Blog

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE COMPETITIONNUTRITION.-14

WATCH OUT FOR HYPER-MOBILITY

We are noticing more and more how many dancers are hypermobile especially in the upper body and totally unaware of what this is or just how dangerous it can be. What’s scarier is how many of them are still stretching even though it is the worst possible thing to do in this scenario.

Hyper-mobility is when a joint can go beyond its current range of motion due to having no strength or support around the joint. If we take for example the elbow join in the photo, you can see the joint can easily hyperextend too far meaning the muscles surrounding the joint are too lose and allow the extra range of motion to happen.

In this instance, the dancer needs to stop all types of stretching around the joint and spend some time strengthening the area (in this instance strengthening the biceps and triceps will tighten the joint back into place).

The elbow is just one example and it can occur in almost any joint and area, which is why you always must consider dancing to be an individual sport. Just like it’s not possible to give everyone the same type of fitness training it’s also not possible to give everyone the same type of stretching because some dancers in this instance need to avoid certain stretches but place a big emphasis on strengthening instead. This is something we have covered in the new yoga course of how to individualize these things to make them specific for you.

A dancer's upper body is much weaker than their lower body and so issues like this become most noticeable. The next time you are doing a straight arm plank or holding in the push-up position notice how several peoples elbows will hyperextend just like this to support themselves as they don’t have the strength to engage the correct muscle groups.

This is a great tip for teachers who will have a large group of people doing a movement like this at once to correct them and make them place a small bend in the elbow. The dancer will feel much weaker and their arm will start to shake but this is a great thing because now we know the stabilizing muscles are working hard to try and hold the movement and the dancer is not locking all the weight on the actual joint.

Partner up in class and have a look at each other's arms and legs, I guarantee there will be at least 1-5 people per group of 30 with this issue to fix.

THE REACHING NEW HEIGHTS TEAM

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE COMPETITIONNUTRITION.-10

WALKING ON WITH CONFIDENCE

The first chance a judge will get to see you is the moment you walk on that stage. You have approximately five seconds of walking when everyone in the arena is watching you. Judges may not realise it but they are already marking you – not physically, they are marking you mentally by observing everything about you as you walk. If you walk on with a timid approach they expect a timid performance. If you walk on confidently they expect a confident performance and will be more inclined to watch you the whole way through. I personally feel that having a great walk on will buy you attention at least for the first ten to twenty seconds of your performance. A great walk on will draw the judges' attention to you, and once you have that attention you must make sure the first seconds of your dance live up to the expectation you just brought onto that stage. If it does you will steal the attention from the other dancers and all eyes will stay on you, but if your first ten seconds do not live up to your walk on then eyes will start to look elsewhere. Steal the attention from the first step on stage, walk on broadcasting that you are about to give something special, and ensure you follow it through with a great start (and finish) to your performance.

Knowing why we should walk on confidently is one thing, but many do not know how to develop a great walk on. Firstly, let's look at your posture.

POSTURE

“Stand up as tall as possible. Standing tall improves your self-confidence as you feel more dominant. Your shoulder blades must be contracted, and your chin up. Your nose must be in the air with your arms falling perfectly at your sides.

Don’t rush your walk and don’t make it too slow, either; you need to ensure it is just at the right tempo. A slow walk will suggest fear, as if you don't want to dance. A fast walk will make it look like you are rushing and you just want to get it over with. Walk like you're taking everything in your stride and soaking up the experience!

People used to say I walked on stage like an Alsatian dog because my nose was in the air, and come to think of it I probably did. I don’t know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but the most important thing is I was remembered for something I did. Being remembered is great because it means you stand out from the rest of the crowd. You should each be remembered for something. Be that girl who is remembered for the big smile or the man who walks on stage with the long stride. Whatever it is, it will define you; look at it like it's your signature, it's your own trademark and will let everyone see who you are. They may not know your name, but if they see you at a competition again they will remember that one thing about you that identifies you. It will keep you in the forefront of people's minds and that in itself can only be a good thing.

Lauren Early

- Abstract from the 'Reaching New Heights' book

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THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE COMPETITIONNUTRITION.-4

ANALYSING THE JUMP ROPE

Skipping is one of the most beneficial forms of conditioning for dancers, but only when done correctly and for dancers who can actually absorb force upon landing.

Its great to want to do extra conditioning work, but anytime you add in more stress to the knees you must think about what your bigger picture is going to be.

One of the main issues with dancers is that they already have a huge amount of impact in their weekly training schedule (2-3 hour classes 4-5 times per week) which is why the sport has so many impact injuries such as knee pain, shin splints, servers, plantar fasciitis and so on.

If we realise that the sport has a great deal of impact and injuries then we know that it is important to limit impact outside of class to allow for the inflammation in the knees, shins, ankles to reduce and recover, whilst still finding an option to improve fitness.

If we are looking at conditioning to simply improve fitness then there are a multitude of different options that will train the heart and lungs in exactly the same way and bring the same benefits without the risk of injury.

For example if we look at conditioning on a bike, standing upright on a bike and forcefully driving down through the calf will allow the dancer to keep the upper body still, be explosive down through the pedal, condition the heart and lungs, and also completely remove the impact from the ground, and so becomes much better option for those that already have too much impact in their weekly training and/or are suffering from any impact related issues.

If including the jump rope into your training you firstly want to make sure that you are absorbing impact as much as possible, meaning you are landing like a spring on the ground and cannot hear a thing. If you are landing heavy then you are simply losing all of your energy through the floor, teaching the body to land flat-footed, and of course, drastically increasing your injury risk.

Be smart in your approach to conditioning, remember your main job is to stay injury free.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE COMPETITIONNUTRITION.-3

THE BEST WARM UP PRE-COMPETITION

As a dancer, the primary aim when warming up is to prepare yourself for whats about to come. This means post warm up your body must be ready to produce high force ballistic movements rapidly in all directions.

You must not assume that static stretching in a seated position with a rested heart rate would in any way prepare our body for this, and so it is time to introduce you to the world of dynamic warm-ups.

When warming up we need to firstly mobilize the joints of the body ensuring that you are mobile in all movement patterns and the muscle tissue is released.

Once complete you will then proceed to activate the nervous system through dynamic movements, movements that are designed to replicate the exact same dance patterns that are about to come. The main aim of this activation section is to activate your nervous system and fire up your fast twitch muscle fibers so that you are ready to be explosive on stage.

For those of you that struggle with flexibility prior to the competition, you must understand that the aim is not to improve your flexibility pre-competition, but instead just prepare the body for competition. These are two completely different goals.

Too many dancers try to improve their flexibility pre-competition if you are not flexible enough this is a problem that must be dealt with far out from the competition.

Now that you understand the goal of the warm-up pre-competition let me take you through the exact warm-up structure used by 6 x World Champion Lauren Early, along with countless other top athletes.

A sample layout will be:

PRE-COMPETITION WARM-UP STRUCTURE

MOBILITY
Hip mobility & Dynamic stretching (10-15mins)

The goal of this section is to mobilize the hip joints and release muscle tissue.

ACTIVATION
Faster movements with explosive components (10-15 minutes)

The goal is to release adrenaline (adrenaline produces energy) fire up the fast twitch muscle fibers and activate the nervous system with generic movements such as fast feet, high knees, bum kicks and walkouts. 

DANCE SPECIFIC ACTIVATION
Fast sharp dance movements (10-15 minutes)

Closest to going on stage the warm-up must be very specific to whats about to come and therefore made up of dance specific movements. These movements can be made up of the first 10 seconds of your dance, or generic dance steps so long as they are completed in a fast sharp powerful manner to get everything switched on and ready to go.

Remember a warm-up must activate the body but it must not create fatigue, so take your time in-between the high force movements to ensure complete recovery from one movement to the next. There is no need to rush the activation movements, you will stay activated for much longer than you think and so rushing into the next movements will only cause fatigue.

 

The Reaching New Heights Team

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THE IMPORTANCE OF PRE COMPETITIONNUTRITION.-2

What is the goal?

The main aim of pre-competition nutrition is to provide you with enough energy to fuel your full performance along with enough liquids to avoid dehydration, cramping, and fatigue.

The most important rule when it comes to nutrition pre-competition is that you must stick to foods that your body is familiar with. You cannot start eating foods that you are not used too.

There is no real one answer to the best foods that you can eat pre-competition. There are better choices for sure, but if you aren't prepared to have great nutrition year round then changing it to healthy foods on the day of the competition will simply be too little too late. That's why the best foods that you can eat pre-competition are those that you eat every day!

That said, there are some more specific guidelines that I would like to share with you so that you can see exactly how I would structure nutrition around a competition so that you can fine-tune your own approach to something that works best for you.

First of all, if the competition is important to you, understand and accept that nerves will come. If you suffer from nerves then you will most likely not be hungry before the competition and so fighting this and shoving food down won’t help your body because you won’t be able to digest food properly. Instead, it will make you feel heavy and possibly like you want to throw up.

Instead of forcing yourself to eat, prepare in the days leading up to the competition by fuelling up. This should be helped by the fact that your training should taper off meaning you should naturally burn fewer calories and therefore have more to store for competition fuel. On competition day, try to eat a whole foods breakfast. As your nerves heighten throughout the day, opt for easy to digest foods such as liquids and fruits. As soon as you’ve finished dancing and your nerves clear up, no doubt you will feel hungry again and can follow up with more whole foods.

I have provided you with a breakdown below of meal timings and recommended food sources below.

 

Meal Timings

2-3 Hours Before Competition
Focus on eating a bigger whole foods based meal with plenty of fluids and a pinch of salt. A dancers plate should be half full of starchy carbohydrates (like potatoes/rice) a portion of lean protein and a portion of vegetables

Meal Options
Grilled chicken, turkey or fish
1 cup of high fiber rice/pasta
2 cups of vegetables
or

2 eggs, bacon
1-2 slices of wholemeal bread

1-2 Hours Before Competition
Depending on how nervous you are will depend on what you can eat here, if you are nervous and are closer to the 1 hour before mark, then you may prefer to opt for a blended meal or snack. If you have your nerves under control and are closer to the 2-hour mark then you should always try to opt for another smaller but starchy meal of whole foods.

Meal Options
1. Wholemeal sandwich with chicken or turkey
2. White rice, chicken, and vegetables
3. Dried fruit and nuts

60 Minutes or Less
At this point, you want to do the opposite of everything above. Whilst starchy foods and vegetables are good further out you want to focus on foods that digest easily and will be absorbed rapidly and therefore anything eaten in this time must be quick digesting and also a big focus on hydration. Fruits are an excellent choice here because of the energy and water content but you can also sip on a sports drink or a blended drink.

Meal Options
Fruits / Handful of jellies
Bagel / pretzels
Sports drink

In Between Rounds
Depending on how long you have between rounds will depend on the best options here. If you have up-to 2 hours at a competition such as the Worlds, then you will simply choose whole foods made up of starchy carbohydrates and a lean protein source. If you have 15 minutes or less then you will be looking to get hydrated and some sugar in fast. you can do this in the form of fruits or a handful of jellies. Once you know how long you have you can refer to the timings list above and work out what is best for you within those options.

Water
Water is extremely necessary for performance, especially as the body will try to flush itself out when nervous. If a dancer looses more than 2% water from sweat, reaction time is slowed, strength is lowered, injury and cramping risk increase. 2% of water from sweat seems like a lot but the average person loses 2.4 pounds of water from sweat per hour. s its extremely important to stay hydrated throughout the day and that you add a pinch of salt to the water.

Sports Drinks
Sports drinks can be beneficial to your performance but they are not always necessary if you have eaten correctly. you may not need both great nutrition and sports drinks, but ifs you struggle to eat whole foods then sports drinks are a great way to still peak your energy levels.

What Foods Should I Avoid?
You want to avoid high-fat foods such as chips, fries, burgers, and candy. Foods that are high in fat will take longer to digest, longer to be absorbed and may cause stomach irritation. You also will need to avoid carbonated beverages and sodas during the morning of the competition.

Summary
Allow at least 3-4 hrs digestion time for a large meal,
2-3 for a smaller meal,
1-2 for blended or liquid meals,
< 1hr for a small snack.

Stick to these main points in the summary and you cannot go wrong. All you will need to do from here is adjust portion sizes and calories to personalize this plan towards your own digestion and metabolism, however, the main guidelines will always stay the same.

