WORDS: Kara Chalmers
PICTURES: Whitney Patton
When Sophie Potillo dances, she is graceful, precise, and expressive. All things that make her a winner. Sophie, 10 and in fifth grade at Braden River Elementary School, has been succeeding in dance competitions since she was six years old. Of all the dance styles she’s performed — tap, contemporary, hip-hop, and lyrical — jazz is her favorite. “Because it’s sassy,” Sophie said.
At competitions across Florida and beyond, Sophie has danced solo, but also as part of larger groups and trios, often with girls older than her by at least one year. Her studio, Pop Dance Club, which opened in July in Bradenton, plans to attend four competitions in Florida in 2020, plus nationals in June in Pigeon Forge, TN. At Pop Dance, which is owned by Sophie’s parents Tiffany and Mike Potillo, Sophie takes classes totaling nearly nine hours a week, in the dance genres noted above, plus ballet.
During a recent Thursday evening class, after nearly two hours of ballet, Sophie’s instructor Isabel Dubrocq told the class they could spend about ten minutes on acrobatics. “Yes!” Sophie whispered excitedly, whipping off her ballet shoes and proceeding to perform aerials, walkovers, and back handsprings — her favorite acro move.
“She’s very bright, uncommonly smart,” Dubrocq said. “She’s definitely precocious and full of energy. Sophie is a girl who enjoys life.”
At her studio, Sophie is the youngest, and one of the smallest, but she is skilled, especially for her age — flexible, strong, and fluid. She’s a focused leader in class, intently practicing moves on the sidelines while she waits her turn.
“She feels the music,” said Sophie’s mom, Tiffany. “She is graceful when doing ballet, and with jazz, she’s sassy. She’s a chameleon. She’s a very all-around kid.”
“Though she be but little, she is fierce!” ― William Shakespeare
Pop Dance teacher Niecy Crawley has choreographed Sophie’s competition dances for the past four years. “Since I first saw her, I knew she always had the sass,” Crawley said. “What I most enjoy is to see her progress from four years ago until now. She’s hard on herself, but in a very good way, and she takes criticism well.”
As a kid, Sophie’s outgoing and sweet, with an easy smile. She said she has lots of friends at school and at dance. She’s smart and a born leader — a confident, straight-A student who doesn’t hesitate to raise her hand in class. She likes country music, particularly Luke Combs and Taylor Swift, as well as pop. She loves the St. Louis Cardinals. And, of course, her younger brother, Rocco, who is four.
When asked if she’s competitive, Sophie noted she is extremely so when playing Monopoly with her family. About dancing, she said definitively, “I like to win,” with a look suggesting the question was a silly one. She gives dance her all, and she has excelled because of it.
“Sophie walks in the room and kids gravitate toward her,” Crawley said, noting that Sophie is attuned to how her dance-mates are feeling. If one of them appears upset, she immediately tries to talk to them or help them.
Crawley described Sophie as “spunky,” “a joy,” and “a very pleasant young lady.” Sophie puts in hours of practice (her Monday night choreography class alone is two-and-a-half hours) but her ability goes beyond hard work, Crawley said. “She’s talented and she enjoys it,” she said. “In her soul, she loves it.”
Sophie’s parents fully support her dancing and competing. Sophie’s mother Tiffany was a dancer from childhood through the college she attended — the University of Kentucky. Tiffany enrolled Sophie and her in a Mommy and Me class when Sophie was two-and-a-half. Since then, Sophie has not stopped dancing. It’s the only thing she’s ever wanted to do, her parents said.
“Sophie’s super competitive and super empathetic,” said her dad Mike, noting the winning combination of traits that was also mentioned by others who know Sophie. According to Mike, his daughter is ambitious, precocious, and fearless. “Sophie loves to win,” he said.
Remarkable Results… At the Showstopper dance competition in April in Orlando, Sophie, then nine, performed a lyrical dance called “Heaven” with two of her friends, Laney Rosenberg and Millie Snead — both of whom are a year older than Sophie. In the girls’ division, which was competitive duets and trios performed by nine to 11-year-olds, the trio ranked “platinum,” the highest rating dancers can get.
At this competition, Sophie also performed in two additional group dances, one with four other girls, and one with three others, in her division. Sophie also competed in the “teen” division (ages 12 to 14), as part of a group dance with 11 other girls.