Category Archives: Clothes

What’s in your dance bag? Ballet Edition!

Welcome to guest blogger Adult Beginner, who writes about the journey of ballet as a grown-up lady at her blog. If you haven’t checked it out, you SHOULD; she’s funny and smart and insightful and very honest. And she draws fantastic pictures! So thanks, Adult Beginner, for letting us take a peek into your dance bag! This is the second installment of our “What’s in Your Dance Bag?” feature – see the previous post, and read the comments from other savvy dancers talking about their dance must-haves.

Adult Beginner

Huh, pink and black or GTFO, I guess.

From left to right:

1.) Bobby pins. Everywhere. Forever.

2.) Scünci hair band, for keeping it smooooooth.

3.) Sansha Nijinsky full-sole leather ballet slippers, in the mesh bag. That mesh bag is brilliant marketing. I would almost stick with Sansha for life just for the thrill of that mesh bag.

4.) Capezio split-sole canvas ballet slippers. Don’t remember the style name for these. If it was stamped on the bottom somewhere it has long since worn off. The canvas makes a prettier pink color and texture than the leather, but man they get dirty! Gross, sorry for your eyes, you guys.

5.) Sansha Pro 1C split-sole leather ballet slippers, in mesh bag, yay.

6.) Black cotton Motion Wear shortie-shorts, because I constantly worry that I will forget my skirt or shorts or whatever and will be forced to do ballet in just tights and a leotard. That is just way less clothing than I’m interested in. Therefore, shorts in the bag.

7.) The bag itself: just a dumb old cotton tote. Bags with pockets and zippers and compartments and phone holders and magnetic closures and buckles and things seem great for organizing all your business, but in reality they just add weight on the shoulders. A plain old tote is so much easier and lighter. And can be thrown in the washing machine.

What else is usually in there: water bottle. Sometimes a pair of leg warmers. Phone is in my purse. Same for lip balm. That’s all a girl needs.

Stay tuned as we feature more guest bloggers in the coming weeks and look at what’s in THEIR dance bags. Thanks again to Adult Beginner  – seriously, check her out!

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Ballroom Dress Rental: A User’s Guide

Knock Knock

Who’s there?

Ballroom Dance Dresses.

Ballroom Dance Dresses who — wait, are you kidding me? You cost HOW much? Bwahahahahahaha, NOPE.

(just a joke I hear a lot)

This beauty is a stunning and different ballroom (Standard) gown.

This beauty is a stunning ballroom (Standard) gown. She can be yours for only $3600. (Which is a very fair price.) Dramatic Jewel available at Vanda Dance

Love ballroom dancing but dismayed to find that you can get a used car for the price of a competition or performance dress?*

Thought about gluing rhinestones to crap you already have?

Considered buying a knockoff dress from some shady dressmaker in Hong Kong through EBay?

Honey, we’ve all been there. Don’t feel bad.

Fortunately for dancers ladies**, the world of insanely expensive dresses has experienced a slight improvement in recent years, and that is the emergence of the RENT-A-DRESS. (It’ll pick you up! Hopefully. If the bodysuit fits well.)

So now, rather than spending two grand on a dress you love but might wear three times a year, you can spend two hundred to five hundred dollars to rent a gently-used fancy gown that only a few other ladies have sweated their fake tan into will look great on you.

I’m a huge advocate of ballroom dress rental. Firstly, it’s a super cost-effective way of getting out on the floor in something that makes you look like you belong there, without sinking tons of dough into a dress.

It also lets you change it up a lot more than you would if you had purchased a dress – so if your body changes, or you dance different material, or you dye your hair a really fun shade of fuschia, you aren’t locked into a dress. Plus it’s fun.

* Seriously. On Craigslist right now I could get a pretty solid early 2000s Lincoln Navigator, a tow truck bed, a super nice 2003 Ford Focus, or a creepy 1998 white van to commit all my serial killings in. Each for $3600.

**and honestly, how much does it suck that this is exclusively a lady problem? Dudes can just buy whatever they need and go to town. No big deal. I swear to God, once my partner bought an entire competition outfit AT THE COMP the day we were dancing and had the seller hem the pants. Good to go. About $800 – WITH new shoes! Jesus.

So! Let’s get started! How do you rent a dress?

STEP ONE – Open up a bunch of browser tabs

That’s right, this is an entirely online experience. So get thee to a rental website. I recommend the following (basically in order of my own personal, for-whatever-it’s-worth preference):

  1. Encore Ballroom Couture – I love these guys. Beautiful top end dresses that look up to date and are in great condition, fabulous photos, easy to use, and great service. For my money, they have the top-end-iest dresses (their European collection makes me drool). Not cheap, but worth it. And they have the option to buy many of the dresses.
  2. Vanda Dance – a new venture from Ballroom champ Victor Fung and family (I have a suspicion that the name is V&A, as in Victor and Anastasia, his lovely dance parter and fiancée). They are the nicest folks, and although I haven’t used the rental service yet, I’m planning to! They operate out of Orange County which is super convenient for me, and I have seen the kinds of dresses they rent hanging around (har har har, hanging around) their studio many times. As soon as I’ve rented from them I’ll let you know, but I am confidently recommending them to my own students. You can rent or buy virtually all the dresses, AND they rent accessories! Super cool.
  3. RentBallroomDresses.com – a huge selection. Worth it when you can’t find anything that looks good or that you like. I’ve also found that they have a wider range of dresses for ladies who need a larger size or who want more coverage than you get with a spandex handkerchief and 2394829384902834 rhinestones. Dina, the owner, is a pro-am dancer who wanted more options, and her business partner designs all the “Mimi G” dresses. I’ve had great success having students rent from them in the past, and their customer service has always been just epic.
  4. Rhinestone Dress Rentals – these guys almost didn’t make the list, but I checked them again and they’ve upped their game. They used to have a pretty sad selection but I see a lot more options from actual dress designers, but I’d still go with one of the top three unless you really can’t find anything.
  5. Rhythmic Rentals – I’ve never used them; haven’t ever found anything that I was crazy about. I don’t know about their customer service.

STEP TWO – Go shopping!

But, but, but…what do I pick? Well, first off, narrow it down by style. Are you doing Latin, Smooth, Rhythm, Ballroom, or something else? (If you don’t know, ask your teacher.)

LATIN/RHYTHM

There’s no real difference between Latin and Rhythm costumes. Not really. The big question is, what are you comfortable wearing, and what will enhance or detract from your movement quality? Here are some general guidelines that I’ve found from my own personal experience of looking at people wearing dresses AND trying on a bunch of dresses over the years and going, huh…well, that’s appalling. Please don’t take it personally and don’t believe me too much.

  • Long skirts work for long legs. Shorter skirts work better for shorter legs (which I am the proud owner of).
  • Butt ruffles are rarely a good idea.
  • Midriff-baring costumes require a high degree of confidence in your midriff and the ability to contain your core pretty much 110% of the time.
  • Bare arms are not as bad as you think.
  • Long fringe makes you look slow, short fringe makes you look fast.
  • Big pouffy skirts also make you look slow.
  • Asymmetrical hems can be pretty cool.
  • Unless you’re Yulia in this actual routine, don’t wear fringe pants.

Okay! So you’re looking at what appear to be a bunch of swimsuits with flappy bits and rhinestones sewn on. What size should you get?

Well, ballroom dresses are actually pretty forgiving in the size department. Usually they’ll stretch a good two, sometimes three sizes in either direction. So if, for example, you wear a size 12, you could probably order a medium or a large, or anything in the 8-14 range. (In fact, many sites will give you a range of possible sizes.) It will depend a lot on the dress – sometimes you can get away with a totally ludicrous size, sometimes not. It’s worth emailing the rental site if there’s a dress you love and asking how much flexibility you have. I have done that many times – and they’re usually very forthcoming and honest. They want you to find a dress that fits as much as you do!

The other consideration is cup size, since costumes have built in bodysuits. Not a big surprise here, but if you are boobs-lite, you can order whatever you want. If you are boobs-classic, pay a lot more attention to the cup size indications. Sometimes it may be possible to wear an additional bra underneath your costume, if it’s a really closed in design, but I don’t recommend it. It adds lines and creases and bulk. A well-fitting bodysuit should give you enough support – and I say that having helped many ladies of very generous bosom select dresses.

STANDARD/SMOOTH

To float or not to float? That is the question —

Whether ’tis nobler in the arms to flutter

The chiffon and shine of outrageous ballroom,

Or to take arms as yet by man unfetter’d,

And not, by choreography, get stuck to your partner.

(It’s a work in progress. It was good up to the end there…)

So, yeah, the big difference between Standard and Smooth gowns is, you guessed it, FLOATS. That’s the name for the extra drapey fabric dangling from your arms in a Standard dress – because you’re in closed position for your entire dance, it’s not a problem. But because Smooth can open up, you can just imagine the infinite ways to have costume fails.

Rare anymore are the dresses with full attached floats (like the one above). Instead, most dresses now have removable floats or armbands that you can wear or not wear, so it isn’t a huge deal. Beyond that, Standard dresses tend to have fuller skirts with more layers (more classic ballgown-y) and Smooth dresses tend to be closer to the body and to be sexier (because of all that on-your-own shimmying you do).

The big consideration on Smooth or Standard dresses, besides sizing, is length. You don’t want the hem of your dress dragging on the floor, or up around your calves. Dresses should fall to the top of the foot at their longest – you want them to graze your shoe tops but not to touch the floor. (The judges will have a hard time judging your footwork if they can’t see it, and you’ll step all over the hem and rip it out.) Sometimes the dress site will tell you, other times not. If you’re tall or short (basically outside the 5’3″-5’8″ zone), email before you rent and verify that the dresses you have selected will work for your body.

Okay! So you’ve picked out some dresses! Yay! On to…

STEP THREE – Try that bad boy on

Usually renters will allow you to request one to three dresses for try-on at a time. There’s typically a fee for this, as well as shipping, but honey, it’s WORTH IT. Read the rental agreement at each site to make sure you get the picture, and be aware that you must return the dress undamaged and unaltered. No pinning or hemming or anything. A stone or two might fall off, no big deal, but it better look exactly like it did when you got it.

When your Big Box O’ Dresses arrives, it will be heavy. The dresses will be shoved into bags inside that box, and you’ll think, that seems like a totally crazy way to store them…until you try to fold one. Then you will understand.

Try on your selections with your dance shoes, and a friend. A friend who really likes you. A Dress Buddy.

If everything you ordered looks like total dog vomit, then join the club! That happens a lot! Good thing you did not buy any of these dresses! Ha ha, dresses, you are stupid and now you are going back to dress jail.

STEP FOUR – Find a winner

When you’ve found a dress you like, send it back to the renter and request the rental for whatever future date you’ll need. Obviously, dresses are hard to come by around big competition dates, so if you want something for Emerald or the Ohio Star Ball, think ahead and reserve that dress well in advance. For studio showcases or smaller comps that don’t fall during major events, you should have less trouble.

Typically you’ll get a dress for three to five days, which should cover the getting it, wearing it, and shipping it back. If for some reason you need longer, contact the renter and explain your special circumstances. Again, the same rules apply – don’t damage, stain, alter, or otherwise screw up the dress. If you do, they will happily charge you the full amount and you will own it, which totally defeats the purpose of this whole renting scheme in the first place.

If you DO end up loving your dress, and can’t imagine your life without it, contact the renter to see if you can buy it. Usually, if it is for sale, they will apply the rental and try-on costs (less shipping) towards the purchase of the dress. And when you want to change it up, you may be able to consign it right back to them.

So there you have it! Go forth and rent, my lovelies – and tell me in the comments about your dress renting experiences! (Or disasters. Or ask questions. Or WHATEVER, it is open season down there.)

polar express

Please don’t buy this dress, because I love it and someday it will be MINE. (Polar Express at Encore Ballroom Couture)

Related: The ALOD Guide to Ballroom Practicewear

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Bring a friend.

Pierre Balmain working on a dress for Ruth Ford. I wish that this was the face I made when trying things on 100% of the time.

So you guys, here is some exciting news – I totally bought a dress! I was just sort of browsing and then I found an AWESOME and PERFECT and sort of WEIRD dress that I love. Added bonus? I got a great deal on it, and the designer is going to add a removable underskirt so it can work as a smooth OR a rhythm dress. Fabulous fabulous fabulous.

(Hey, wait! you say. Aren’t you having a dress made? What is up with that, Imelda Marcos Ballroom Dancer? To which I say, I am totally having a dress made, and it is going to be super awesome and amazing BUT it is my professional competitive dress which means that it is going to be not a lot of fabric? It is not really dancing-with-students appropriate, especially when you bear in mind that some of my students are like, eleven years old. Also a lot of people will change dresses between Rising Star and Open divisions, or even between semis and finals, and it would be nice to have that option. So in addition to my super serious professional amazing dress, I need kid-appropriate dresses that are still fun and awesome and could work on the pro floor too. That’s a high bar! But man, thanks for asking.)Yeah, so anyway, the dress-buying process made me think about all the bad choices you see on a regular basis in the ballroom world. It is unreal how many people wear clothes that do not fit or flatter them, or that do not highlight what they do well, or that emphasize the wrong thing, or that simply do not suit the choreography they are doing AT ALL. Like, on any given Sunday in a competition ballroom the bad choices outweigh the good choices by a landslide.

It also made me think about the amount of hot air that gets blown up your skirt…people will tell you that ALL KINDS OF HIDEOUS CRAP looks great, either because they are terrible at looking at things with their eyes, or because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or because they would really like to sell you said hideous crap.

Oh my gosh, you look awesome! Wow! This ugly ass gray-green-brown is TOTALLY YOUR COLOR! You’re so pretty! (Give me two thousand dollars, please.)

Which brings me to my main point: my darlings, if you are trying to buy a costume, BRING A FRIEND. It is easy to get flustered or upsold or to think that something looks good when it does NOT.

But not just any friend. You need a very specific kind of friend. I am fabulously lucky in that my friend who is my dress buddy is a dancer, so she knows what will and won’t work on the floor, but she is also a brilliant visual artist, so she has just the best eye.

(Me: “Hey, is this the shape dress I am allowed to wear?” Her: “Dude, no, remember what we said about this shape skirt?” Me: “Ohhhhh right. It was yellow and sparkly, so I got confused.”)

Plus she’s been through the hassle of dealing with her own ballgowns and their associated bullshit, and we have worked on a fair number of dresses together, so we can figure out what dress modifications are and aren’t possible given our current level of dress-fu. (Nor is this her first rodeo; she is good at recognizing danger signs and pulling me out of the line of fire so that I do not, for example, drop four grand on a dress I do not really need.)

Another great thing about her is that she does not filter her reactions to dresses AT ALL. They are right there on the face. So I know if I have put on something wacky and awesome or something just wrong. (The moral of this story is that my friend is the greatest person ever and you are all sad that she is not your friend. I know! That sucks for you! She is a lot of fun!)

SO, when I was trying on dresses yesterday, the lady who reps the design house (who is also a friend of mine, and whom I’ve worked with on many occasions) was doing her job really well, which meant she was telling me how great I looked and how slammin’ my bod was and how every damn dress I put on was fabulous and looked amazing and could be altered to look even MORE amazing.

Which was confusing! I am easily confused by people saying nice things to me! Happily my dress buddy was there and could look over and go ‘eh’ or ‘oh, interesting,’ or ‘take that ridiculous fucking shit off right now’ with her face.

And when I put on the good dress, the dress selling lady was right in there telling me how awesome it was BUT THIS TIME my friend was like, oh, oh yes, this dress is a winner. And I believed my friend, because I knew that she was totally right and that she would not let me look stupid.

Thank you, Ballroom Fairy, and thank you, dress selling lady, but most of all, thank you to my dress buddy, who is the shit.

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A prayer to the Ballroom Fairy

I just threw down a deposit on a dress…about what I make in a week. Please, Ballroom Fairy, let it not be ugly and please let me not look weird.

Body Policing: keep it to yourself

An infographic always helps

By any account, I am in good physical condition: I am strong, fit, flexible, I have excellent cardiovascular endurance, my blood pressure and cholesterol are in the ideal ranges, and I am lucky enough to not have any health problems (I have funky knees that like to go out of joint but thanks to pilates and strength training, they are stronger and more reliable now than they ever have been).

I have difficulty, like most American women, getting through an entire day without feeling completely shitty about myself and my body. This is not helped by the fact that as a professional dancer, I spend many hours each day in front of a mirror trying to get my body to perform in very specific ways, and comparing my body to the bodies of others.

Over the last three years, I have transitioned from another profession (writing) into dancing and teaching full-time, and as a result, I have had to switch from being essentially a reader and writer to an athlete. I have had to change my eating habits, my exercise requirements, and I have trained many many hours to be able to function as the kind of dancer that I would like to be. I am not at my peak level of performance yet, but I’m working on it.

That transition has altered my body pretty substantially – there is a visible change in my appearance, and especially if someone hasn’t seen me for awhile, that’s the first thing they comment on. I know – I KNOW! – that they are trying to be nice. That they are trying to say, hey, you look great, good for you, mazel tov. But what they’re actually saying is, hey, thanks for better conforming to my culturally-dictated ideals of what you should look like.

Here’s a sampling of the shit I have heard (reproduced here verbatim) in the past week alone:

*     *     *

“You just get prettier and prettier every day. Most people, you know, when they lose weight, they get ugly in the face, and they look all gaunt and thin. But not you. Your face looks so much better than it used to.”

“You are literally half the woman you used to be. Half. Literally.”

“Oh, wow, I didn’t even recognize you. That’s crazy! You are – you look, like, totally different. I mean… (in a whisper) you’ve lost, like, a LOT of weight, right?”

*     *     *

It is pretty typical of the body-policing bullshit I hear on a regular basis.

Clearly my body is public property, and commentary on it is totally fine and normal and everybody has the right to voice their opinions about it to me, without any regard for how I might feel about it, because OBVIOUSLY I must be happy that they are noticing weight loss which is INVARIABLY a good thing. My body is public property not because I am a dancer (although that doesn’t help), but because I am a woman.

And in our culture, women’s bodies are forums for public discussions at all times.

Because being a total badass isn’t enough – you have to be THIN & PRETTY

If that fact is not self-evident to you, then you are either incredibly unobservant or an idiot or both. Think of all the crap that gets said about women in the public sphere – Hillary Clinton, Sonia Sotomayor, Sarah Palin, even adorable Gabby Douglas. Endless shit is said about their wardrobe, their glasses, their hair, their weight. And those aren’t even women whose job it is to be professionally pretty. God help the ladies who have THAT job; an entire industry exists to sell you information about how they are failing or succeeding (but mostly how they’re failing) in their attempts to conform to impossible cultural standards of beauty. Remember Ashley Judd’s response to that? If you don’t, go read it right now; it’s amazing.

These comments? Make me feel like shit. Why?

Because it’s the other side of the Fantasy of Being Thin, the “magical thinking about thinness, which…is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, ‘When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit’; it’s ‘When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.’ ”

It has fuck-all to do with my abilities as a dancer or my health as a human and EVERYTHING to do with how I look in clothes. This is seriously only about the size of my ass. And that is not your problem. Or your business. See infographic.

SO anthropomorphic(Let me say at this point that this is all about MY experience – brought to you by The Internet, purveyor of self-reflexive commentary. I’m talking about my body and the choices I’ve made about it; not anybody else’s. I subscribe fully to the Underpants Rule: “everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do.” That means that I get to make choices about my life and my body for reasons that seem valid to me and you don’t have to like or agree with them, but, by the same token, if I expect you to respect my choices then I goddamn well better respect yours. So whether you are trying to change your body or you like it how it is or you don’t give half a shit either way, that’s your underpants. Not my business.)

So. I thought the Fantasy of Being Thin was utter bullshit three years ago, and I still think it’s utter bullshit. The problem is, it’s such a powerful cultural trope that if you don’t follow along with it, people get confused. Here’s how the exchange is supposed to go:

Person A: Comments on B’s body and appearance, noting that B is less fat than s/he used to be. (Oh my gosh, you look so great! You must have lost a lot of weight!)

Person B: Thanks A for noticing, agrees that it is wonderful. (Oh, thanks! Yes, I have, thank you – it’s great, I really feel so much better!)

Person A: Asks B how weight loss was achieved, more out of politeness than anything else. (That’s wonderful! What have you been doing?)

Person B: Explains boring details. (Well, I stopped eating carbs/white foods/red meat/bananas/things that start with the letter “k”/entirely. Ohmigosh, it’s really amazing…)

Refusing to engage in this script really fucks with people’s heads. I am not thrilled to death that you are complimenting me for taking up less space. You know what I would be thrilled by? A genuine compliment! People have said to me, hey, you look super fit and you look really strong – that’s awesome! And to them I say, Thank you! It is really cool that you said that, I have been working super hard to achieve the kind of physical performance I want, and I appreciate your noticing it. But you know what I don’t appreciate? The focus on my goddamn WEIGHT.

Someone once said that dancers work as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense, but see, policemen don’t have to be beautiful at the same time.

— George Balanchine

First of all, you know fuck all about how much I weigh. It’s a total mystery to you. You cannot possibly look at me and accurately guess what I weigh. You just can’t.

Furthermore, my weight –

(even if you could tell what it was by looking at me, which you can’t, but let’s assume for one minute that you had a superpower (what a shitty superpower! you could been INVISIBLE!))

– is not a reliable index of ANYTHING. It doesn’t tell you a goddamn thing about my strength, my health, my level of fitness, what I eat or don’t eat, whether I get enough sleep, how my knees feel on any given Sunday. And don’t even try to talk to me about BMI, which is just such bad science that it’s just laughable.

And finally, how the fuck do you know what has caused a change in my appearance? Maybe I have taken up drugs. Or maybe I am seriously ill, or have some really unfortunate health situation that has resulted in a major change in body composition. How do you think I will feel when you congratulate me on that? I just happen to be working on my body’s ever-increasing awesomeness in a super-health conscious way that is predicated on the least insane, most sustainable practices of health I can manage, but again, you DON’T KNOW THAT. I could be engaging in disordered eating, or crazypants fad dieting, or other shit that is profoundly damaging, and here you are telling me what an ace job I’m doing.

In fact, only one person out of the many many many people who have commented on my appearance has asked me about my health. He said, hey, I can’t help noticing that you look different, and I just wanted to ask you if that was something you were deliberately doing, or if it was just a thing, or whatever – regardless, are you happy about it? And I said, honey, thank you for being a sensitive and thoughtful human being! And then I was happy to talk about my situation and what it is all about.

The thing that makes me the most angry is that people, by and large, DO NOT CARE about health or fitness or any of the motivating reasons that I am actually experiencing. The only important thing is that I am wearing a smaller dress size, and that pisses me right the fuck off. Not once has someone said, dude, I have noticed that you are in way better control of your movement, way to fucking go.

(Actually, that’s a lie, my father said that to me but it wasn’t in the context of being less fat, it was in the context of a general observation about my dancing and the context of him being an all-around awesome and supportive person.)

No, the focus is on appearance and appearance only and that sucks out loud. Because dancing is about how what you’ve got inside manifests itself on the outside, how your breath and your spirit and your vitality and your muscles look painted on the canvas of your body. So yeah, it matters what that body looks like, especially in a dance form like ballroom, which has very narrowly-defined ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable. But the body is a MEANS TO AN END, and that end is expression. Shouldn’t we be focusing on that instead of the size of my ass? Tell me about my MOVEMENT, tell me about anything other than my goddamn dress size.

Idealizing the body and wanting to control it go hand-in-hand; it is impossible to say whether one causes the other. A physical ideal gives us the goal of our efforts to control the body, and the myth that total control is possible deceives us into striving for the ideal… In a culture which loves the idea that the body can be controlled, those who cannot control their bodies are seen (and may see themselves) as failures.

— Susan Wendell, “Toward a Feminist Theory of Disability,” Hypatia 4:2 (1989), pp. 104-124

Technique–bodily control–must be mastered only because the body must not stand in the way of the soul’s expression.

— La Merl

No, probably I am stupid for thinking that they are different. And I am certainly stupid for expecting ballroom dancers to be sensitive to any kind of nuance. I mean, for God’s sake. Have you seen the costumes we wear?

Nuance is not really our strong suit.

So what I’m really saying is, I’d like you to think about this before you open your mouth and comment to someone on their physical appearance.

And before you lose your shit and say, but, but, but, people are trying to be NICE, why can’t you just accept a COMPLIMENT, remember this: it’s my fucking body. And just because I am outside my house and wearing clothes does NOT give you the right to police it. You don’t get to decide whether it’s good or bad or better or worse or indifferent, I do. And your opinions on that? Maybe keep them to yourself.

You’re never going to go wrong saying to someone, hey, you look great today! or I love that top, or your hair looks cool! That’s super. Because those statements are not RELATIVE VALUE JUDGEMENTS. What’s a relative value judgement? You look better [than you used to] or what you’re wearing is so much cuter [than you usually look] or your hair looks way better short [because when it was long you looked worse].

You don’t know. You don’t know what kind of a day they’ve had, you don’t know what’s going on in their life, you don’t know how they feel about themselves or their body and, if you’re commenting on a change, you REALLY don’t know what’s caused it. You may think you’re being nice, and helpful, and supportive. But your body politics aren’t necessarily mine, and your projection of what you would or wouldn’t like someone to notice about your appearance doesn’t mean that the shit you’re saying to me isn’t damaging.

And you know what they say about good intentions, and paving.

So before you say something, ask yourself one question: does this person ABSOLUTELY NEED TO KNOW what you are telling them? Because if I have lipstick on my teeth or weird mascara marks, I MAY NOT KNOW THAT. You know what I’m real goddamn clear on? The current size, disposition, and arrangement of my body. Do I need to know that you think my face looks better now than it used to? Nope! Do I need to know that you think I am thinner than I used to be? No, I don’t!

When I’m on the floor, feel free. Feel fucking free to comment all day long about what I’m wearing and whether you think my ass is too big and how hideous my hair looks like that and why I shouldn’t wear yellow. That’s fair game. I’m putting myself out there to be judged – by you, by the goddamn judges, by the audience, by everyone.

But on the street, when I am just wandering around as a normal human? Maybe keep it to yourself.

 

Author’s note:

When I originally wrote this, I included specific details about my height, and weight, and I really wanted to keep those in. But in the end, I decided that they were pretty fucking meaningless without some pictures to accompany them and to make the point that YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT [xxx] LBS LOOKS LIKE. So I pulled that out, and I’m unhappy with that choice, but basically, I value my anonymity more. Sorry. But the same point is well made by two collections of photos, My Body Gallery and the BMI project, both of which strive to point out that our understanding of body image is so warped that we have NO CLUE what women actually look like.

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It’s chickpeas? Shut up.

(presented in no particular order)

*     *     *

So the potential partner definitely blew me off. That’s par for the course. At least this time I actually danced with the dude before the blow off! Although, of course, this being ballroom, I just haven’t gotten a call back for two weeks. That qualifies as a Not Happening in my book.

I really wish DudeBro McLeaderson would’ve had the cojones to just call me and say, listen, you’re great, it’s not gonna work, thanks so much have a nice liiiiiife…

But no. Instead I am going to have to track his lazy ass down and make him actually say it so that there is closure and it’s not weird the next time I see him which will inevitably happen given that the ballroom community has like twelve people in it, half of whom are mad at/screwing/screwing OVER/have been screwed over by the other half.

It’s fine if you don’t want to dance with me. That’s super valid. But don’t be a tool. Just fucking man up and call me.

But then, if you could do that you could probably show up to a rehearsal on time (or at all) which is also not a strength. So that’s a whole thing. Whatever.

*     *     *

I made these weird cookies. I don’t know, I kind of like them. But they’re legit weird. So they were a thing I found on the internet (she said with trepidation) and it seemed like a SUPER GOOD IDEA at the time and I just happened to have 100% of the necessary foo-foo gluten free fancy schmancy ass ingredients in my kitchen. And to the credit of the nice lady who put up all the pretty pictures, they seem like a fantastic idea. THIS IS WHY I WAS SUCKED IN.

Do mine look like this? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, no.

Right? But, so, yeah. These “cookies” (or whatever, baked good kind of deal) are chickpeas, natural peanut butter, agave syrup, vanilla, and baking powder. You toss all that in a food processor and blend the shit out of it.

So, it turns out I am not really 100% sure how to use my food processor? I bought it once and used it immediately (probably with the benefit of the goddamn instructions, which are now LONG GONE) and so I had to use a lot of trial and error. Mostly error. Because this dough shit is basically cement – at one point there was literally smoke coming out of the motor. This, I thought, was probably not a good sign.

But eventually I figured it out using my ape-brain and opposable thumbs and managed to blend together all the shit into a dough-like substance which was sticky as hell. And in the recipe the internet lady put in chocolate chips but it turned out that all I had were milk chocolate chips which I HATE so I had to find the only dark chocolate in my house which was half a bag of dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses. Right?

So I unwrap some of those bastards and throw them in, thinking (like a dumbass) that if I hit pulse they will get chopped up into chocolate chip type things. Uh, no. That is not how food processors work (see above). Turns out it just blended the shit out of the couple of kisses I did science with and turned the whole chickpea cement kind of chocolatey.

(ALLITERATION! Not just for foods with gluten.)

At which point I said, Fuck this, this whole experiment has ceased to be entertaining plus now I am realizing that I have to clean my goddamn food processor and remembering why I sometimes just give up and buy plastic silverware instead of, you know, doing dishes…. so I slapped those bitches onto a pan and threw a Hershey’s kiss on top of each one, reckoning that even if the cookie things were a total loss, at least I would get a warm Hershey’s kiss out of the operation.

Chocolate chickpea peanut butter goddamn pain in my ass cement cookie things…

And IN THE END, they were actually pretty fucking tasty. For a cement chickpea cookie thing. Don’t get crazy, it’s not foie gras or anything. But still. Fuck food processors and fuck me for occasionally thinking that I can actually do things that I have NO BUSINESS DOING.

*     *     *

I really want this dress from Espen Salberg. Which is stupid, I have no dollars and no business buying a super cute dress but it is calling to me! It is saying BUY ME YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO MAYBE YOU WILL LOOK LIKE THIS COOL CHICA IN THE PICTURE IF YOU DOOOOO….

Espen Salberg Leopard Cowl Dress

Psssht, dress, you crazy. I don’t even have bangs!

*     *     *

Maybe I should get BANGS. I need a haircut, for reals.

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Spin Cycle

Sometimes I feel like my week is just totally structured around my stupid laundry. As in: if I’m not doing laundry then I’m putting off doing laundry or I’m meaning to do laundry but then forgetting or I’m delaying putting away clean laundry and just wearing it out of the basket until I need to do goddamn laundry again.

Laundry!

It’s stupid.

It’s extra double stupid because I can’t even dry a bunch of it (thanks dance clothes, for SUCKING) so I have to hang it up so there is always shit hanging in every goddamn doorway of my goddamn apartment. Like this:

Yes, that is a hanger with exactly 2398490283948234 pairs of black tights. Jesus. And like half of those are shot and need to be permanently retired to the garbage but I can’t be bothered to check which ones before I wash them so of course I will be putting on tights with a stupid hole in them when I’m getting ready for work (which fact I will hopefully discover before I leave the house looking like an idiot).

Also: have to make sure that I clean all the fucking rhinestones out of the washer that have inevitably fallen off shit EVEN THOUGH I washed the stoned things inside the super fancy ballroom pillowcase which is SUPPOSED to keep those little shiny bastards from getting everywhere. Does it work? Yeah, well, it’s better than nothing, I guess.

Ugh! Wash. Oh well, at least I have clean underwear again. That’s a win. And Woolite Black kicks some pretty serious laundry ass, I think we should all just agree on that right now. Woolite Black! When all your clothes are black!

Yeah, so I was going to do this whole cutesy clever thing where I segued from talking about laundry to talking about how confusing it can be to dance with dudes you genuinely dislike as people but who are nevertheless fun to dance with, and how that messes with your head (SPIN cycle, get it???) but then I got carried away with how much I wanted to bitch about doing the wash, so, there you go. A little ALOD behind the scenes action there. Stay tuned. Go put away your clothes.

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Accessorize! Making Armbands and Stoning Tips

So here’s the second installment of the costuming post. My Latin dress looks like this, and it’s pretty rad: 

The body of the dress is covered in slung sequin fringe (basically fringes of different length in red and holographic orange made out of sequins). It’s crazy fun to dance in, because the movement is insane, and it makes cool noises. I was dance testing it the other night at the studio and when I was walking back to the teachers’ room to change, one of my co-workers said, “it’s like applause every time you move!” SO TRUE. And who doesn’t want to take their own applause with them?

I bought it used off the interwebs, and it’s been an interesting reclamation project. When it showed up, it was definitely a fixer-upper (and hence cheap, which is why I could afford it!) – there’s a funky sort of nude panel on the left hip that wasn’t fringed, but just left open. I suppose it might look cool on the right person, but it looked weird on me. Clearly it looked weird on the last girl, too, because she had hot-glued these giant orange bird of paradise fake flowers on the hip? It was a very strange choice, and the ass flowers did not enhance anything. The side cutout was also too high in the waist (granny panties height) and the minimal stoning on the dress was cheap plastic shit.

So after I ripped off the ass flowers and most of the cheap-o stones, I sent it to a costume alterations house to be recut (because you have to know how to keep correct tension in the bodysuit as you do it, and you have to be able to sew the right kind of elastic – far beyond my present skill level). But I did the cosmetic alterations myself, including:

  1. adding new fringes and filling in that strange open hip situation (friends, I just typed ‘open hippo’ by mistake which is awesome; the idea of a sparkly fringe-y ballroom dancing hippo reminds me of the hippos in Fantasia who were my FAVORITE*)
  2. Pulling off the ugly cheap plastic “stones” and re-rhinestoning in the only acceptable choice, Swarovski
  3. ACCESSORIZING!
I mostly want to talk about #3, since you can save yourself a LOT of money if you know how to make your own ballroom jewelry and accessories. Last time we talked about how to do those fancy rhinestone bracelets you see all over the place; today we’ll talk about how to do armbands.
Like basically every Latin costume ever (and a lot of the smooth ones, too) comes with armbands. They’re super easy to make – exactly the same premise as costume straps, just with wider elastic and stoning.

Anastasia Trutneva rocking some armbands.

First, go ahead and sew a long piece of one inch elastic inside a lycra casing that matches your dress. (Don’t know how to do that? Learn here!)
Figure out how much you’ll need and then just add like six inches and do the whole damn thing at once, it saves time. After you’ve got your big giant lycra elastic snake, feel good about yourself for a minute. You did it! Yay for you!
Okay, now GET REAL. This is where there is high potential for you to fuck it all up.

Figure out how many armbands you want – I did three. An upper arm, an elbow, and a wrist (the wrist one being essentially a bracelet that does not move). It is important that you figure out how tight to make them: tight enough so that they stay in place when you dance and don’t move BUT not so tight that they cut into your arm and make it look weird and lumpy. Not even rhinestones will fix that.

The way I did it was to guess as closely as I could, leave an extra inch of elastic or so, cut the piece off from the snake, and then just futzed with it on my arm until it stopped looking weird. This is SCIENCE, people. It is SUPER precise. Even with all the futzing, my elbow one still sometimes slipped. But fortunately this costs you like six bucks so if you totally blow it or you need to make different sized ones later, it’s not the end of the world.

When you have the circumference of your arms figured out properly, pin those bitches and then sew them closed. I decided to sew the upper arm and elbow ones closed completely, but to put a hook-and-eye closure on the wrist one. It doesn’t make any difference – I could have sewn that one shut too. But don’t hook and eye the bigger ones; if you need to make them open and closeable, use velcro. (I’ll probably do that next time anyway, since it gives you more flexibility on the sizing. But I was concerned that my stupid dress would get stuck to the velcro, so. We all make life choices.)

Next step, try not to be a huge idiot and sew your hook and eye on backwards.

Oops, is it too late for that?

Well, I guess you can try just leaving it and hoping.

No? That didn’t work? It flew off your stupid arm every time you extended it? Well, then, dumbass, looks like you better re-do it the right way.

Once you’ve done that, stone the shit out of those armbands. You will lose a little elasticity with the stoning, but not too much. If you’re super concerned, stretch it out as you stone and then release it to dry.

I elected not to stone them solid because I felt like it would be too much and take too long and I would run out of stones and I did NOT want to go back to the fashion district and buy more. So I did mine like this:

Then, of course, after they were dry I was like, needs more stones! And I went back and glued more on. Which was obviously the right decision.

And that’s it, really! Not tough – the hardest part with these bitches is sizing them correctly so they don’t look stupid.

* NB the ballet hippos from Fantasia are a future post for sure; it turns out there is all SORTS of interesting shit to be said about them.

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Team Crystal AB Alert!

Oh my gosh you guys, Swarovski has an INTERACTIVE COLOR WHEEL on their website that tells you what color rhinestones are compatible with each other. It’s like the greatest thing ever. In order, it now goes:

  1. Swarovski rhinestone color wheel thingy.
  2. Sliced bread.

Using this whatchamacallit, you get a main color, harmonious colors, contrast colors, and a pearl color.

So. If my main color is Peridot (which is BEAUTIFUL, I used it on another girl’s dress and I still am, har har har, GREEN with envy):

then apparently my harmonious colors are Lime, Olivine, and Khaki:

and my contrasting colors are Rose and Fuschia:

(Apparently my pearl color is Crystal Light Green Pearl, which is of zero interest to me. I say, who cares, buy a gross of AB and toss it on there. Peridot AB is pretty stunning.)

 This is a fun toy to play with – plan out your next stoning project!!

P. S. Note to other members of Team Crystal AB – I seem to recall a pink smooth dress that is pretty close to this color combination! Throw in some topaz and it looks like a big winner.

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FAQs on practicewear.

I recently ended up dropping about $400 in upscale practicewear for a showcase (a lady student and I need to wear the same thing in a two-couple Viennese waltz routine I’m choreographing), and I thought I would offer some thoughts on the subject (pictured below, Dance America’s D7 Short Draped Back Dress, available online through DanceShopper.com).

Q: So what the hell is practicewear?

It’s basically expensive-ass ladies’ clothing (because honestly, the men either wear their Latin pants or they don’t) designed for ballroom dancing, made out of the same expensive-ass materials ballroom costumes are made of. It tends to come in basic, solid colors (black, purple, red, blue, etc.) and is intended to stand up to long wear, travel, washing, getting shoved in the bottom of your dance bag, sweat, and still enhance the shit out of your movement when you wear it.

Q: I am a bronze 2/3/4/silver/open championship level/world ranked dancer. Do I need to buy practicewear?

Nope! You’re cool. You can totally practice in anything you want. When I don’t give a shit, or at the end of the day, my go-to practice outfit is a pair of stretch yoga pants from Old Navy and a tshirt from Target. Total cost something like $30.

Q: Okay. But couldn’t I just buy some flattering separates in black with some spandex or stretch in them at the mall and call it a day?

Sure! You look pretty. Do whatever. It really doesn’t matter.

Q: I still don’t get it. This is confusing.

That’s not really a question, but still. I hear you. Look, this is the situation: ‘practicewear’ is a stupid name. It should be called, “entry-level” or “basic ballroom costume wear”. Because you are not, unless you are absolutely built out of $100 bills, going to be wearing this stuff to practice in every day at the studio. You’re going to wear it (as a student) at a showcase, a fancy ball, a competition, a session with a coach. These are your ballroom church clothes.

Q: Ohhhh. Okay. That makes more sense. But why is it so expensive?

Well, the first issue is the material – most upscale decent practicewear is made out of four-way stretch lycra or poly/spandex or what one manufacturer (Chrisanne) calls ‘dancecrepe’ – basically a high-quality stretch material designed to stand up to the demands of pretty tough usage and still look fabulous. The second issue is the amount of material. If you are buying a short Latin/Rhythm dress, you may think that it’s not a lot of fabric, but odds are that the skirt is cut on the bias to make it twirl better. Check out that DanceAmerica dress on the left – it’s carefully draped, has a three-tiered ruffly skirt, and a cowl back. It’s a lot of fabric for the length dress it is. That fabric usage is only intensified when you get to long skirts for Standard or Smooth – often they are are eight or even twelve panels of fabric, with inset godets or flares. All of which is designed to make you look super cool when you turn (and it does!) but that’s a lot of fabric. You’re also paying for the construction – these garments are designed to not ride up or shift around or look bad the first time you start moving.

Q: Do I have to wear all black all the time?

No. You don’t. But I do. Because it looks nice. Don’t hate.

We all know that dancers wear black INCESSANTLY. There are a couple reasons for this. (1) It really does make you look thinner. It is not magical, okay? It will not somehow convince anybody that you are a size 2 if you are a size 22. But it helps you look your best at the size you are. (2) It unifies your lines. If you are colorblocked out (like you’re wearing a red shirt and black pants or something), that will cut your lines in half and make it tough to see what you’re doing. If you’re wearing all black (or all any color, but see #1) you will present a much more continuous picture and make it easier to focus on how the lines of your body look. (3) If all your clothes are already black (hi!) then you might as well stick with what works. Seriously, you guys, I am looking at my clean laundry, and it’s an entire basket of black. Well, black plus sheets. (4) If you wear all black, you can put any accents you want on top of that for easy changes. Tango? Toss a red flower in your hair. Samba? Get some neon bracelets. Waltz? Wear a floaty scarf. DONE. Practicewear! It is versatile. Do yourself a favor and buy shit that you can wear for multiple things and in multiple incarnations.

Q: I wear a size 16 or up. Can I wear any of this shit?

Maybe! It is a bullshit reality of the world of dancewear that much of it is designed around the body of a relatively small woman (probably in the 5’3″ – 5’6″ range, and between a size 0 to 4). Don’t take that personally. It sucks for tall girls, it sucks for really short girls, it sucks for bigger girls…. basically it sucks for pretty much everybody.

Nevertheless. Here’s the size chart from Dance America for the dress above:

 

I would say Dance America, because their sizes run a little big anyway, is probably is your best best for larger sizes. And bear in mind that all dancewear is incredibly stretchy. So there’s a lot of give there. But the flip side of stretchy is that, well, it might be stretched pretty tight against your body. So please please please wear correct foundation garments – either dance pants/dance trunks or something similar, and a supportive bra. It will make you look infinitely better and you’ll be able to focus on your movement and not whether your skirt is flipping up too much.

If an XL is too small, then there are some other options. eK clothing is a company that does casual dancewear; their line is aimed at salsa and club dancers, so it’s priced and constructed accordingly. I will say that I have bought pieces from them that are perfectly fine, and I like them – but I would not wear them to a session with a coach or out on the floor to perform. I would wear them for social dancing, which is what they’re intended to do. The super cool thing about eK clothing is that they do offer some of their dresses in plus sizes, up to 2X or 3X in some designs. They also tend to run large and have a lot of stretch. They also have a great returns policy, so the safest thing (because the sizing can be inconsistent) is just to order a whole shit ton of stuff and try it on, and send back what doesn’t work. I have this dress, and I love it. I wear it pretty frequently, and it’s stood up pretty well, although the fabric is quite thin.

Q: Well, shit. I don’t have $200 for practicewear. My lessons are expensive! Can’t I buy the same design on eBay from a shady operator in Hong Kong and save myself some money?

You can. But you’re an idiot if you do. There are a range of good, high-quality designers who retail here and in Europe, and most of them are readily available online. The shit you buy on eBay is half-assed and has no guarantee of quality – you might come out okay or you might come out with something completely horrendous. Not to mention the fact that the eBay retailers are ripping off designs and presenting them as their own. That sucks.

If you want to buy practicewear (and again, you don’t need to!) sink the money into a quality garment that will actually fucking last, flatter your body, enhance your movement, and make you feel like the special fucking snowflake that you are.

Q: Jesus, okay! Relax already. So can you tell me about these companies/designers you like? And how do they fit? I want to buy some practicewear, maybe, but I can’t try it on.

I’m relaxed. I’M RELAXED, GODDAMMIT. Anyway.

If you want to try stuff on, you have two options – order it online from someplace with a generous return policy and keep what fits, or wait until you are at a sizable competition (something along the lines of Emerald or USBC, or maybe even Desert Classic) and then go see the vendors.

Okay, companies – in no particular order, here are some observations on my experiences with major practicewear designers. Bear in mind that most of these companies (with the exception of Dance America, which I don’t think does real costumes, although I could be wrong) also design and sell actual costumes, so you’ll hear their names frequently.

  • Dance America: retails a wide range of practicewear (skirts, tops, dresses, and even a few pairs of pants) in solid colors. They change out their colors seasonally – this spring they have a tangerine that I absolutely love, and a few seasons ago they had a really stunning royal blue. Their line is pretty universally flattering. I have seen it on ladies of all sizes and shapes, and because it is heavy on the draping and the ruching, it generally looks pretty great on everybody. I myself own several pieces by Dance America, and I have been really happy with the quality and longevity of all of them. I wear my clothes hard, and I throw them in the wash on cold with Woolite Black and let them air dry, and they all look just as good as when I bought them. I will say that Dance America’s sizing tends to run big, in my experience – probably buy a size smaller than you normally would UNLESS you are buying a full-length dress, in which case stick to your normal size. They are cut a little short for my tall ladies, which sucks. I have, for example, the skirt at right in black (although I have a slightly older model of that skirt, I think – it used to be called the ‘Orchid skirt’ or something like that) and I am short (5’4″) without heels. If I wear it so that the ruching sits at my hips, the thing comes down right to the ankle (pretty much the same way it fits on the model). For a lady with longer legs or a longer torso, it would be a little short.
  • CHRISANNE: a couture ballroom design house from the UK, Chrisanne sells practicewear but their mainstays are costumes and dance fabrics. If you are ever making your own dress, you really cannot do better than ordering Chrisanne fabric. It is absolutely top end stuff. They have a ton of basics in a limited range of colors (mostly black, white, and purple), and have recently begun bringing in designers to do lines of themed practicewear that can be quite fun. They are a relatively conservative house, design-wise, but their pieces are classic and will never go out of style. Their fabrics are lighter than your standard dance fabrics – a thing they call ‘dancecrepe’ – but don’t let it fool you, that shit wears like IRON. I bought a practice skirt from Chrisanne as my very first ballroom thing, back in college in like 2002, and I still wear that skirt three or four days a week to teach in. It still looks fantastic, it’s lost none of its stretch, and the only issue I have is that Chrisanne doesn’t even make it anymore. But it’s a lot like this:

  • DSI London: Used to be called Hearn & Spencer, Ltd., but changed their name in 2000 to DanceSport International, Ltd. Another UK-based retailer, they do the full range of dance supplies (fabrics, shoes, trimming, accessories, CDs and DVDs, books, and of course practicewear for men and ladies). They do couture and custom costumes, and their practicewear line is not quite as extensive as that of Chrisanne or Dance America, but they do offer some designs that are less commonly found. I just ordered this skirt, which I think is beautiful, and I’ll let you know how it works on the floor. I also ordered it for my student, so I’ll pass along her feedback as well.

Q: Where can I buy all this stuff?

The best place is Danceshopper.com. I can’t say enough about their fantastic customer service! Just awesome. Do be careful to note the in stock availability of what you want, as well as shipping times – not everything is always ready to go all the time. But if you have any uncertainty, just email them and they will get right back to you asap. They offer free shipping on orders over $99 (which, honestly, all dancewear is) and a 30-day return policy. Yay Danceshopper!

Q: A lot of this dancewear looks the same.  And, Christ, it’s ALL BLACK. I know that’s a thing, but seriously. I feel like Morticia Addams. Where should I go if I want to stand out from the crowd a little more?

I would head to Espen Salberg or Santoria, two other design houses (in no way related) whose designs I like but from whom I have yet to buy anything. Espen Salberg’s collections tend to be more adventurous in their cut and construction, while Santoria’s push the envelope by showcasing a lot of bold prints (although, because it’s ballroom dancewear, everything is usually available in black as well). I will say that my impression is that both lines are not necessarily designed for every woman. Many of their pieces will probably work  well if you look like the model, but otherwise, perhaps not so much. A company like Dance America is definitely aimed at a broader demographic, whereas these guys (both in price point and in design) seem less interested in retailing to that wider market. But again, I haven’t worn any of their pieces myself, so this is pure conjecture.

I think that both of these pieces below (halter top by Espen Salberg, dress by Santoria) are super cool – I like that they look different!

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