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Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Karen
8/9/1999  6:14:00 AM
Glad to see you have put up a discussion board. I will dive in and contribute.

I have been dancing for several years and have been teaching for about a year. As I have been checking out the various opportunities available to ballroom and specialty dancers, I have come to the following conclusions:

Dancers tend to divide themselves into two groups. Those who primarily compete and those who primarily social dance.

From what I can see, the competition dancers tend to work with primarily one partner and spend their time in practice rooms and at conventions and the competition, as well as in private lessons.

The social dancers tend to pick favorite dances and locations and nights to dance on, and go on a regular basis. They do not tend to dance with one person more than 2 dances a night and the general rule is that everyone dances with everyone.

I personally do not like the judging part of competitions. I love the idea of people coming together and performing for each other, of acquiring higher and higher skill levels, and of learning from each other. I just don't want to participate in the competition for a prize part. I am pretty much against the idea of putting one person up against another in something which I consider to be an art and form of personal expression. This puts me at a disadvantage because I really do prefer dancing with one or two people primarily. And it seems to me that besides social dancing, there are not alot of opportunities in the ballroom dance world that support dancers and give them performance opportunities unless they compete.

Now with social dancing, it is a lot of fun. But, I have also progressed to a skill level beyond most of those who attend, except of course the more experienced teachers. And I like dancing with people of all levels sometimes, but not all the time. I find that it is easier for me to progress when I work primarily with one or two partners.

I am interested to know of other people's experience with the various dance worlds and what you like and don't like about the opportunities available. I am also interested to know how choose to meet your own needs in dancing.

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by JHamilton
8/9/1999  6:15:00 AM
Hi, Karen:

I'm not sure I have any definitive answers but wanted to reply because your feelings echo some of mine. I have been dancing for about 2 1/2 years and despite being quite serious about it, have hesitated to jump into the world of competition because of the expense. (I've overcome this hesitation to the extent that I am finally entering my first competition next month). I agree that it seems our choices are either competition or social dancing, although my local ballroom club does have showcase or exhibition nights 2 or 3 times a year for folks who want to "perform" for their peers. I think this is a wonderful avenue for people who take lessons and are serious about progressing in their dancing but don't want to participate in competitions.

My main problem is slightly different than what you are descibing--I very much want an amateur partner to work with, and maybe compete with, but it seems difficult to find someone in my community with the same dance goals, in terms of amount of practice time, how often & who to get coaching or lessons from, whether to concentrate primarily on one style or diversify, etc. To increase my opportunities to find a regular partner, I actively participate in ballroom, country western and swing clubs in my community, but am not sure this is a good idea because I seem to be spreading myself too thin and am probably not making the progress I would make if I stuck to one category. Obviously it's not working because I have lots of dance friends but haven't yet met a suitable practice or competition partner.

Since you are obviously interested in progressing in your dancing, maybe you could decide to compete occasionally (once a year?)in order to get inspiration & give yourself a goal to work toward but continue your social dancing with a partner who is diligent as you and has similar goals in his dancing. And if this gentleman has a brother who dances, please pass along his name & address!

I, too, would be interested in hearing what others have to say about these issues.

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Karen
8/9/1999  6:16:00 AM

You said:

I agree that it seems our choices are either competition or social dancing, although my local ballroom club does have showcase or exhibition nights 2 or 3 times a year for folks who want to "perform" for their peers. I think this is a wonderful avenue for people who take lessons and are serious about progressing in their dancing but don't want to participate in competitions. >

I have tried different solutions. Since I am a producer of events, I don't have a problem creating performance opportunities. Last year, I performed with a professional partner/teacher in my husband's concert for children. It was a $25,000 production with in a theatre with 4 audiences of 750 elementary school children each. This was a lot of fun. But, it was also very much out of the mainstream of the dance community. And I do enjoy being around, supporting and supported by other dancers.

I have performed in ballrooms during 1/2 time entertainment, and enjoy doing that as well. That seems to be the only performance opportunity within the dance community that is not competition based.

One of the things that I have encountered is that there seems to be some prejudice by those who compete towards those who perform in non-competition situations.

