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A Conversation with Giselle MacDonald
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What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

During my time off, especially during the spring and summer, I love to spend time outside and by the water. I find the fresh air to be rejuvenating and relaxing after spending so many hours indoors. I also confess to being quite the book worm. I love to cuddle up with a book after a physically demanding day.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?

Staying healthy is very important to being ready to meet the physical challenges of dance. To prepare, I eat a healthy diet and, in addition to ballet classes, I also do strengthening exercises every day to avoid injury and run or swim a few times a week to keep my stamina high.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell?

Working with Ms. Farrell has been a great experience for me. Her dedication and love of dance and music rubs off on everyone around her. Her presence always inspires me to work hard, to feel and express more in my movement, and to always be incredibly grateful for the wonderful opportunity I have to dance to beautiful music. There is nothing better.

Photo by Elliott O'Donovan.

Learn more about The Suzanne Farrell Ballet at http://www.kennedy-center.org/programs/ballet/farrell/.

A Conversation with Emanuel
Posted by Emanuel Abruzzo

What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I have a hard time choosing one example to point out, but I do enjoy strong character roles. The last time I performed with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, I had the pleasure to dance the solo variation from Agon and it was so much fun. The music, the steps, and the feeling of dancing to Stravinsky played live by the orchestra and the conductor was magical.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I am a "stay-home" kind of guy, I might go out for a movie or to dine at a restaurant, but I enjoy being at home. I spent so much time traveling on tour for the past 10 years, it is nice to just pop a bottle of Malbec (red wine), watch a movie, or just have friends over and talk each other's ears off.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

Besides taking ballet class, I also take all kind of classes to help my body and my brain stay active and ready for whatever challenge might come. On top of that I work out at the gym because ladies don't lift themselves up on stage.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

Honestly, it is beyond a pleasure to work with Ms. Farrell. She is an artist with such knowledge and generosity that it inspires the dancers that work with her to blindly put ourselves in her hands to achieve her vision. She is one of those idols you meet and continue to respect and idolize after you've met them, which is something that doesn't always happen. I feel like I have become a little bit more of an artist by learning from her and her experiences.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

Music depends on the day, it might be a brand new playlist from the top charts or it could be a bunch of jazz music, or tango. After all I am a young, jazzy Argentinian.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

Not to generalize, but most dancers eat a lot. We spend around 8 hours a day jumping and turning and lifting, so you have to be well fed to do all of that and not faint half way through. I personally eat something every hour due to my hypoglycemia, which is when I don't have enough sugar in my body. This can affect my mood greatly. A healthy diet and a few burgers on the side are a must for me to dance.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I wish I could say I do, but I do enjoy dancing ballet as much as contemporary pieces or jazz (old school jazz, like Jack Cole's choreography). I enjoy versatility so the more choreographers with different backgrounds the more challenging and exciting it is to continue working as a dancer.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

Thanks to my career in dance, I have traveled and performed in 28 countries. That's an amazing reward, but to me the biggest reward is to have made a career of my childhood hobby. My dreams and professional goals continue to become my reality.

 

Photo by Douglas Sonders

Read more about Emanuel at www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Jordyn
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I recently found a favorite role to dance, last season with the company, and that was the girl in the "Five Pieces" pas de deux from Episodes. The role was a brand new challenge in many ways for me, the largest being the fact that this was my first soloist part! It was a very artistic, and in some ways comical, piece where I really got to step outside the realm of straight forward classical ballet. It was choreography that I could really have fun and play with, but was also so challenging that it really gave me a thrill to be able to perform it.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I like to keep a fairly well balanced life with dancing and everything else, so I have quite a few things to keep my time occupied when I'm not taking class or stretching on the living room floor. My fiancé and I have four dogs that keep us very entertained, and we love to explore the outdoors and find new adventures to go on. I hang out with my family as much as possible as well, and my three little brothers give me a run for my money! Getting other exercise is great too, so I'll hit the gym or take a hot yoga class when I can.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?

I am definitely a creature of habit when it comes to this! I like to arrive to the studio the same time every morning, which is usually about an hour early. I do the same set of stretches and exercises to get my body ready to go for the long day, and take about 20 minutes to tape my feet and find the right pairs of shoes that I'm going to need for that day's rehearsals. I like taking time to breathe and relax in the mornings before the most important part of the day starts!!

