scheduled during the day, and the professional events are in the evening. Both day an evening sessions are open to spectators.
Details: July 30-Aug.4, Ritz-Carlton, 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Sarasota. Tickets $20-$130, depending on event. Information: 941-753-7940, www.flstdance.com.