I believe that there really are a lot of people who would like an environment supportive to learning and performing and refining one's skills. But, perhaps we are not speaking up enough about what we want. Perhaps those sharp business dance studio owners and event producers might make some events for us. Or even include non-competitive performance dancing in a competition or a convention.

You also said:

This is a sticky problem. You have lumped a lot of different things together. I have confronted some of the same problems. Unfortunately, there hasn't been anyone to really help me sort it out. I had to use my skills from my piano business and apply them to my dancing to help unravel the situation.

This is what I have done:

1. Defined the reasons that I dance. Defined my goals (this took about 2 years....sigh. All the while I was participating in many various activities and improving my skills)

2. Determined what my skill levels were in various dances (this took hiring a professional in each area to assess my skills), Determining I wanted them to be.

3. Analysized the different social communities surrounding the various dances. For example, Salsa and Argentine Tango communities are entirely different than West Coast Swing or ballroom. I tried to figure out which communities I enjoyed being in the most and where I felt I would get the most support. This helped me to decide which dances to work on.

4. Assessed the teachers available in the various dances in my community. In order to do this, I had to figure out what I needed from a teacher. When I first started dancing, I somehow left the "discerning" part of me on a shelf and just swallowed everything I was told without question. It took me awhile to realise that as a consumer, I have a right to choose a teacher whose style and attitude is compatable with mine. There are many fine teachers out there. But, I what I found that I needed was a teacher's teacher, because I was interested in learning far more about the dance than most students. I also wanted to learn to choreograph, dissect the steps, learn both follow and lead, etc.. Every person would need different things and knowing what you need is a journey of self discovery in itself.

4. Deciding what process I wanted to use to learn to dance. For example, I was involved with three small dance studios in a row. Each one of them closed unexpectedly leaving me with no place to go to practice. Since I was so involved in the life of the studio, I had made it my home base. When it closed, I was really thrown off in my dancing. Now, I have found a house that has a room in it I have made into a mini dance studio. I am having a mirror put up on my wall this week. I decided that I wanted my dancing practice to be centered in my home, a permanent part of my life. This allows me to be more flexible in the studios I attend, partners I dance with. If one doesn't work out, closes, or if someone moves away or loses interest, I can replace them with another without getting so disoriented. I am a very territorial creature and tend to need a home base. If my home base is within my control, then it makes my expectations of the studios and clubs I go to much easier to meet. I can depend on them for what they do best, instead of expecting them to do everything that I need them to be. For others, I am sure they would not be so excentric about this. But, I guess it is just important to know yourself and what you need. Also, to know how you like to approach practicing. If you can communicate what is important to you to a potential partner, knowing where you are flexible and where you are not, then it is easier to determine if you will work well together.

5. Figuring out what I want in a partner and then determining what type of dancer I would need to be to attract that type of partner. I too have not had success finding a partner in the social dance world. In order to be polite and keep with the rules of casualness, I have found that it is difficult to find out those who are interested in serious study of dance.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the best place to find people who are interested in the same things you are is one of the following ways:

1. To be introduced to them by a teacher or collegue. 2. To meet them in a class or through a private teacher. 3. To meet them at a convention or competition.

I think that the dance world could benefit from a classy partner placement service. There are many people who do not want anyone to know they are looking for a partner or who will not advertize it on a website or other place. It seems rather embarassing to just put out there that you are "looking." I think a lot of people would welcome a service where people were formally introduced to each other by a professional third party that had gathered a lot of information about each of them. Kind of like a high class dating service. But, of course for dancing, not dating. For me, dancing is something that is seperate from my romance life. I already have a wonderful life partner (my husband) and look to my dance for artistic fulfillment and because I simply love it.

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by JHamilton
8/9/1999  6:17:00 AM

Forgot to include my name in my previous post! Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think I am long overdue to sit down and determine exactly what my dance goals are, my skill levels in various dances, which areas I want to concentrate the most time and energy, etc. This lack of introspection, as much as anything, is probably the reason I've not found a practice partner, although I am also hampered by living in a small city with limited options.

For example, my original interest was country western (which I still love). But there are only a few competent, serious C&W dancers in my community and most are already "paired up" with someone. Then I became interested in ballroom and began lessons a little over 2 years ago. I truly love ballroom and, as I stated previously, I am finally biting the bullet and entering a competition with my teacher in a few weeks (Nevada Star Ball). But I don't foresee doing this on a regular basis, because I really want the experience of working and growing (and maybe competing) with an amateur partner.

Don't mean to be too inquisitive, but I would be interested in knowing the source of your dislike for competition. I need to know what I'm getting myself into!

Almost forgot, thanks for your ideas about ways to meet potential partners.

Thanks again for your reply! And good luck in finding the dancing opportunities you are seeking.

P.S. Does your husband dance at all?

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by KarenLile
8/11/1999  11:52:00 PM
Had to wait until the new discussion board was up to post a reply to your last message.

I believe you asked about my dislike for competition. I am not specifically against dance competitions. I just feel that the choice of using a competition format for preparing and presenting artists of any kind is not the best choice. My experience with this comes from my exposure to the piano competition world. I have been through the experience with my husband of many competitions, some of which my husband lost and some of which he won. (He is a concert pianist). What I discovered is this:

1. The major motivation for the competition is to promote itself, not build the individual winner's careers. I am not saying that some winner's don't benefit. It is just that they usually benefit because they have combined their efforts with some hard work and because others (i.e. managers, booking agents, etc) have also put in some hard work. The next year, when there is a new competition winner, the one from last year is dropped in the shadows. I realise that if a dancer wants to teach, winning a major competition can bring students, so this is a bit different than the piano world where the goal is to perform in concert tours around the world.

2. I don't like the idea of "pitting" artists against each other to see "who's best". To me, a performance and a dance is an inspired and joyful thing. Trying to judge who is best is kind of like trying to judge who prays the best.

3. I don't like the way that people start to behave towards each other when they are operating in an environment of "scarcity." The competition sets up an artificial scarce environment. The goal is to win. There is only one first place winner, etc. So automatically, there is a scarcity of opportunities to win when several couples are entered into a competition. I have always found that if there is enough recognition to go around, the environment is entirely different. People treat each other better and with more respect when they don't feel they have to fight to get their needs met. Also, there is more cooperation between those who have more skill than others when those at the top don't feel they have to fight to protect their position. Of course, I don't mean "fight" literally, I just mean the struggle that develops between people when there is something to be won.

4. I don't like the idea of judges making judgements on who is the best artist without being held to a higher standard. It would be entirely different if there were a standard of dancing that was measurable that everyone knew they would have to meet in order to achieve a certain recognition or level. I have no objection to that. If a dancer met that standard and a judge's only job was to determine if the standard was met, then all would be fair. Also, there would be no reason that everyone who met the standard could achieve the recognition. There could be as many winners as there were skilled dancers. (I realise this causes problems where cash awards are given, but there are other ways of solving this problem). In a competition, however, it is a judge's responsibility to keep their opinions somewhat to themselves. And it is also their job to pick only one first place winner. So, even if there are several couples who might have equal skill and talent, they can only pick one. Because the judges reasoning for the decisions are kept confidential, the dancers competing feel they have to please the judges, not meet a certain standard of dancing. This becomes dancing to please a person, or group of persons. If you were to make an analogy to a political system, you might say that I would be for a government governed by law not by a king or dictator. I would rather see the people establish the law and abide by it than see everyone scrambling around to please the whims of a person in a position of extreme power. I believe that one of the reasons that there are so many behind the scenes "uglies" that can and do happen in some competitions is because the system itself is designed to create those problems.

5. I don't feel that the competition creates an environment that truly inspires creativity. I believe that many people find their creativity shut down in such an environment

6. I don't believe that artists, performers, etc. are being presented with the respect they deserve when they are forced to perform under the conditions that usually exist in a competition. Every performer is deserving of respect and appreciation, no matter what their skill level. Being a producer of musical/dance variety shows for TV/Theatre, I have spent a lot of time making sure the stage is set for a performer to look and feel their best and to be recognised by the audience as worthy of attention. I see competitors often thrust into very difficult situations without that type of support and to me that shows a lack of respect for the work that the performer has been through to prepare their performance.

