Sid Pocius is internationally known and widely recognized for his talents in ballroom dancing. After competing in countless dance championships and winning multiple titles, Sid now sits on the other side of the table as a judge. While he’s not traveling around the world for dance competitions, he is busy running Empire Ballroom Studios, a dance studio here in Sarasota. We caught up with Sid to hear about how he took his lifetime of success in ballroom dancing and now shares it with the community here in the Rosemary District.
Are you originally from Sarasota?
No, originally I’m from Lithuania. At six, I began traveling all over Europe. I competed and lived in Germany for a while, then I had been living and teaching dance in Australia. Even with all of the traveling, I had never been to the United States. I moved to Sarasota in 2001.
What brought you to Sarasota?
Well first I was planning on only visiting temporarily, but then when I came to Sarasota and fell in love with the city and people here. I saw the dance community here and got a chance to know the people in it. They asked me to help out with ballroom dancing in Sarasota. One thing led to another, I decided to make a home for myself here and now I am officially an American citizen.
Tell us about when you first got your start in ballroom dancing.
I began dancing when I was six years old. In my town, we had a very well-known dance culture. I began my training at one of the top Dancesport academies in Europe. After learning there, I then started competing in different dance championships all over the continent. With each competition, I found that I kept winning, which motivated me to keep competing and getting better. Plus I loved being able to travel to all of the big competitions.
You mentioned that you’ve danced in a lot of championships, can you tell us about some of them and any awards you’ve won.
I’ve been competing for all of my life so there’s really too many to mention, but I won my first dance championship when I was 13 years old and continued to compete and win nationally. Now I no longer compete but I am still involved in the championships. I’m judging almost every other weekend. I just got back from judging a competition in Miami and tonight I’m actually leaving to judge a competition in New Orleans.
Where do you find your inspiration when it comes to dancing?
There’s no one specific really, but all of the champions inspire me. After watching champions dance and win competitions, its always an inspiration. But, if I had to pick one person in my life that inspired me most, it would be Michael Jackson. His dancing, singing, performances, creativity, and artistry I found all to be inspiring.
Do you have a favorite dance?
It all depends on the music and my mood at that time. Sometimes I want to do The Rumba, sometimes I want to do The Foxtrot, sometimes I want to do a dramatic Tango. That’s what is so cool about ballroom dancing. We have a huge variety of dances for all aspects of emotions and moods. If you feel silly, do Swing-Jive. If you’re feeling romantic and sexy, do Bolero. Or you are angry, some neighbor rubs you the wrong way, come do The Tango. I promise you’ll feel much better after.
–We saw that you danced with Karina Smirnoff, of Dancing with the Stars. Tell us more about that.
Yes, Karina is actually a good friend of mine. A lot of people on the show are actually good friends of mine. We get together for events often. Sometimes they’ll come to my competitions as well. We have the Sarasota Challenge dance competition every year at the Hyatt, so a lot of them usually come to visit for that event.
Is Dancing with the Stars an accurate portrayal of how ballroom dancing competitions are in reality?
The hardest part of dancing is to make it look easy. To make it look elegant, sophisticated, and graceful requires technique. As far as Dancing with the Stars, sometimes people forget it is a TV show. It’s not a real reflection of the sport. There’s a lot of tricks with the camera and the lights, as well as the arrangement, which has the viewer’s attention. If you go to a competition it’s different. The judges on the show don’t know about ballroom dancing. In a real competition, we have rules and professional judges. Each of the judges is carefully selected after having competed in past competitions and getting licensed. They know the requirements of ballroom dancing. The judging isn’t just about what they like or don’t like.
What made you decide to open your own dance studio?
When I was 18, I opened my first studio in Europe. I wanted to share my passion and knowledge of ballroom dancing. I stopped competing myself professionally and the one way I figured I could share my passion, was by opening up my own dance studio. After moving to the U.S., I was teaching on my own and renting a space in town. I then decided that I wanted to have a nice studio of my own in downtown. I wanted it to be beautiful and with great staff. That was missing here in Sarasota, so in 2010 I opened up Empire Ballroom Studios.
What types of dance can people learn in your studio?
We teach ballroom dance, which usually means all partner dances. We don’t teach solo dancing, such as ballet, tap or hip-hop dancing. But assuming you have a partner, you can learn it all. Right now we’re offering a lot of specials before the holidays arrive. So now is a great time to come in if you have a special event coming up or if you are thinking about getting dance lessons.
What is the atmosphere like at Empire Ballroom Studios?
Our goal is to be professional and friendly. A lot of people come to the studio intimidated because they’re not dancers, but after their first lesson, they understand that we’re only here to help. We specialize in people who have never danced. We have people who come in for fun, or they want to lose weight and don’t want to go to the gym. Some people just want to have a social activity, or they’re getting ready for a big event such as a wedding or Sweet 16. Some people even come in before a date or if they’re looking to meet someone. They want to go out to the club and dance, but they don’t know how so they come here to learn. It is a boost of confidence. We have a lot of couples who come in for date nights, we have a lot of singles too.
What is the demographics of your clientele?
We have a few children who come in, but the majority of people here are middle-aged adults. We have students from local colleges come in for lessons and we have seniors come in the studio as well. After a few lessons, the seniors can see a difference. They feel much younger after realizing that they can dance and while they get exercise too. Dancing also helps prevent Dementia and Alzheimers. What happens is that you have to memorize the steps, then you have to think about how to do the steps, and then you have to listen to music as well. So your mind is always occupied. Then you build partnership skills, it takes teamwork. So different aspects of dance keep you are constantly thinking about. It’s very educational as well because every dance comes from a culture. The Waltz came from Austria. The Samba from Brazil, Cha Cha from Cuba, and the Foxtrot from England. Each dance was a form of expression within each culture. So you learn the roots and how each dance became what it is. It’s educational, learning how people of different cultures expressed themselves. That’s why ballroom dancing is so popular, it’s not just a dance, it’s a form of expression.
What about Empire Ballroom makes stand apart from dance studios here in Sarasota?
I’m not sure how different we are from other studios because I haven’t been to the other ones in the city. But here, we stand for professionalism. We have good specialists, we are friendly and we try to make people feel comfortable. We have the best floor that is available on the market, in fact, it’s the same as the one that they use on Dancing with the Stars. Maybe convenience makes us stand apart from the others though. Being in downtown our location is very convenient because you have to pass through downtown to get everywhere. So maybe that gives us our edge. But when it comes to other studios, I really do hope they stand for the same thing as we do here at Empire Ballroom Studios.
When you opened the dance studio, what made you decide that the Rosemary District was where you wanted to open it?
Well, I knew for sure that I wanted to be downtown. Main Street is far too busy. To drive on Main Street or to park your car, it’s not a good location. But the Rosemary District, it’s up and coming and it’s still part of downtown, so I knew it was the perfect spot to open up the studio.
How do you feel about the transformation happening in the Rosemary District?
Love it, love it, love it. I’m excited seeing what’s happening here. I really think it’s going to be amazing once they’re finished building. I hope as more people move into the neighborhood they’ll come visit us for dance lessons.
What does the future of Empire Ballroom Studios look like for you? Any plans to expand or open additional locations?
Expanding, that’s the plan. The future looks very bright. We’re always looking into opening a new location in Sarasota. We’re always looking at new developments and projects here. It’s all really a matter of having great people, which we do at Empire Ballroom Studios. So I don’t see why not open another studio here. We’re an amazing team.