(p.s we also have a full podcast on this subject live on iTunes. Just click here and select episode 14.)

 
 

The Reaching New Heights Team

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just-breath

Just like many of you dancers reading this, nerves were one of the biggest fears that Lauren dealt with as a dancer. Pre-competition nerves can have a significant impact on your performance, sleep, hydration and make you feel so sick that you don’t want to eat. But, it was once Lauren started to understand what nerves were that she was able to use them to her advantage to stay one step ahead.

If you are a nervous competitor, you are not alone! I can guarantee that 99% of your competitors are feeling the same way. However, what won’t be the same is the severity of your nerves and how well you deal with them.

In this article, I will help you understand what nerves are and why and how they happen so you can learn what to alter to keep your sleep, hydration, nutrition and most importantly, performance on track.

Once you understand the nervous process that happens in your body, it will be easier to accept that nerves are a normal part of competition. Taking this attitude will undoubtedly change your mindset from a negative one into a much more positive one.

The top athletes in the world welcome nerves because they can be a fantastic tool for enhancing optimal performance. But, it is critical that you know how to use them to your advantage and I am excited to teach you how.

What Are Nerves, Anxiety and Stress?

When you feel nervous you become anxious and therefore, stressed. Being stressed takes your body out of its comfort zone to prepare itself for something that is about to happen.

The absolute biggest thing you have to understand about nerves, anxiety and stress is that the body cannot differentiate between different types of stress.

Your body doesn’t know if you are going up on stage to dance, if it’s your birthday or if you are being chased by a gorilla. So, when faced with stress, certain processes happen within your body to protect you against danger and improve your chance of survival.

You might have heard of this process being referred to as the ‘fight or flight’ response. If not, don’t worry. I am going to teach you what it is and why it is so important for competitive dancers to understand.

Your Body’s Fight or Flight Response

The fight or flight response is a reaction that occurs in response to a perceived event, attack, or threat to survival. It is the natural way your body prepares to either fight or run away.

Of course, as a dancer, we are talking about preparing the body to compete on stage. But, the preparation your body goes through hormonally is no different than any other stressful events.

To get a better understanding, let’s look at the body’s natural pre-competition stress response:

Nervous system activation - As soon as the body senses stress it will trigger the sympathetic nervous system. This makes you more alert so you can respond faster. Your muscles will also tense up in preparation for something to happen.

Adrenaline is produced - At the same time your nervous system is activated, your body will release adrenaline. This is so that your body can produce enough energy to respond at top speed. Pre-competition, this ensures you are producing the maximum amount of energy possible.

Blood-glucose levels increase - Because adrenaline provides energy, the body will rapidly raise blood sugar levels and pump glycogen around the body.

Heart rate increases – An active nervous system that’s producing adrenaline will mean that your heart rate increases above its normal resting rate. Now, a higher heart rate means you’re burning more energy i.e. calories, even at rest. So, if you get nervous two weeks before the competition, be aware that you will be expending more energy and calories than normal.

Blood pressure increases - Your blood pressure and breathing rate increases to quickly transport more oxygen and nutrients around your body.

Non-essential systems shut down – Your non-essential systems shut down when you are nervous. Your body won’t waste time producing saliva or digesting food when it has bigger things to worry about. This explains why you probably don’t feel hungry pre-competition and may have a dry mouth. However, the second your competition is over and your body relaxes, these systems will start back up again. You will most likely feel very hungry all of a sudden as your body tries to replace the lost energy fast!

Blood flow is diverted - Blood is diverted away from the skin towards your muscles to provide them with more energy. This is why you see so many people look pale when they are nervous and worried.

Multiple toilet visits – There is a great reason why you might need to run to the toilet pre-competition! When you are stressed, your body tries to get rid of anything that’s going to weigh you down. Don’t fight it. Let your body do its thing.

Heavy legs - A lot of dancers report having heavy legs before going on stage. This is because your body has redirected the blood to your leg muscles so that they can respond faster. This may cause you to feel like you can’t sit still and will again, be wasting more excess energy and calories.

Sleep - When your body is stressed, it won’t want you to sleep. You will no doubt have trouble switching off with more thoughts than usual running through your mind.

All of these fight or flight responses are your body’s natural and intentional way to help you survive a potentially dangerous situation. As you can see, pre-competition nerves can be a great tool to prime your nervous system before you go on stage and fill your body with the adrenaline it needs to flood your muscles with energy.

So, instead of seeing nerves as an unpleasant feeling, use it to your advantage by realizing that your body is primed and ready to go!

How to Deal with Nerves

Now that you know what your body goes through when it’s nervous, there are certain things we can do to use this to your advantage.

1. Acceptance

First of all, if the competition is important to you, understand and accept that nerves will come. We have established that you will most likely not be hungry before the competition. Fighting this and shoving food down won’t help your body because you won’t be able to digest food properly. Instead, it will make you feel heavy and possibly like you want to throw up.

Instead of forcing yourself to eat, prepare in the days leading up to the competition by fuelling up. This should be helped by the fact that your training should taper off. You should naturally burn fewer calories and therefore have more to store for competition fuel.

On competition day, try to eat a whole food breakfast. As your nerves heighten throughout the day, opt for easy to digest foods such as liquids and fruits. As soon as you’ve finished dancing and your nerves clear up, no doubt you will feel hungry again and can follow up with more whole foods.

In addition to thinking about your food choices, remember that you will lose more fluids than usual if you are nervous. I recommend sipping on sports drinks throughout the day to replace your electrolytes, prevent dehydration and minimize the risk of pre-competition cramps. Alternatively, sprinkle some salt in your water.

2. Discipline

Now that we have looked at what is physically happening to your body, we must also consider what you can do to control your mind.

As a dancer and athlete, discipline will already be a big part of your daily life. Leading up to the competition, the mind will often play tricks and doubts will set in. It is at this point that you need to execute mental discipline to take control of your thoughts. There is no point in being physically disciplined if you cannot control it mentally.

I recommend doing this by using breathing techniques.

It might sound clique to stop and take deep breaths when you are stressed. But, it is actually very true. Scientifically, when you are nervous and take deep breaths, it acts to counter your fast heart and breathing rate.

Your body naturally takes short fast breaths when you are stressed to keep energy flowing fast. So, the opposite is then true. When you breathe out for longer than you breathe in, it will relax your nervous system and slow the stress response down.

Lauren’s Breathing Technique

One great technique Lauren used before going on stage to win all of her World Championships was a 4-4-8 breathing technique.

This involves:

  1. Breathing in for 4 seconds to fill the lungs as much as possible;
  2. Holding your breath for 4 seconds; then
  3. Releasing your breath for 8 seconds.

Techniques like this are great to use in the days and weeks leading up to your competition. It will help to lower your heart rate, calm your body and help you to remain positive so that you can sleep better and don’t waste unnecessary energy.

Then, on competition day, instead of watching the other dancers (which most likely will make you more nervous) find a quiet space to elevate your legs against a wall, play some relaxing music and stay hydrated. Visualize your performance in your head while practicing this 4-4-8 tempo breathing technique.

Use this until around 1 hour out from stage time. Then stand up, go through your warm-up routine and allow the nerves and adrenaline to increase. This will let your body take advantage of the fight or flight response while ensuring that your mind stays completely focused.

A Final Word

Nerves are a great pre-competition tool if used correctly. But, to do that, you must know why they are there and how they affect your body.

I hope this has helped you to understand why you get nervous and how to control all of the natural responses that will happen.

If timed correctly, the fight or flight stress response can be very beneficial to your performance. But, if you are someone who feels nervous weeks out from a competition, it can equally have a negative effect on your performance.

Do not worry about what anyone else is doing around you. Control what you can control and use your nerves to enhance your performance by remembering the most important parts:

Acceptance and Discipline.

Robert

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Blog-The-Core

For any of you with weak core strength or stabilisation, you need to pay close attention to this article, as understanding what the core is, and actioning on everything that you read, may be the difference between producing a flawless performance on stage, or ever reaching your full potential.

Now for many of you, you may not even realise you have a weak core or even what it is, but hopefully by the end of this article you will know exactly what you must look out for, so that you can protect your body at all times and maximise performance.

WHAT EXACTLY IS THE CORE?

When we mention the word ‘core' most people automatically think of the abdominal muscles, but this could not be further from the truth. The core is a complex series of muscles that extend far beyond your abs.

The best way to describe the location of the core is like this:

If I was to remove your arms and legs from your body, the torso that you are left with is all your core, and that is a lot of muscle when you consider that this includes glutes, lower back, upper back, and neck, and we have still yet to mention everything that is below the surface!

There are many layers to the core, but we can classify them in different areas. Your core is made up of your main abdominal muscles at the front of the midsection, the muscles located at the sides of the torso such as the obliques, and then we have a deep layer of superficial muscles that act like a corset, surrounding the body and protecting the spine.

We also then have muscle groups that you would not expect to form part of the core, such as your glutes, upper back, lower back and neck.

THE ROLE OF THE CORE

The core forms part of almost every movement in the body and its role can be defined into two sections.

  1. The cores primary job is to stabilise the spine and pelvis, keep the body upright, and protect the entire area against injury.
  2. The second function of the core is to control the force you produce, and transfer force around the entire body (from the upper to the lower and vice versa). So as the legs and arms move away from the body, the core works hard to stabilise the movement and centre the body, stopping any unnecessary forces on the spine.

1. Stabilise and protect

Learning how to stabilise and brace the spine reduces one of the greatest threats to your dance career - a back injury.

When you lose the ability to brace, you lose the ability to stabilise your hips, shoulders, torso and neck. This is not only important for daily life but even more important in Irish dancing when you are not allowed any movement in the upper body on stage.

Having an unprotected spine will force so many mechanical issues in your dancing posture, creating unnecessary movement on stage.

You have to understand that if your spine is not in a braced position then your dancing is going to be unstable and unnecessary movement and energy loss will occur.

2. Transferring of force

If your legs and arms are producing too much power than what your core can control, your body is going to be unstable. Which means that you are expending too much energy than what you need to. This unnecessary movement will result in you burning out much quicker than necessary, simply because you have to keep regenerating the power that you are losing through the cracks in your technique.

This instability and loss of energy we would refer to as strength leaks, and just like a leak in a pipe, it is going to drain your energy very fast, leaving little to come out the other end!

The best and easiest way to explain this is by looking at an example of a hose pipe.

Fig 1. Diagram showing the illustration of two hose pipe channels.

On the left, you will see the water powerfully going in at one end, and coming out the other end with equal force, with the middle of the pipe being solid and secure.

In the second photo you will see the water powerfully going in at one end, but as it reaches the middle it finds holes in the pipe and the water starts to leak out. The water that does manage to get through the pipe to the other end is less powerful because all the force is lost due to the holes in the middle of the pipe, meaning the water very poorly drops out the other end with unnecessary movement in the middle of the hosepipe.

If we now put a dancer in place of the hose pipes we can replicate the exact same scenario.

On the left, a dancer will be producing a tremendous amount of power in the lower body traveling up the body from one end, Now as this dancers core is solid and strong, no unnecessary movement occurs and the dancer is now able to contain all the force that has built up. As the core's job is to transfer force, this force is carried into the next movement, where the process can happen again.

In the case of the second dancer, they are also creating the same amount of power coming through the lower body, traveling up from one end. Now as this dancers core is weak and unstable, a lot of unnecessary movement occurs and the force that has built up starts leaking through unwanted movement. As the core is weak it is not doing its main job of being able to transfer force, and so even though the dancer is creating a great deal of power the end result of the movement becomes diluted and is completed at less than optimal speed.

This example only shows the process that happens in a single movement. If we then combine the amount of movements that a dancer will create in their 60-120 seconds on stage it is clear to see how much quicker dancer two will run out of energy, because he/she is having to regenerate all of the lost power at the beginning of each step, whereas dancer one is able to contain this speed that has been built up right to the end of the dance.

SUMMARY

The first step to improving your performance is to teach yourself how to contain the power that you are creating before worrying about trying to create even more. So many dancers are struggling to develop any real speed, power, acceleration and height, simply because they do not have a solid enough foundation from which to relate this from.

Always remember that you cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.

 

"If your lower body is producing too much power than what your core can control, your upper body is going to be unstable"

Lauren Early

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