I know a lot of people who produce and perform in competitions. I have heard both the pros and the cons. I believe that great people can make inadequate systems (i.e. the competition) do amasingly wonderful things in some instances. I don't object to other people doing the competition thing or think that they are "bad" people because they do it. I just question the use of the competition form for any kind of motivation for excellence. It is so pervasive that people don't even think about the alternatives that are available. And there are so many alternatives that I believe would accomplish more towards the goal of building fine performers, athletes and artists and that would develop a social environment much more conducive to showing respect for each person and working cooperatively as a community.

I realise that my views are somewhat radical. However, I would not be surprised if many people started thinking about these things and applying their creativity to finding alternative solutions to the problems of presenting and preparing artists, we might see some really inspired productions and opportunities for dancers.

There is no reason that the business of presenting and preparing artists cannot be approached with as much creativity as we desire to achieve when preparing a performance.

Just my thoughts.

Karen E. Lile

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by George
8/13/1999  11:26:00 PM
Social Dancing, Competition Dancing and......How about ARTISTIC DANCING!! Yeh, Artistic Partner Dancing. Its about beauty, grace, elegance, being a "visible instrument in the band", improvising movement to the music, and showmanship.

That is why I dance West Coast Swing. I've only realized this in the past 6 months as a result of trying to fit myself into the Social versus Competitive slots. Neither fit.

Food for thought.

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by KarenLile
8/15/1999  3:51:00 PM

I agree that Artistic Partner dancing is a great idea. In fact, why not even other forms of dancing as well?

As a community, we don't have to limit ourselves to doing things one particular way only.

One of the things I like about West Coast Swing is that improvisation is very much a part of the dance. I took rhythm tap dancing for about a year and found it very helpful in creating syncopations in West Coast Swing. Not a benefit I expected.

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Matyas
8/14/1999  1:45:00 AM
I am a competition dancer in International style and I also dance socially. It is true that I do not visit the local Saturday social dance club every week so I rehearse more with my partner. (I was in NY at the end of last year and attended social dance evenings in Manhatten.)

So I see no reason why someone could not compete and rehearse and go to social dance places also.

The dance competition is about technique and not artistic values. I think that technique is one tool for good artistic presentation.

I think that being compered to others will help me and my partner and us as a couple to improve our skills and so enjoy dancing more and more. I watch other dancers and look out for qualities that appeal to me, and I choose teachers who can teach how to achive those. So I think competition is a valuable feedback to me. And again about my technique and not my artistic expressions. Competitions provides a focus, a goal, an excitement, a sport like attitude which I need for hard work.

Of course the artistic expression is very important to me on a competition I want the audience to enjoy my performance, beside that I want to make my partner and myself happy. I pity the judges: they have to evalute the couples' technique instead of solely enjoying the performance...

Finding a partner for competitive dancing can happen at a social dance place. It happened to me and my partner. Of course later we realized that we had already met before at studios (she lives in Houston I in Austin) and at competitions. When I started to look for a new partner I went to a dance place in Houston and we met there.

But, the point is that both of us were involved in competition dancing already at that time. So my suggestion is to try to find a partner who also expressed serious interest in dancing by taking lessons or going to competitions (at least watching) etc. I write serious not because I think that social dancing cannot be serious, but to emphasize that preparing for competitions and doing regular rehearsal requires quite a commitment regarding your time and money.

And about money. It is very important to get an amateur partner which is more beneficial than doing pro-am. You need 3-5 times as much practice as much lessons you take, and it is much cheaper with an amateur partner. And personally I beleive that you even get farther in the long run with your dance knowledge. So get a partner, almost anyone would do for a start. Remember you do not have to plan dancing with this one partner for the rest of your dance carrier. Someone said once that she does not find a partner who is similarly committed as she is. Even in this case I suggest to take the best avialable partner. Many man develop obsession to dancing along the way - like me - and have not a well defined goal at the beginning.

There was a comment about competition dancers that some of them look down upon social dancers. I do not think it is more true than that social dancers look down upon competition dancers. On rec.arts.dance some posters regularly paint a picture of competition dancers as being unable to social dance which is the real form opposed to the "fixed routine" dancing and that they unable to lead and follow etc. I do both that says all.

A competition is an opportunity to socialize as a matter of fact. You can support your friends, help each other with the preparation and you can go out to eat or drink afterwards to discuss what happened etc. Of course it would work better if more people were involved in amatuer competitions around here in Texas.


re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by KarenLile
8/15/1999  3:54:00 PM

I appreciated reading about your positive experiences with competitions. You brought up some good points. All of the reasons you listed are a reason why many people can benefit from a competition.

But, the question I ask is this. Do we have to have the first, second, third prize and the importance placed upon the judges opinion in order to receive those benefits?

I would be interested in your thoughts on this.


re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Matyas
8/17/1999  12:29:00 AM
About whether we need 'prizes' for the benefits:

It seems to me that the answer is yes. At least presently. However I think dancing is not alone with this phenomenon. I did athletics for 4 years and the competition was required to be a member in the club. Of course it was not a written rule, but the athletics division was rated among the others (volleyball, basketball, martial arts etc.) according to how many qualified competitors we could present. I hated competitions then but liked doing athletics. I was stressed out before the races - but actually during them it was ok - but I am happy that I did it, because I did not have problem with the competitive environment in high school (I did math competitions very successfully), or today in dancing or in everyday life.

Take those city marathons or 10K races. They are competitions and prizes are given but the majority goes because it is fun, challange and healthy activity etc.

So I think it can be done the same way in dancing, as a matter of fact I think many dancers do it this way being aware that they will not be champions but still will get a skill which will put them well above the average population regarding dancing.

I have only one concern namely that on a dance competition couples are eliminated in the rounds while on a marathon they do not. So for this reason I support that on large events the organizers should schedule a re-dance(?) so everyone has a chance to dance at least twice, and also that they do a B final for the 7-12 placed couples from the semi-final.

It was mentioned that more other opportunities, like demonstrations should be avialable to dancers. I like the idea! But I heard dancers who said that they would feel embarassed on a demonstration and not on a competition. On the latter they are not alone on the floor and they do not feel stressed if they are not dancing well, while on a demo environment they feel that much more is at stake. Therefore demonstration might be good for only those who are quite accomplished dancers.


re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Belle1
8/17/1999  4:06:00 PM
After reading the above replies I feel very fortunate to be at a (country dance) place which is both a studio and a dance club. We have a lot of competitors (our pro is a past world champion in country dance) but we also have a lot of good social dancers. We all trade partners quite frequently, even the comp folks (they can practice on the practice floors, so when they are upstairs in the club they are known to be social dancing).

I used to ride, and I was taught there that it is the pursuit of excellence that is the goal and competitions were only a way to measure your progress, not an end in themselves. Certainly I spent far more time riding at home than I did at comps! That is how I have continued to see competition dancing. It's hard to work on improving yourself if there are no "tests."

I think there will probably always be people for whom the prize is the most important thing, but I'm not one of them. I think it's very important that your self esteem is not linked to your performance at a competition. It seems like the most aggressive competitors are often the most insecure about themselves.

It is frustrating not to have a partner at your exact level of skill and interest, but it's also true that this is just dance, not dating or marriage, and things can change if they need to. I guess you do have to be careful of friendships though, not to just drop someone without warning unless you have an understanding about it. I recently started dancing with a practice partner close to my level of skill but well below my level of interest...it's better than only dancing with people much better or much worse than I am, or not practicing at all.

I can't imagine being only a competitor or only a social dancer. It's a complete thing for me.


re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by KarenLile
8/21/1999  6:28:00 PM
You mentioned in your last post:

You have brought up a good point. Not everyone likes to be the center of attention, even though they do like to perform. For example, some people sing in choirs and others sing solo. Some musicians play in combos, orchestras, and others play solo. So, if there were to be a non-competitive performance event, it would probably be a good idea to have some group performances as well as solo performances, to give everyone a chance to peform, no matter what their preference.

I don't believe that the judges and the prizes need to be present in order to create a performance with more than one couple on the floor.

Karen E. Lile

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Matyas
8/22/1999  1:50:00 AM
About not solo performances.

There is such a thing as formation dancing, however I am not sure that many such group prepares only for demonstrations. The first dance club I went to did such demonstrations (that club was against competition dancing.)

In England I went to Tea Dances which were social dance afternoons. There 30% of the dances where kind of choreographed dances where everyone danced the same steps some of them had partner changes.

I think that a social dance club can be a good place to "perform" also. It worked this way In Hungary. Competition dancers filled up usually the floor. Some dance nights were organized right after the competition (there should have been more of that!). A poster here also mentioned that in C&W competitors are active social dancers too.

I think that the problem in ballroom dancing in the US is the low number of people involved in competitions. The reason behind this - IMO - is partly cultural and partly the consequence of Pro-Am which discourages dancers to partner up between each other - and who goes to social dancing with their pro?

The result is that if you go to a social dance it is more probable in the US that you will have a comment like one of the posters said who complained about lack of partners of her level provided you take private lessons and prepare for competitions seriously. In a healthy environment you could find fellow competitors out there near to your level.

I know that some will say that my opinion about Pro-am is an oversimplification, that might be so, I just wish to make the point that it is a kind of Catch 22 situation: lack of partners will support existence of pro-am which in turn dicourages am-am couple dancing which leads to less amateur dancers and so possible partners etc. I do not claim that I have a solution.


re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by Belle
8/25/1999  1:00:00 PM
In my (limited) experience, pro am does not mean fewer people dance as amateur couples. The pro where I dance is very good but also very expensive. I think most of his students would jump to have a partner at their level (and some do). They would have more practice time that way. Our group has always accepted that individuals do both (makes for a lot of similar costumes though!).

And then there's poor little me, who doesn't have a competition partner and can't afford pro am . Oh well! That's another topic .

re: Are Competition & Social Dance the Only Choices?
Posted by KarenLile
8/25/1999  11:12:00 PM
I have been recently trying a new avenue, or let's say a strategy for getting my needs met as a dancer. I have decided to do several things at once:

1. I am taking a teacher training course with 16 other teacher's in training. It so happens that there are more women than men in the class. But we are all learning lead and follow, so it doesn't matter. This class is giving me experience in learning details about the steps and patterns, as well as talking to a group, selecting music, performing, calling out the count and the steps, etc. This is providing me challenge and interest. It also allows me to progress through all the different levels of the different dances from the leader perspective, which I haven't done before, and I test at the end of each segment, which gives me a sense of accomplishment. The test is predictable and there is no limit as to who can pass it. Anyone who knows all the steps, can perform them well, etc. can pass to the next level.

2. I am social dancing 1 to 2 nights a week, to keep a connection with a group of people and get some good aerobic exersize. This is also an opportunity for me to meet the other teacher's in training and for us to practice what we have been learning on the social dance floor.

3. I have set aside a room in my house where I can practice by myself and with various partners. I meet with another woman in the class who is a teacher in training to go over class material, choreograph routines from the material, discuss technique, etc. This is really rewarding because it she is as interested in the subject as I am.

4. Those of us who are in the teacher training program can take as many of the group classes as they want and weekend parties are free to us. So, I am taking technique classes, as well as dancing leader and follower parts in various classes that catch my interest.

5. I plan to find an ametuer partner to work with at my home studio. This will give me the benefits of working with someone close to my level and we can set some peformance goals. We will probably perform at the 1/2 times of the social dances, since this is an easy and accessible avenue.

6. I plan to select a pro partner to work on choreography for public performances. I will probably have to set up my own performance opportunities. Before when I was doing Pro/Am work with my former teacher, I did not have any other activities to balance my dancing life. And so when he closed his ballroom, it set me adrift for a while.

I now realise that I need many different opportunities to meet my needs. There probably isn't one teacher or partner or ballroom that can meet all my needs . By putting together a mix, it makes it easier for me to be satisfied.

I think that I will go to some competitions sometime in the future and watch how they are set up and operate. I would like to see if I can come up with a plan for a non-competition event that accomplishes the positive goals that the competition is currently achieving, without the competition element.

When those of you who are contributing to this discussion tell your stories about what you like and don't like about the scene out there, it helps me understand more.

Thank you for discussing these things.

Karen E. Lile

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