Tonie Bense, Owner and Director
Tonie Bense, owner and director of Tone’s Dance Workshop in Panama City, Florida, is a dance educator and avid dance enthusiast. Her studio has been in operation since 1976 and it has grown to several hundred students. In addition to teaching weekly classes at the studio, Tonie travels the country participating and teaching at dance seminars and conventions ensuring that she stays up with the latest dance trends.
Tonie is a native of Meridian, Mississippi and began dancing at the very young age of two. Her Mom, Mary Alpha Johnson, was a dance teacher and entrepreneur as she directed the “Alpha School of Dance” for 67 years. The dance studio was in the basement of the family home so therefore, dance class was a very important part of Tonie’s daily life routine. Mary Alpha Johnson was well known in the national dance community for her innovative teaching method designed for young dancers know as “The Magical Kingdom of Dance”.
Tonie’s dance training continued away from her home studio with travel to numerous dance conventions and classes where she studied under master teachers such as Roni Mahler, Gus Giordano, Buster Cooper, Joe Tremaine, Sherry Gold, to name a few. Tonie is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi where she majored in dance and choreographed for pageants and productions. She was “Miss Southern”, Top Ten Miss Mississippi Pageant and Captain of and the famed Dixie Darlings for three years.
Community activities and charitable events are a top priority for Tonie. Every summer, Tonie’s studio has a charity event called the “Singular Sensation Showcase” This performance raises money to support the dance program of Pediatric Plus. TDW students participate in many local parades and festivals around town to give back to the community that we all love.
Dance has been an integral part of her entire life and she feels that real success is finding your life work in the work that you love.
Tonie is married to Allan Bense and has three adult children, and six grand children. Life is definitely GRAND with so many blessings for which to be thankful.
Amy Russell has been on staff at Tonie's Dance Workshop since the fall of 1988. Her training began at age 5 with John and Virginia Street.
She danced and choreographed for the Fort Walton Beach Ballet (now NWF Ballet). After high school she majored in dance at FSU and SMU. Returning home she danced and co-directed for the Ballet Theatre of Northwest Florida.
In addition to her love of dance, Amy is a Registered Nurse. She is married to Greg Russell and is the mother of three children.
Jaclyn McNeal has grown up at Tonie's Dance. She was a student for 8 years before she began teaching. Throughout high school she assisted with the special needs class, which she carried on for several years after.
Jaclyn is married to her husband, Scott. They have been married for 12 years and have two dancing daughters of their own, Jillian (6) and Anniston (2).
Jaclyn has her Bachelors degree in Elementary education and is a teacher at a local elementary school. She also has earned her Masters degree in Educational leadership as she plans one day to go into administration.
Her love for kids carries from job to job. Being a full time school teacher as well as teaching dance makes for fun breaks on the weekend. She and her family enjoy camping, swimming, and playing outside.
Raised in Panama City, FL, Jennifer began dancing at the age of 4 at Tonie’s Dance Workshop! She joined the Northwest Florida Ballet and danced with them for 8 years. While with the NWFB, she had the opportunity to dance in many different Ballet’s such as The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Coppelia, and many more performing throughout Panama City, Fort Walton, and Pensacola. While in high school and community college, she participated on the Dance Teams, serving as Captain of the teams multiple times. She began teaching at Tonie’s Dance Workshop in 1999/2000, then went off to college (FSU) for two years. After graduating college in 2002, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation and Leisure Services, she returned to Tonie’s to be an instructor once again. In 2004, she married and moved away from Panama City, but only to move back with her new family in 2008 and return to Tonie’s as an instructor. She has two beautiful children, a dancing ballerina herself, Skylar and a son named Logan.
Hayden has been dancing for 17 years; 16 of them with Tonie’s Dance Workshop. She was born and raised in Panama City, along with her two younger siblings. Miss Hayden has an Associate of Science degree in Physical Therapy and is a licensed physical therapist assistant. She currently works for Emerald Shores Health and Rehabilitation.
Miss Hayden was previously involved with Bay High’s dance academy in high school and performed on their dance team. She currently choreographs dance numbers for Mowat Middle School’s dance team. In her spare time, she enjoys various activities: going to the beach, reading books, going out to the movies, spending time with family. Going to music concerts is a hobby of hers. She has seen several big artists such as Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Arianna Grande, The Weeknd, and Bruno Mars.
Sonya Livingston Smith
Sonya started her professional dance career at the age of sixteen with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, where her career spanned twenty-one years. During that time, she toured and performed with such stars as Peter Allen, Chita Rivera, Liberace, Ann Margaret, Tommy Tune, Liza Minnelli, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Maurice Hines, Gregory Hines, Loretta Divine, Dick Van Dyke, Ben Vereen, Ginger Rogers, Sandy Duncan and others.
Sonya has appeared in numerous television specials such as “Night of 100 Stars I, II & III”, “Comic Relief I & II”, David Letterman’s 6th and 10th Anniversary Specials”, the 1988 and 1993 “Super Bowl Halftime Shows”, “The Today Show”, “Good Morning America and many appearances in the “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade”. She has also appeared in national commercials for “Diet Coke”, “L’eggs Pantyhose and the Television movie “Legs” starring Gwen Verdon.
In the “Great Radio City Spectacular”, in Las Vegas and on tour, Sonya assisted original director, Joe Layton, and subsequent directors, Maurice Hines and Bobby Longbottom. She was also Associate Rockette Choreographer and Dance Captain for the show. Sonya was the Rockette Choreographer for their performances on two episodes of Comedy Central’s “Viva Variety”, the 1996, 1997 & 1998 ESPN Victor Awards, TNT’s Prime Time Country and the Cable Vision Industrial in LA.
