It’s 2017, and by now we’ve seen a digital revolution in most art forms: our paperbacks are pixilated; we download songs by the dozen; TV shows come in streaming segments of binge-watching awesomeness. But until very recently, dance has remained a kind of analog anomaly.

Today, however, digital cameras the size of an acorn fit inside a ballerina’s jeweled tiara, while specially-crafted lenses capture the tiniest of gestures; computerized pointe shoes record footsteps as data that can be shown on a computer and later used to customize movement; flying drones hover above the stage, capturing a pas de deux sequence from mid-air.

From a research project done by The Forsythe Company and Ohio State University using a Motion Bank prototype

On a practical level, these tools enable choreographers and dancers to polish steps, make better use of rehearsal time, share work remotely, reduce injury and preserve repertoire—but there are drawbacks, too.

Digitized Dance Notation

Digital choreography programs like Dance Designer allow choreographers to choose and connect pre-recorded stock movements. Or, you can create your own unique 3D steps with The Motion Bank, a data collection company that uses Microsoft Kinect and motion tracking technology to record dancers’ movements and generate an archived “movement library.”

The premiere of Dutch National Ballet's Night Fall, a virtual reality ballet. Photo by Michel Schnater.

But, these programs often only show how a step is done, not how to do it well. (One benefit of old school Labanotation is its symbols for movement quality.) And as with all dance notation systems, digital software is sometimes unable to accurately define dynamics and phrasing.

A New Kind of Camera

GoPros and drones can film hard-to-reach angles—and can create virtual reality experiences using 360-degree video technology. But though companies are hoping that access to high-quality dance footage will make audiences more excited about seeing live performances, it could have the opposite effect, making them content to stay home and watch from their computers.

E-traces

Footwear That Captures Your Every Step

What if a ballerina’s slippers could help capture her very movements? Motion-tracking “E-Traces” are slippers that feature a small electronic device attached to the bottom of a dancer’s shoe. The chip records a foot’s pressure and movement, allowing the dancer to effectively “draw” their movements in a pattern of data strokes that are then sent to a mobile app program for editing. Dancers can then use the app to interpret their movement, compare rehearsals and performances and make corrections. The only downside: The E-trace is visible against a pink shoe, which makes it obvious during performances.

The Ultimate FitBit

Another wearable helps prevent injury: Kitman Labs has devised the Athlete Optimization System, which tracks stats during and after workouts. It collects data on acceleration and deceleration, physiological factors (stress, mood, sleep), biomechanical response, muscle fatigue and methods of recovery so that dancers can monitor their regimen.

 

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Courtesy Schelfhaudt

These Retired Ballroom Dancers Started a Dance-Themed Coffee Company

Like many dancers, when Lauren Schelfhaudt and Jean Paul retired from professional ballroom dancing in 2016, they felt lost. "There was this huge void," says Schelfhaudt.

But after over 20 years of dancing, plus United States and World Championship titles, reality shows, and high-profile choreography gigs (and Paul's special claim to fame, as "the guy who makes Bradley Cooper look bad" in Silver Linings Playbook), teaching just didn't fill the void. "I got to the point where it wasn't giving me that creative outlet," says Paul.

When the pair (who are life and business partners but were never dance partners—they competed against one another) took a post-retirement trip to Costa Rica, they were ready to restart their lives. They found inspiration in an expected place: A visit to a coffee farm.

Though they had no experience in coffee roasting or business, they began building their own coffee company. In 2018, the duo officially launched Dancing Ox Coffee Roasters, where they create dance-inspired blends out of their headquarters in Belmont, North Carolina.

We talked to Schelfhaudt and Paul about how their dance background makes them better coffee roasters, and why coffee is an art form all its own:

GO DEEPER