Sadan in Brenda Way's Unintended Consequences. Photo by Andrew Weeks, Courtesy ODC.

Why I Dance: ODC's Josie G. Sadan

I sat recently in the former prison library on Alcatraz Island. A man carrying a champagne flute and a smartphone walked down the adjacent corridor and called through the bars, “Are you dancing?"

I was there as part of a movement installation for the opening of an exhibit by the artist Ai Weiwei. I wasn't, in that moment, dancing. The bare room served as a backstage. Even when I moved down the long hallways, however, the environment felt at odds with dancing.

Sadan at Alcatraz, courtesy ODC

For me, dancing almost always has some thread of joy. It takes physical ideas (the foot goes here, the arm goes there) and through the prisms of dancer and choreographer, turns them into something beautifully abstract. Or, refracting in the other direction, it takes something abstract and makes it human, grounded in flesh and physics and atoms.

This structure on Alcatraz, meanwhile, was designed to block the abundant beauty that surrounds the island. It left little room for joy. And while the “rules" of dance technique are a framework to play within or interpret in new ways, this institution was intended to bring order to inmates who failed to follow rules in other prisons. It was hardly a place for prisms.

Growing up in a musical family, I gleaned from family stories the idea that dance can be a passport to experience worlds and a language to share them. One of my grandmothers traveled the world as a young woman, picking up dance techniques and traditions even as she began to go blind. When her vision faltered, she still had rhythm and music and movement.

Today, there are moments while dancing when I feel like my most complete self. The part of me that enjoys puzzles and demands logic; the part that likes to feel athletic and simply must move; the part that wants to create something larger than myself—once in a while, these parts get to work in harmony.

Of course, the day-to-day of dance is often simple labor. You have to do the thing, over and over again, to figure it out. This forces you to see your weaknesses, but it also delivers small victories. I remember one of my early ballet teachers telling a class, “You always come back to the barre." Whatever life or a choreographer throws at you, the barre is there; pliés are predictable. The form and structure offer something to map your growth against. And embedded in this discipline, in the constant, subtle choices about phrasing and physicality, is the pursuit of an essential clarity of thought, which I love.

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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: