They say, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. Well, that's exactly what this young man set out to achieve. When just 16 years old, while living at boarding school, Tony Marolda accompanied his brother to some ballroom competitions. Growing up in Queens, New York, Tony's brother was actively competing in the junior division when Tony got the desire to compete and "go for his own trophies." His cousin Ginny was a dance instructor at the George Connelly Dance studio. The owner of the studio approached Tony to partner with an advanced student for an upcoming competition. Although Tony was a novice, he was always up for a challenge. "I learned six routines and off we went to Connecticut," explains Tony. "There were 24 couples and we came in 4th". His drive and confidence would be seen through out all of his ventures in the field of dance. In addition to ballroom, Tony began to study jazz. He had the inclination to ask a fellow student to practice with him. The new partnership, with Donna, clicked. At the end of that year, they competed and won the Junior National Ballroom Championships. With quick success, Tony continued to dance with Donna for the next couple of years until her admission to nursing school eclipsed dancing. As a competitor Tony befriended dancers from other studios including the highly regarded, Joe Mehegan Dance Center. "There was a girl dancing there in the Novice Pro/Am competition named Susan", recalls Tony, "you could see that she was a natural talent". He began dancing with Susan and the chemistry was electric. They had similar dance goals in addition to visually complimenting one another on the dance floor. Tony, with his machismo and powerful interpretation complimenting Susan, with her contagious smile, not to mention she was strikingly beautiful. Tony had already conquered the hustle under the accomplished eyes of Ralph Lew. With a background in music, (he had won a scholarship), Tony was able to synergize the music with his dancing. Applying a hard work ethic towards his dancing he went from ordinary to extraordinary. Tony & Susan were now ready to take on the world. All along, Tony's brother was actively competing, along with his "wife to be", and won the 1977 Harvest Moon Ball in New York City. As amateurs Tony & Susan would compete and capture the most prestigious crowns including the USBC National Amateur Ballroom Championships and the US National Hustle Championships. Then in 1978 they would follow in his brothers dance steps and win The All Around title at the famous Harvest Moon Ball. This was a special achievement as they became the first dance team in the rich 50 year history of the Harvest Moon Ball to win 5 Preliminaries - Four Ballroom dances and the Hustle Competition. In 1979 they were invited to return to the Harvest Moon Ball for a special competition, "The Battle of The Champions," competing against many of the previous winners. Tony and Susan once again prevailed. Understanding the value of constantly learning and improving, Tony & Susan knew it would be advantageous to explore training from Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau in theatre Arts. Pierre also took the young couple to train under John Roudis, "between the two of them we learned so much that we won The Blackpool Exhibition Division in 1980," shares Tony. With these championship titles under their belts the door started knocking and the phone wouldn't stop ringing. "We received invitations for the next few years to do shows throughout Europe: Germany, Holland, Belgium and England," recalls Tony. As the disco fever heated up so did Tony & Susan. Their popularity and success led them to dance on National French TV after winning a Hustle contest at Regine's in NYC. Another huge win was the national televised "Phil Gary's Disco contest." By this time, Tony & Susan Maroolda had mastered the choreography of their incredible hustle/theater arts routine. This flawless number was created by Tony and featured their signature moves. Susan had a "Vegas - style" fire red sequin body suit that blazed, setting a new fashion trend in dance. Viewers were spell bound by this complete package - they had the look. Tony's ingenuity and powerful expression set them apart from other couples. After winning the hearts of television producers and audiences at home, Tony & Susan were invited to Brazil to dance on National Brazilian TV and to judge the Brazilian Disco Championships. "That was a real blast, shares Tony, "...the contestants would stop our car in the streets and make us dance right there". The opportunities didn't stop coming. While in Blackpool, England, the couple was approached by a cute little woman that had observed them perform and invited them to do a show in Indonesia. Sure enough, one month later they received a call that airline tickets were in the mail. They did a week of shows in Indonesia and judged the Indonesia Disco Championships. The opportunities kept coming including performances on popular TV shows like "Soul Alive" and the "Soap Factory". They then won a special competition at Regine's Discotheque, in NYC, to appear on the initial taping of the new Merv Griffin production, a show nobody quite heard of yet called "Dance Fever".
Staying in the spotlight kept them busy doing shows all over the country. Then it was time to move on as these world champions would retire their partnership after a final performance at the UCBC's. Along the way they had stacked up many home runs. Together, Tony & Susan operated their own dance studio for 10 years - called TJ's Dance Center. In 1980 Tony produced his own Dance Competition called "The American Star Ball". A restless Tony was still anxious to keep dancing. While coaching in Nashville at David Elkin's studio. Tony was out for a drink at a Country Dance Club when he was amazed to see so many young people waiting to get in to dance the Two-step. Once back home, he took a Two-step lesson with his friend Sharon. They were encourage to compete and do Division 4 at a country dance weekend in the Catskills. They had to do 5 dances - Polka, Cha-cha, Waltz, Two-step and Swing. "We watched what they were doing on the floor on Friday night and went in the back and put 4 quick routines together," recalls Tony. Neither one of them had ever competed in Polka - 2 Step before. After dancing each dance multiple times, Tony & Sharon Leigh took 2nd place out of a competitive field of 20 couples. "A girl from a Ballroom Studio heard this and came running up to the stage and said,'Tony is that you, I never thought I would see you in a Cowboy Hat and Boots", explains Tony. " I turned to Sharon and said, That's it, I'm changing my name". At the next event, they signed up as Anthony Lee & Sharon Leigh. It was a cute play on words which seemed innocent since they hadn't planned on doing much more together. Little did they anticipate that the following year they would win The Country World Grand Championships and ultimately go on to the Master Division winning several Master Competitions including the Worlds Master Waltz competition.
For the past 15 years Tony has been producing The Big Apple Dance Festival which takes place each year in mid July. He has also been directing The Country World Championships for the last 6 years and the World Swing Invitational Championship. He has been the recipient of three Hall of Fame awards: World Hustle Hall of Fame, World Country Hall of Fame and the Hustle Hall Of Fame - Life Time Division . "It takes Two to Two-step and I owe these accomplishments to my partners as well", a humble Tony shares. " I have been able to win World and National Titles in four different genre's of dance: Ballroom, Hustle, Theatre Arts and Country. I have been very lucky and fortunate to have talented, wonderful and great dance partners in my life. Besides Donna, Susan and Sharon I have also performed routines with Debbie Monk, Resa Henderson, Sarah Fenn Tye, Diane Nardone and Lynn Heyden."
Tony has always had a deep rooted connection with dance. He has taught, performed, competed, coached, choreographed and continues to produce his own events. With a great sense of humor and the ability to create on the fly, he has been an instrumental leader at many of the events. "Dancing has been a great joy and sense of accomplishment in my life, but for all of it nothing compares to one day with best two people in my life, my son Anthony and my daughter Nicole. I could not be more proud of them and it is they who make my life worthwhile. Thanks guys".
The curiosity factor and the challenge is what drew Tony into the world of dance. He didn't realize at the time that he would spend the majority of his life involved in this visual art. He has inspired and touched many people throughout the various fields of dance. He continues to push the envelope and we anticipate more great things to come. Tony says it best."... I am grateful for all the friends I have made throughout the World and hopefully somewhere along the way some hearts were touched ... because people will sooner - later forget who won - lost but they will always remember who made them feel something. To this end... I dedicate all of this to my greatest fan ... my Mother Rose."
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