Sonya has had the honor of working with “Tony”, “Drama Desk”, “Emmy” and “Oscar” award –winning choreographers including Chris Chadman, Adam Shankman, Tommy Tune, Wayne Cilento, Peggy Holmes, Thommie Walsh, Alan Johnson, Michael Shawn, Ron Field, Albert Stephenson, and Henry LeTang.
She was on the Faculty with Dance Theatre USA from 2009 thru 2012, Hoctor’s Dance Caravan from 1988 thru 1993 and again 2001 thru 2004 as a Master Class Teacher. From 2007-2009, Sonya was the Assistant Artistic Director for the Dance Chance program for the Tallahassee Ballet Company. During 2001 thru 2004 she was Co-Director of the Caravan Kids Program which was a summer intensive program in all areas of dance providing young dancers the insight of life as a professional dancer. With Dance Records Inc. she has directed and choreographed educational dance videos and CD’s from pre-school to the professional level. Sonya has been guest faculty with the Canadian National Dance Teachers Association, Dance Masters, Dance Theatre USA, Point Park College, University of Las Vegas, Showstoppers, and many others.
With extensive experience in theatre and dance on the professional level, as well as being a Master Class Teacher and Choreographer, Sonya has gained a unique insight into the direction, choreography, and instruction of students from children to adults as well as professionals. Among her many talents is the ability to teach the art she has so passionately practiced while inspiring students to achieve their best. Her energy and zest translates in her choreography as well as her teaching.
Mrs. Lynette Bunce grew up dancing in the studio. Her mother was also a Dance Instructor at Tonie's Dance Workshop and instilled the love of dance in her at an early age. She started dancing at 3 years old and her love and passion for dance has only grown over the years. As a young dancer, she had the opportunity to study ballet in the Northwest Florida Ballet Gifted Training Program. Growing up her home studio where she studied all genres of dance was Tonie's Dance Workshop. Mrs. Lynette has been an instructor at TDW since 2001. In 2006, she graduated from the Registered Nursing Program at Gulf Coast College with her Associate's Degree & in 2014 Graduated with her Bachelor's of Science in Nursing at Gulf Coast State College. She is currently an RN in the Intensive Care Unit at Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center. From her TDW family to her own, family means everything to Mrs. Lynette. She is married to Kyle Bunce and they have 2 handsome little boys, Colton & Emmett.
Originally from Panama City, FL, Stacy grew up dancing competitively and studying many styles of dance, and was fortunate to spend many of those years dancing at Tonie’s Dance Workshop. After high school, Stacy attended Florida Southern College where she graduated Sum Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Dance Performance and Choreography, and a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting. During her time at Florida Southern, she enjoyed performing featured roles in several ballets including the white swan pas de deux and variation of Swan Lake, solo and coda in Paquita as well as the pas de deux of Les Sylphide. She was also featured in several contemporary pieces and cast in guest artist works including that of Melissa Rector, John Lehr and Michael Foley. With the FSC dance program she was honored to perform at many dance festivals including the Inside/Out series at Jacob’s Pillow, Your Move: New Jersey’s Modern Dance festival, and the American College Dance Association’s regional conferences. During her time in school Stacy also had the privilege of dancing with Florida Dance Theatre as a trainee, performing in several of their professional productions. At Florida Southern College she was honored to win Dance Major of the Year her freshman year, as well as receive Outstanding Performer awards the following two consecutive years. Her senior year she was presented with the Wynee Warden award recognizing a graduating dance major for excellence in artistry and scholarship. Upon graduation Stacy moved to Jackson, MS to join Ballet Magnificat’s trainee program. Stacy trained with Ballet Magnificat for three years, and toured nationally with their Events Company for two of those years. During that time, she was fortunate to teach at Jackson area studios and at many workshops around the nation. She was fortunate to tour and perform Ballet Magnificat’s original ballets to multiple locations including Mississippi, Florida, Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Stacy loves sharing her love of dance, and is still pursuing her dance career, most recently working with renown dancer and choreography Jiri Voborksy with his ministry 10M Foundation, preparing for performances in many locations in the Czech Republic in August of 2022. Stacy is so excited and fortunate to be back home and on staff at Tonie’s, and loves each and every talented student she is privileged to teach.
Tiffany began dancing at the age of seven and loved everything BUT ballet! She had a great teacher that, after the first two months, said they refused to teach her any more dance until she was registered for ballet. Begrudgingly, Tiffany started ballet and HATED it until about six months passed, at which time she realized how much benefit everything else in her life gained because of it. It soon became her love and her passion! Dance became as much a part of Tiffany’s life as eating and breathing ever since that time. She began dancing professionally and teaching at the age of 15 with the Northwest Florida Ballet and continued on with many other ballet companies and studios throughout the southeast. Tiffany taught and danced as a guest artist for numerous professional ballet companies throughout her college and law school career and cherished every experience she had.
Having taught dance for more than half of her life it is obviously exceptionally important to Tiffany. She stated “ I feel very lucky and blessed to have had the opportunity to acquire exceptional training with instructors not just from around the states but internationally and it has always been my goal to bring that same exposure to my students. My students are a huge part of my life and I enjoy being able to not only teach them dance steps but more importantly to train them in the self discipline, teamwork, respect for the arts and passion that come along with their training and will be utilized throughout their future.”
Since ending her professional dance career after performing leading roles in ballets such as The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, Coppelia, Swan Lake, Giselle, Napoli, Les Sylphides, and Sleeping Beauty with multiple ballet companies, she moved to Panama City Beach upon law school completion in 2002 and began her career as an Attorney. Tiffany has continued to teach dance and has enjoyed sharing her expertise with wonderful students. She enjoys being apart of developing their talent and seeing them win awards and accolades for their abilities and hard work.