Porretta in Molissa Fenley's State of Darkness. Photo by Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB.

As clichéd as it sounds, asking me why I dance is like asking a fish why he swims or a bird why he flies. I dance because I'm meant to. It's who I am. Even as a little boy in New Jersey, whenever adults would ask me what I wanted “to be" when I grew up, I'd answer, “I wanna be a dancer!"

I'll never forget the first time I was shown a video of Mikhail Baryshnikov. My mouth dropped open and my eyes widened. I got closer to the television screen like a moth to a flame. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: His magnificent jumps, astounding turns and artistry.

For me, Baryshnikov was a god. Growing up in a town where a boy like me wasn't quite the norm, having him as my role model reassured me that what I wanted to do in life and who I wanted to be could really be achieved—there were other people out there just like me.

Nine years later, I got to take ballet classes from him at the School of American Ballet, where I trained. I was so nervous and excited. I couldn't believe I was going to meet him! The lessons he taught me in those few classes have lasted me throughout my entire career, right down to the way I hold the barre when facing it, always with wrists crossed to keep myself squared. I even teach this to students now. And I always say, “Baryshnikov taught me this."

To this day Baryshnikov is still my hero. He represents more than just stellar talent and artistry; to me he is freedom. Freedom to be who you are and fight for what you want. The stage is where I truly feel the happiest and most comfortable with myself. Even on days when I'm exhausted and sore, I feel so lucky that I have been given the gift to do what I love every day of my life.

It's hard to compare the feeling you get after hitting your last pose in a ballet. That moment of realizing what you've just accomplished. Not every ballet is as rewarding as others, but to be in front of a crowded theater, giving the audience everything you've got and feeling them feeding you their energy back—I live for those moments when everything comes together onstage.

It's those moments that I savor. Dance is and will always be my first true 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: