Skills for Survival in the Arts: A Guest Post by Nancy Lorenz, Author of American Ballerina

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Nancy Lorenz, author of the new book American Ballerina, to Angela’s Library. As you might recall, I reviewed Nancy’s debut novel, The Strength of Ballerinas, back in 2014 and absolutely loved it. The book followed the journey of Kendra Sutton, an aspiring young dancer, after her diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. In American Ballerina, the sequel, Kendra leaves her home and family to start a new life as a professional dancer. Keeping to this theme of teens venturing out alone for the first time, I asked Nancy to talk about the skills young people must learn when starting a new life and a new career.

Skills for Survival in the Arts

By Nancy Lorenz

Is your teen leaving home for a career in the arts? Creative people may thrive in their art, but are not always the best at surviving in the big city. They got the job… Now what? Whether it’s an apprentice in a ballet company, a shot at Broadway stardom, or a seat in the Philharmonic, teens need more than elite training. They need a second set of skills – financial literacy, time management, and goal setting.

Today whether it is a job in the arts, or a move away for college, unfortunately, many teens today go into life unprepared. Regardless of the major, many colleges across the country have noticed this trend and have introduced basic life skills courses to help their students succeed.

As a college professor I have taught these life skills courses to new freshman at a few different schools. The courses had different names, but all trained students in the above survival tactics. Additional skills, such as critical thinking or analysis, further aided students in their late teens, setting them up for academic and life success.

Why are these skills important for a performer, though?

A dancer, actor, or musician has to maintain elite status in order to succeed, but unless he or she can survive financially in the big city, success will be unachievable. After all, your teen has to be there in order to make it!

Financial Literacy encompasses making a budget. How do you live within your means, so that you can pay rent and bills before spending on entertainment? Unless lucky enough to live in a dorm during training or an apprenticeship, teens have to get an apartment. That means they’ll have to pay rent, bills, and purchase supplies for their daily needs.

Food is one example. When I lived at home, I could go to the refrigerator any time I wanted to make a late-night sandwich or grab a snack. The fridge was always full. There was always a big pitcher of ice tea, ready at a moment’s notice, and a freshly baked cake usually sat on the kitchen table. Dinner was made by mom; breakfast was grab and go, or a hot meal of pancakes or eggs. The point is that food was always there.

When I was in New York, the realization hit me like an avalanche. Everything I ate now, I had to buy. That thought scared me to my very bones. What if I didn’t have enough money for lunch? My apartment refrigerator needed to be stocked with food, but I could never afford to fill it completely like at home. Just buying small things like condiments for a sandwich was expensive. Now, there was no cake on the table unless I made one, and no pitcher of ice tea unless I bought it.

The point is that living on your own as a teen can be difficult, especially if the teen has been coddled. Even if a parent pays the rent, sends a weekly check for food, the young performer still has to go out and buy, plan meals, and make their money stretch. Teens of yesteryear grew up in an era of more self-reliance. Less money was given to them in allowance, or support, and the children went out into the big, wide world to make it on their own, a little more prepared.

I remember being a fourteen year old, taking a trolley to a bus to a train to go to my private school. After school, it was the reverse – the train to the bus to the trolley. It’s a different world today, and few parents would allow going that distance alone now. But with more overprotective parents today, comes less self-reliance.

Will performers on their own in the big city today be able to make decisions, purchase leotards, sheet music, pay for lessons, training, seminars, and budget for transportation as well? If a young performer can maintain him or herself in the city financially, however, and perhaps with a little savvy, save a bit here and there, he or she can even grab discount tickets to a show to keep up with the art.

Goal Setting helps the performer to focus. What does he or she want to achieve now? Later? How does he or she use logic and reason to plan an artistic career? Yes! I said logic and reason! People who are creative think that being artistic is enough. They are right-brained people; however, logic and reason guides creative people to succeed. Imagine being an artist like Van Gogh. Your paintings are brilliant, but nobody buys your art. Left brain skills, such as logic, reason, and language, help one to crunch the numbers, market artistic skills, or plan events to propel that performer toward success. It takes both right and left-brain skills to come up with a plan to sustain a career in the arts.

Goal setting also looks at short and long term goals, including setting a time limit for making it in the field. What is the creative goal for success? Financial goal? Two years? Five years? Once you know, you can work toward it logically.

Time Management also keeps teens on track. They can’t do everything all at once. What is the priority? If a teen is an apprentice in a ballet company, what is the schedule? How much disposable time does he or she have for function tasks, such as grocery shopping, laundry, or washing his or her hair? Make a plan! An actor can make a chart to keep track of auditions, classes, part time jobs, and miscellaneous tasks. Unexpected tasks can pop up too, such as getting headshots taken, learning monologues, and working on speech regionalisms for a particular play. Teen musicians have similar issues of how to deal with personal versus work schedules.

In my sequel to The Strength of Ballerinas, the young ballerina, Kendra leaves home, but grows as a person. She has to face all of the above challenges, and still maintain an elite status in her art of ballet. As she bridges this gap from childhood to adulthood, she learns to make judgments (critical thinking) budget (financial literacy), plan her time between art, school, and responsibilities (time management). She must also set her goals realistically, and not overreach for one that is too high to achieve (goal setting). Just as it isn’t easy for a fictional character, it isn’t easy for other teens that are suddenly on their own in real life.

So, whether a teen is right or left brained, using both sides – creativity and logic – can help him or her succeed in the arts. The arts are tough enough, but if smart and savvy, a teen can survive in the big city alone and have a better chance of making it to the top. Teens who practice financial literacy, goal setting, and time management will have, in Hunger Games lingo, “the odds in their favor.”

About Nancy Lorenz

Nancy Lorenz is the author of The Strength of Ballerinas as well as its sequel, American Ballerina. She still takes ballet as an adult, and is also a college adjunct professor within the English curriculum. She writes about ballet on her website blog: www.Nancy-Lorenzauthor.com/blog.

About American Ballerina

In The American BallerinaStrength of Ballerinas, her dancing dreams were put to the test as she worked to overcome every obstacle that came her way. And now, seventeen-year-old Kendra is about to face a whole new set of challenges in American Ballerina. As summer comes to a close, the teen prepares to leave home behind for a three-week ballet intensive—followed by an apprenticeship at the Premiere Ballet.

After saying goodbye to her family, friends, and boyfriend Troy, Kendra jumps headfirst into the fast-paced, hectic ballet class, where she takes on the role of student and teacher for a group of younger girls. There, she meets new friends from around the globe—including a handsome French dancer named Jacques, who sees himself as prime competition for Kendra’s long-distance love.

Between adjusting to her new surroundings and keeping her health in check, Kendra finds herself filled with doubts about her future—despite a life of dance being everything she ever dreamed of. As she comes of age in the high-stakes world of professional ballet, will she manage to balance personal well-being, friendship, love, and her blossoming career?

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Review: Phantom’s Dance by Lesa Howard

Phantom's Dance Book Cover Phantom's Dance
Lesa Howard

Christine Dadey's family uprooted their lives and moved to Houston for her to attend the prestigious Rousseau Academy of Dance. Now, two years later, Christine struggles to compete among the Academy's finest dancers, her parents are on the brink of divorce, and she's told no one about her debilitating performance anxiety and what she's willing to do to cope with it. Erik was a ballet prodigy, a savant, destined to be a star on the world's stage, but a suspicious fire left Erik's face horribly disfigured. Now, a lonely phantom forced to keep his scars hidden, he spends his nights haunting the theater halls, mourning all he's lost. Then, from behind the curtain he sees the lovely Christine. The moldable, malleable Christine. Drawn in by Erik's unwavering confidence, Christine allows herself to believe Erik's declarations that he can transform her into the dancer she longs to be. But Christine's hope of achieving her dreams may be her undoing when she learns Erik is not everything he claims. And before long, Erik's shadowy past jeopardizes Christine's unstable present as his obsession with her becomes hopelessly entangled with his plans for revenge.

Review:

When I first read the synopsis for Phantom’s Dance, I couldn’t contain my glee. A reimagining of The Phantom of the Opera, set at a ballet academy rather than an opera house? What could be better than that?!

Phantom’s Dance is told from the perspective of Christine Dadey, a young dancer who has sacrificed a great deal to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional ballerina. She’s left her home and her friends and given up having a “normal” life to attend Rousseau Academy, where she practices ballet for hours each day in hopes of winning a spot with the Academy’s dance company. For all her technical proficiency as a dancer, however, there’s something Christine is missing: creative expression. Her teachers warn that talent alone isn’t enough to earn her a position with the company, and if Christine can’t imbue her dancing with emotion and passion, she’ll never make it as a ballerina.

Discouraged, Christine despairs of ever realizing her dreams. This changes when she meets Erik, a mysterious, masked man whose looks, health, and own promising career as a dancer were destroyed in a fiery accident. Erik understands what it takes to rise to the top in the dancing world and offers to train Christine in secret.

As Erik tells Christine, “You don’t need tutoring. You need transforming.” He goes on to do just that, dancing with Christine, guiding her, and teaching her to pour herself into her work. He’s got a lot of wisdom to impart, my favorite being, “You have to stop making allowances for failure. Don’t expect to fail.” Christine blossoms under Erik’s tutelage…at least until Erik begins to reveal a darker side of himself, a side that makes Christine increasingly uncomfortable.

I enjoyed the student-teacher relationship between Erik and Christine, and there’s an amazing scene where the two perform a pas de deux together – it’s one of my favorite moments in the book. The concept of personal expression superseding simple balletic ability really appealed to me as well. There’s a great chapter in which Christine is attempting to perform a scene from the ballet Giselle. Her less-than-impressed instructor cuts the performance short and tries to impress upon Christine the importance of emotion in dance:

“In spite of Duke Albrecht’s betrayal,” she continued, “Giselle loves this man. Yet you dance like you are going to the local Wal-Mart. Where is the drama? Where is the grief and shame?”

As much as I liked the dance aspects of this book, I was disappointed by the overall tone of the story. I was hoping for the dark sensuality of the musical version of The Phantom of the Opera, but much of Phantom’s Dance ended up feeling very watered down and G-rated. This is partly due to the writing style, which is occasionally awkward and almost juvenile. Erik is to blame as well. He lacks the allure and magnetism that would have made him a more compelling character, and he doesn’t feel suitably dangerous until the end of the book, when the story takes a surprisingly dark turn.

It probably makes me sound like a terrible person to say this, but I was actually kind of relieved that this turn kept the book from being squeaky clean and bright the entire way through. It wouldn’t have been a true adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera if everything was daisies and rainbows.

“There’s no place for the scarred – the ugly – in ballet. So I come here and cower behind the curtains and remember what it was like to have once been the dancer the audience adored.”

Phantom’s Dance wasn’t the best POTO-inspired story I’ve ever read – that honor goes to Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine – but it still deserves a solid 3 stars. I think it will especially appeal to readers who are interested in books about dancing, although there are plenty of great subplots, like the strained relationship between Christine’s parents and her budding romance with handsome football player Raoul, to keep things interesting even for those who don’t usually care for ballet.

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Feud by Avery Hastings

Feud Book Cover Feud
Avery Hastings

In this breathless story of impossible love, perfection comes at a deadly cost.

For Davis Morrow, perfection is a daily reality. Like all Priors, Davis has spent her whole life primed to be smarter, stronger, and more graceful than the lowly Imperfects, or “Imps.” A fiercely ambitious ballerina, Davis is only a few weeks away from qualifying for the Olympiads and finally living up to her mother’s legacy when she meets Cole, a mysterious boy who leaves her with more questions each time he disappears.

Davis has no idea that Cole has his own agenda, or that he’s a rising star in the FEUDS, an underground fighting ring where Priors gamble on Imps. Cole has every reason to hate Davis—her father’s campaign hinges on the total segregation of the Imps and Priors—but despite his best efforts, Cole finds himself as drawn to Davis as she is to him.

Then Narxis, a deadly virus, takes its hold--and Davis’s friends start dying. When the Priors refuse to acknowledge the epidemic, Davis has no one to turn to but Cole. Falling in love was never part of their plan, but their love may be the only thing that can save her world...

Review:

Feud has a lot of elements that usually appeal to me – a dystopia, forbidden love, ballet, even cage fighting – but I just couldn’t get into this book. The plot’s insipid, the world building’s lackluster, and there’s a horrific case of instalove that I just couldn’t stomach.

Normally I’m not really bothered by instalove, but in the case of Feud it’s so bad that it undermines any potential the book has. The only thing that Cole knows about Davis is that she’s a Prior who’s into ballet, and the only thing that Davis knows about Cole is…oh, wait; nothing. I mean it – not a thing. And yet the two fall in love, to the point where they’re willing to sacrifice their families, their friends, and their own well-being for each other. Um, what?

Their romance could have been so, so great if Hastings had just given them time for their relationship to develop. Cole and Davis are from opposing social classes; Davis is rich, beautiful, and smart, with every luxury available to her. Cole, on the other hand, is poor, discriminated against, and forced to fight for his life in a cage for other people’s entertainment. You’d think this would provide for some great tension between Cole and Davis – I was anticipating a great hate-that-gradually-turns-to-love relationship reminiscent of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse – but it just doesn’t happen. Instead, Feud skips the hate completely and goes straight to unfounded, head-over-heels passion. I enjoyed the attraction between Davis and Cole, the tingles and make-out scenes and sexual desire, but them being in love? I didn’t buy it, and this made it incredibly difficult to be invested in their relationship.

Another thing I found strange is that even though they’re supposedly so madly in love, Davis and Cole sure don’t have a lot of faith in each other. They’re constantly misconstruing each other’s motives and falling for other people’s lies. You’d give the world for each other, yet you so easily believe that your other half would betray you? Doesn’t make sense to me.

The storyline and setting underwhelmed me, too. I know I should describe the plot, set the scene by giving some context about the Priors and Imps and the world in which they live, but I was so disenchanted and unengaged by this book that the thought of delving into its events is about as appealing as doing my taxes. Just take my word for it that the plot and world building are lackluster and not nearly scintillating enough to compensate for the poor romance.

Feud isn’t wholly without merit. Cole may be way too free with his heart, but he is a sexy guy, and I liked the intrigue of him being bribed to get close to Davis. I was also really into the idea of him being a cage fighter. My husband and I are huge fans of mixed martial arts and even got tickets to an Ultimate Fighting Championship event as a wedding gift, so Cole’s occupation as a fighter really appealed to me. I was especially intrigued by his mixed emotions towards the fights, the way his fear and guilt and self-loathing temper the rush he gets from fighting.

Another thing I liked was Davis’ non-cliché relationship with her stepmom and half sister. Her stepmother is a sweetheart and really loves Davis, which is a nice change from the “wicked stepmother” trope in fiction.

Ultimately, though, the bad in Feud far outweighs the good. The only thing that kept me reading to the end was the fact that I really hate not finishing books, and even that was barely enough to get me through.

Blog Tour, Excerpt, and Giveaway: This Much Is True by Katherine Owen

Blog tour banner for This Much Is True by Katherine Owen

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for This Much Is True by Katherine Owen! This Much Is True is the first book in the Truth in Lies series, and as part of my stop today I’ve got an excerpt from the book as well as two giveaways courtesy of the author. Happy reading!

About This Much Is True

Book cover for This Much Is True by Katherine Owen

Both on the verge of fame. A ballerina who lies. A baseball player who believes her. Well, the truth changes everything.

Tally Landon is just trying to survive the death of her twin sister, graduate from high school, and escape her tragic story by pursuing her ballet career in New York. She doesn’t count on Lincoln Presley, Stanford’s baseball wonder, to affect her at all. Adding him to a long list of one-night stands is the plan. Lying to him about her age and name is her standard method of operandi. She doesn’t count on being found out, on seeing him again, or falling in love.

Lincoln Presley’s life is all mapped out for him. There is only baseball. With Major League Baseball circling their favorite prospect with a lucrative offer, he cannot afford to mess up. And, he doesn’t; until he meets up with the girl he saved in that burning wreckage on the 101 on Valentine’s Day months before. By the time he learns her real name and of all the lies she’s told, he’s in far too deep to ever really let her go.

Fate has a different set of plans, but when fame and lies tear them apart, one truth remains.

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Excerpt from Chapter 30 of This Much Is True

Tally’s POV:

Marla announces she wants babies. Three babies in five years. She looks at me. I start to feel nauseous and must turn a little white. I look away from her and allow myself to think all these nasty thoughts. Three babies in five years with Charlie? Are you fucking kidding me? That doesn’t add up on any girl’s wish list. Charlie Masterson. A father? Say it isn’t so.

Yet she lays out this family plan the way you’d say, “After yoga, I’ll go to Lia’s for the mani-special and then wax on about hairstyles and hemlines until dinner.”

If I were gifted at making long-term plans, which by now we all know I’m not, and if I was at all hopeful, which we all know that I can never be, although it crosses my mind that it’s entirely possible these are all just huge, fucking, temporary setbacks and nothing more, even though it’s been going on for over three years now, since Holly died, and I met Lincoln Presley. Events that could be construed as somehow inevitably related. Yes, perhaps there’s an expiration date on the said pursuit of unhappiness. Perhaps, things will eventually go my way after I actually discover what that way is supposed to be.

About Katherine Owen

Author photo for Katherine OwenKatherine Owen writes contemporary edgy fiction, which translates to: she writes love stories that are contemporary in setting and both edgy and dark. Some readers term her books emotional roller coasters. With her writing, Owen admits she has a fondness for angst, likes to play with a little drama, and essentially toys around with the unintentional complications of love. She contends this began early on when she won a poetry contest at the age of fourteen and appears to be without end. Owen has an avid love of coffee, books, and writing, but not necessarily in that order. She writes both Contemporary Romance and New Adult fiction which includes her bestselling TRUTH IN LIES Series (a series despite despising ‘series’) beginning with This Much Is True and her latest release, The Truth About Air & Water. The TRUTH IN LIES series is fan-driven. So. There will be a third book about Linc and Tally released in 2015 titled Tell Me Something True.

About Owen’s fiction…This is NOT the light trope stuff. She travels a unique, writerly path and enjoys writing dark and angsty (a “non-word” she is fond of) emotional love stories. She often warns readers to be prepared with: time, tissues, wine, Advil or your drug of choice. And, as her most favored character, Lincoln Presley, would say, “do what you must, Princess.”

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

Giveaways

Katherine is generously giving away copies of This Much Is True and its sequel The Truth About Air & Water. For a chance to win, please fill out the Rafflecopter forms below. Good luck!

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Guest Post and Giveaway: Wish by Grier Cooper

Wish Book Cover Wish
Grier Cooper

For Indigo Stevens, ballet classes at Miss Roberta’s ballet studio offer the stability and structure that are missing from her crazy home life. At almost 16, she hopes this is the year she will be accepted into the New York School of Ballet. First she must prove she’s ready, and that means ignoring Jesse Sanders – the cute boy with dimples who is definitely at the top of Miss Roberta’s List of Forbidden Things for Dancers.

But Jesse is the least of Indigo’s concerns. When she discovers her mom is an alcoholic, it simultaneously explains everything and heaps more worry on Indigo’s shoulders. As her mom’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic, Indigo fights to maintain balance, protect her younger brothers from abuse, and keep her mother from going over the edge. When the violence at home escalates, Indigo realizes she can no longer dance around the issue. At the risk of losing everything, she must take matters into her own hands before it’s too late.

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As I previously mentioned in my Getting to Know You Blog Hop post, dance has played a huge part in my life. I took lessons from the ages of 3-18, made many life-long friends, and performed the lead role of Clara in The Nutcracker alongside the man who would later become my husband. Although I’m not currently dancing any more, I’ve retained a deep admiration and love for the art form.

I don’t just enjoy dancing and watching others dance; I also enjoy reading about it as well. That’s why I’m proud to participate in this book blitz for Wish, Grier Cooper’s debut novel about an aspiring ballerina contending with the struggles of dancing and living with an abusive mother. As part of this blitz, hosted by Xpresso Book Tours, Cooper is here to share a manifesto on the rules of ballet.

The Rules of Ballet: A Manifesto by Grier Cooper

Indigo’s ballet teacher, Miss Roberta, is very outspoken about a lot of things, including personal hygiene and what dancers should and shouldn’t do outside of ballet classes. Since she was a professional ballet dancer herself, she knows what it takes to be a ballet dancer and how hard it is to make it. This is the manifesto she shares with all of her ballet students to help guide them:

Humans are naturally lazy and dancers have to work hard to overcome this tendency. Take a moment to look at the average person’s posture and you’ll see the truth in this statement. Most of us shuffle through life in the default setting: with our shoulders hunched over and our heads down.

There is always room for improvement. If you think you are a good enough dancer, you’re wrong! Ballet is all about reaching perfection­–your own version of perfection. There is always something to fine-tune or something new to learn.

There will always be someone who is a better dancer than you. This is a difficult reality to face but sooner or later this is true for all dancers, whether it’s due to skill or age. My first ballet teacher used to tell us to never get comfortable or cocky because there would always be better dancers out there. You have to stay sharp and constantly push yourself if you want to reach the top. The good news is hard work and persistence pay off. Work to the best of your abilities and you will forge forward.

It takes hard work and discipline to get ahead. It also takes ironclad willpower, indestructible courage and ridiculous levels of confidence. But hey, no one ever said it was going to be easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it.

If you can’t take constructive criticism, you are in the wrong place. By the time you reach the professional level of ballet, you are not only able to handle criticism, you live for it. Ballet dancers eat up “corrections” like most kids chow on candy because they know if someone takes time to make a comment, they think you’re worth it.

If you are too tall, too fat or too lazy, pick a different career. As stated before, this is not a career for anyone not prepared to work their butts off. Although the physical ideal in ballet is slowly changing it’s still a much tougher road if your body type doesn’t match what ballet companies are looking for.

The love of dance brought you here and it will carry you through your career. Every dancer you see on stage today started with love of ballet in their heart and the dream to become part of the magic onstage. That love is what keeps dancers going day after day, sometimes working through pain in various forms. But ask any dancer if they love what they do and you’ll get the same answer: Yesssssss!

Ballet is equal parts dedication, inspiration, and perspiration. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, either… or for anyone who minds getting sweaty.

The human body is a dancer’s most important tool and our biggest challenge (see Rule #1). As mentioned above, the human body is naturally lazy. Dancers have to fight hard to overcome this tendency. Since top fitness is part of the job description, most ballet dancers spend every waking minute keeping their tools in prime shape, either taking classes, doing supplemental training like Pilates, stretching or going for a massage (although this last activity is far less likely).

Ballet involves sacrifice (of certain dangerous activities…including and most especially boys). If you do the math you’ll immediately see why this is true. If x, the dancer, spends almost every waking moment in a ballet studio that leaves y hours left to do anything else. In this case y=0. But all kidding aside, there are certain activities most dancers don’t do because of the risk of injury or because they will develop the wrong muscles: skiing, horseback riding, and circus arts, just to name a few.

Whether you are a ballet dancer or not, you probably have your own manifesto for life. May it guide you well. Even if you don’t resonate with Miss Roberta’s manifesto, do take her advice and wear deodorant.

About the Author

Photo of Grier CooperGrier began ballet lessons at age five and left home at fourteen to study at the School of American Ballet in New York. She has performed on three out of seven continents with companies such as San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, and Pacific Northwest Ballet, totaling more than 30 years of experience as a dancer, teacher, and performer. She writes and blogs about dance in the San Francisco Bay Area and has interviewed and photographed a diverse collection of dancers and performers including Clive Owen, Nicole Kidman, Glen Allen Sims, and Jessica Sutta. She is the author of Build a Ballerina Body and The Daily Book of Photography.

Win a Copy of Wish!

I’ve got not one, but TWO great giveaways for you today courtesy of Grier Cooper and Xpresso Book Tours. One reader will win an e-book copy of Wish, and another will win a prize pack of the following items:

  • Collection of dance films (Mao’s Last Dancer, Save The Last Dance, Center Stage)
  • $15 iTunes gift card
  • e-book copy of Wish

Both giveaways are open internationally to anyone age 13 and above. To enter, please use the Rafflecopter forms below.

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