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

It is an incredible experience to work with Ms. Farrell and sometimes I still can't believe that I get the opportunity to dance for her! After six seasons and three summer programs, I still find myself hanging on her every word; I literally learn something new every single day. She has a way of making you dig deeper than you thought possible and producing things you didn't know were there. There are many fond memories that I have with her, it's hard to pick just one! This isn't dancing related necessarily, but I remember my first year with the company I was 17 years old and we performed during Thanksgiving week, meaning it would be my first year away from my family for the holiday. We were all sitting in the hotel conference room eating a beautiful meal that they had provided us, and Ms. Farrell came over to me and very quietly said, "Do you miss your family?" Of course timid me responded with a quiet "Yes." I will never forget her response of, "Well, we are your family now" with her comforting smile. That could not be truer, as all of us have grown so close throughout the years, and there have been many people I have looked up to. I very warmly refer to them all as my Farrell family, and I am so happy when I am with them.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

I actually never listen to music warming up, which doesn't happen often in the ballet world. I like to be connected and aware of everything around me, especially when warming up for a show. I personally need to feel the energy of the theatre and get my mind and body all on the same page. For some reason music distracts me from doing that.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

I think there are quite a bit of myths about being a ballerina, but I would say the biggest is that people have absolutely no idea what it takes to be a professional dancer at the level that we are at. I have never met people who are so driven and ambitious before than in pro dancers. Not only have most of us been doing this since single digits every day after school, but the amount of time we spend in the studios or stretching at home seems to blow people's minds. There are so many tears and blisters that you never see when that curtain opens to all of the gorgeous tutus. That is exactly how it's supposed to be though, and I think that is what makes it so magical.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

This may seem like a fairly obvious answer, but Mr. George Balanchine makes my heart sing. I wasn't trained in Balanchine growing up, and when I attended Ms. Farrell's summer program, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. Certain things were challenging of course, but my body has never felt more at home. The way he creates stories, and fits movements together like puzzle pieces creates a mood and energy that you just can't take your eyes off of. All of the movements feel natural, but they all leave room for that extra push and challenge that we as dancers yearn for. The fact that we work under a woman who so closely understood what he desired is an amazing experience.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward in my career is absolutely getting the honor to step out on that stage and bring people into our world. We train so hard every day, and we have all performed so many times, but I've never met a Farrell Ballet dancer who ever said they don't feel that rush anymore. It is a feeling that is and always will be unparalleled. I also really enjoy when I have family that gets to come see me perform. My parents sacrificed so much so I could follow this dream and the fact that I made it, and they get to see that makes me so, so happy.

Photo: Jordyn Richter and Ted Seymour in Episodes; by Linda Spillers.

Read more about Jordyn and the rest of the company at www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Katie
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

It is difficult to distinguish a favorite role or even ballet.  I have been lucky to dance many great ballets throughout my career and each possesses a unique experience. Ultimately, when rehearsing and performing a ballet, I try to embrace the essence and the challenge.  Learning a new ballet is exciting as there is the element of the unknown, but I also enjoy revisiting ballets that I have danced before because there is always something new to discover.   

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I practice yoga frequently. Originally, I started yoga to supplement my ballet training, but I have learned that it is just as much an exercise for the body as the mind. I am also finishing my college degree and enjoying expanding my interests.   

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?

As a ballet dancer I have to prepare myself physically, but also mentally.   In order to perform in both rehearsal and on stage the whole self must be present. I also think it is very important to know how to adapt. Whether it is in the studio, the stage or a stage in a foreign country there is always an element that will be different. It can be something like the floor being slippery, the conductor setting a tempo too fast or trying to function on no sleep due to jet lag. Regardless, it is a dancer's responsibility to overcome the elements and ultimately perform.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

Working with Ms. Farrell has been an inspiration.  She is a director, but she is also a teacher.  She has not only helped to improve my physical dancing, but she has changed my approach to dancing and performing. Through her guidance I am constantly discovering new nuances of a ballet, a technical step or even something that you think is completely unrelated to ballet. She challenges you physically and mentally, but I believe with the intention to help you achieve growth.   

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

The music I listen to, if any, is influenced by what I have to dance and my state on the particular day; it will be something to get me focused and in the right mind set.  The music can range from Baroque and Classical to Contemporary. However, it is becoming more common that I do not listen to any music before a performance.   

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

I have often been told that dancers live in a "bubble" and there is some truth to this as being a ballet dancer is extremely demanding and it requires much dedication.   In order to perform at high-levels dancers often adopt a particular lifestyle, which may appear distant from society.  Dancers, however, are exposed to many aspects of life through the art form and enjoy obtaining knowledge. Whether it be about a particular musical score or current political affairs, I find dancers to be curious, interested people.  They are often the smartest people I know.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I definitely feel an affinity towards George Balanchine's choreography.  Even though some of his ballets are over fifty years old, they are still relevant and innovative. When dancing a Balanchine ballet it is as if everything is in harmony. Each dancer, each movement, each musical note serves a purpose and relates to one another. I have never finished dancing a Balanchine ballet and felt unsatisfied.  

