Whether he’s teaching amateurs or pros, Sid Pocius keeps Sarasota’s dancing community on its toes.
| 6:00 a.m. March 25, 2015
Arts + Culture
You can hear it before you see it. As you approach the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, the roar of the crowd mingles with the performers’ music.
Inside the ballroom, competitors decked out in sparkly jewel-toned gowns and immaculate suits stretch and warm up before taking center stage.
Each dance school supports its members as 12 teams at a time compete in the waltz, tango and more. One woman yells “Fort Myers!” and waves clappers noisily in the air whenever her fellow dancers pass.
This isn’t your grandmother’s foxtrot.
Created and hosted by Sid Pocius, of Empire Ballroom Studio, the 7th annual Sarasota Challenge brought the art and sport of ballroom dancing to Sarasota last weekend. The two-day ballroom dancing summit has grown each year and this year included seminars, cocktails, dinner, dancing, professional and amateur showcases, dance competitions and an exhibition by two-time world champion dancing duo Gherman Mustuc and Iveta Lukosiute.
Older dancers all the way to elementary school-aged dancers competing in the pro/am competition all thrived on the adrenaline in the room. More than 3,000 dancing heats took place over the two days.
“I knew the benefits of it, but I didn’t know how it was going to grow,” Pocius said of starting the competition. “But I knew it would grow because I have great support, a great team and, most importantly, I have love. If I put my passion in it, it shows in the growing attendance.”
Pocius was introduced to ballroom dancing in his home country of Lithuania. He started taking lessons at age 6, and he was hooked. He practiced constantly.
He thought if he could win regional competitions, he would be able to compete on a national level, then represent his country in both European and world competitions. If this sounds like the story of an Olympic athlete, then you’re close to Pocius’s mind frame.
“Studies have shown that the amount of energy spent on one dance in a ballroom competition is equal to the energy spent in one round of boxing,” says Pocius. “Competition is in my blood.”
Although the annual event is a great showcase for Pocius, his staff and professional and amateur competitive dancers to present their newest routines, it’s the quieter moments that continue to inspire Pocius.
“The best students are those who say they don’t dance or they have two left feet,” says Pocius. “But once they come to the studio and we teach them, they discover a new world. They have a life-changing experience. They become healthier and happier because it’s exercise for the body and mind.”
Pocius and the studio staff constantly receive emails and letters from students young and old thanking them for teaching them how to dance. Some were recommended by doctors who were seeking a form of physical therapy and exercise for their patients.
Pocius says ballroom dancing is both a mental and physical exercise, because the dancer is not only responding to the music and his partner but is also thinking about his next steps.
“It changed my life and it changed every ballroom dancer’s life,” says Pocius. “Because you cannot be angry and dance with another person. You have to change your state of mind before you go to dance, touch and lead another person. You have to get into a positive and alert state of mind.”
Dancing with the Stars: Pros and Cons
Though it might kill in the ratings and be entering its 20th season, the popular dancing contest show “Dancing with the Stars” on ABC is a bittersweet experience for Sid Pocius. According to Pocius, he enjoys that it’s gotten ballroom dancing out into the popular culture, but he thinks the show is misleading.
“On ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ what they show isn’t the fun part,” says Pocius. “Because they mostly show the television production and spectacle. Learning to dance in real life is much more fun and there’s less pressure. You learn the correct steps and you learn the right way and not just for a TV show. The fun is in the journey to the performance and learning how to dance.”
A primer on dancing styles by instructor Sid Pocius.
Waltz: Elegant, graceful and is considered the mother of all dances. It arrived in the 1800s. It’s a royal dance. The Viennese Waltz is a little bit of the same dance but more celebratory.
Tango: Tango is all drama. It’s drama mixed with passion.
Sambo: Sambo is Rio de Janeiro. There’s a lot of hip action and it is sensual, erotic and full of energy.
Rumba: This is considered the dance of love. It’s very romantic.
Merengue: It’s a Caribbean dance. It came from the Dominican Republic. It’s very easy and great to dance on cruises and vacations.
Mambo: Mambo came from Cuba and is synonymous with Cuban dance.
Foxtrot: It is an English dance that’s very flirtatious and jazzy.
Cha cha: It’s about getting to know each other. It’s a Latin dance also from Cuba. It’s what people do in the club when they see a partner that they’re interested in. It’s a conversation.
Bolero: This is a very sensual dance, and it’s for people who are really in love.
Swing: It’s America’s fun dance. Everyone inside of us is a kid when dancing the swing. We can be as crazy as we want. We can jump, kick and be silly.
Paso doble: This is based on the movements of the Spanish matador and bullfighting. It has a lot of flamenco and gypsy dance elements in it. It’s not a social dance.
Jive: It’s very similar to swing but just a little bit faster. It’s fun and very energetic. To jive, you must have great stamina and be physically ready because of the speed and technique involved.
Quickstep: It is a fast foxtrot. It’s fun and jazzy. It could be flirtatious but must be faster.
Argentinean tango: It’s like a regular tango and it is all about drama and passion. It’s just more than regular tango.
Two step: It’s more of a country dance.
Salsa: It’s spicy and very similar to mambo. It’s popular in the Latin clubs and great for finding someone and having a conversation and having fun.