Photo by Julie Lemberger of Stephen Petronio's Untitled Touch (2017) at The Joyce Theater

In The Studio: Stephen Petronio On Finding Joy in The Unknown

For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.


What is typically the jumping off point when you begin creating a new work?

It varies every time. It's usually a word or a phrase. In this case I was in discussion with a diamond company about making a work because I've always thought diamonds were so seductive. I became interested in the process of going from something as dirty and amorphous as coal, to something compact and brilliant like a diamond. Even when the stone is hard in its raw state it's very unremarkable, and then it gets faceted and becomes this thing of elusive beauty. So I thought that was an interesting path to follow in making a new work.

Photo by Paula Court of Stephen Petronio Company rehearsing Hardness 10


I heard you say that Yvonne Rainer opened a door for you because she encouraged you to inquire in a way that was important to you. Is that something you try to encourage with your dancers?

I try to frame my questions in a way that there is a balance between what I know is going to yield something of interest and what I don't understand about what it will yield. I like to excite my dancers. I can see when there's a good problem on the floor and if they're excited or not. Having an engaged dancer solving a problem with me—nothing is more exciting. You can drag a dancer through a problem but it's much more fun if everyone is galloping towards some unknown goal.

Photo by Paula Court of Stephen Petronio Company rehearsing Hardness 10

When you do come across a problem how do you keep moving forward?

More often than not when something is not working I leave it, and when we come back the next day it somehow has worked itself out. The one thing I've learned is there's no real prescription for making a dance and you really need to listen to the problem at hand and how the dancers are solving it.

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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