What is the biggest reward in your career?

Each time I step on stage is a reward as it is an opportunity that will eventually come to an end.   

Photo by Douglas Sonders

Read more about Katie at www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Jordan Nelson
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

My favorite role thus far was probably Hilarion from the ballet Giselle. He is hopelessly in love with a girl who has no eyes for him. It was a great experience trying to be a lover/big brother figure and also dancing to your death.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I'm always biking and finding biking events to participate in. Besides that, I like to hang out in coffee shops or play Frisbee with my friends.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

Healthy eating is a must with lots of veggies and lean protein.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

One day I was having trouble with a rond de jamb combination at barre. After class Ms. Farrell came up to me and handed me a napkin with an image of the pattern for that combination she had drawn on it. She just said, "Now you can understand what I did." It was a really sweet gesture.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballet dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

It's a pretty even split between dubstep, punk, and old school hip hop.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

Dance has allowed me to travel the country and see places I would otherwise have never been able to see.

To read more about Jordan Nelson and The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, please visit www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Amber
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I'm not sure that I have danced my favorite role yet. My dream role would be Giselle. The depth of emotion that the role requires is what intrigues me so much. The dancer really has to fully commit to the madness and heartache of the character. To me, that's what dance is really about; being able to lose yourself completely in order to embody whatever is being asked of from the choreography. I have been lucky enough to be a "Willy" in both Boston and Richmond Ballet's productions of Giselle, and I would have to say that those have been my favorite roles yet.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I am into all arts. I particularly love photography and anything culinary.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

It's mostly about having the right mind set. Being excited and enthusiastic for what you're going to be doing is so important. You have to love what you're doing. Other than that, lots of good food and good sleep!

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

It is a huge honor; she is a true ballet legend. Her class is unlike any other. It not only gets your body going, but she also has a way of challenging your mind.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

I don't like to put headphones in, I feel too disconnected. I like hearing the sounds of the studio as everyone around me is warming up.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?

I am a huge tomboy, so nothing frustrates me more than when people think ballet is all about wearing frilly pink tutus and spinning around. It's our job to make it look easy, but it's a very, very hard career. It's both physically and mentally demanding, and most definitely not always pretty. A ton of blood and sweat goes into what gets put on stage, but that is what makes it so rewarding. You absolutely have to love it do it. Otherwise, it's just not worth it!

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I had the amazing opportunity to work with Jorma Elo while I was training at Boston Ballet and have since fallen in love with his work. I really like how he works with the dancers to find movement, while still keeping true to his theme. It ensures that the dancers look their best and you can really tell that the movement is natural to them. His works are very avant-garde and hugely inspiring.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward in dance is that feeling you get at the end of a long day of rehearsals. You're exhausted and sweaty, but you pushed through everything that was asked of you. The pieces feel and look better, but you know that you get to come in again tomorrow and push them even further. It's about pushing the limit, and then some.

Read more about Amber at www.suzannefarrell.org.

 

A Conversation with Melissa Reed
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

My favorite thing I have ever performed was "Russian Girl" in Serenade. Besides dancing to such a moving and iconic piece of music by Tchaikovsky, I loved it because it is a role that requires precision with every step, as well as the ability to make it look ethereal and effortless. Performing that ballet on stage was so fulfilling as a dancer.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

I love being outdoors when I'm not dancing; particularly, I enjoy relaxing at the beach with friends or family. I am also learning to cook and I love traveling. There's something very exciting to me about being in a new, foreign place.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?

With the rigorous schedules we have as dancers, we need to take extra care of our bodies. For me, I need to get enough sleep every night; I can't function without it. I also arrive early to the studios to stretch and make sure to eat well throughout the day.

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?

Music is so important to me. I need it every single day before I dance to help me focus. I love music that is upbeat before I perform to get my adrenaline going. I am open to almost any kind of music, but one of my favorite artists is Kanye West.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a dancer?

A big misconception is that ballet is easy. This art form requires much more physical and mental strength than most people realize. As dancers, we spend our lives constantly seeking perfection. The reality is, in our eternal search for perfection, we are striving for something that is highly elusive. It is because of this however, that we are unceasingly motivated and left desiring more, day after day.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
Working with Ms. Farrell is such a unique experience. The most significant thing that comes to mind when I think of dancing in her company is that she has encouraged me to work in ways that I never knew were possible for myself. She enjoys creating new, exciting challenges for her dancers every single day, and her expectations from us are set to a very high standard. I find it inspiring to know that I am working for someone who believes in my ability, and cultivates my need to grow. Working with Suzanne is an invaluable experience for me.

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

I have always loved performing Balanchine's work. I think that his style of movement suits me better than other choreographers and it feels the most natural to me. I love the idea that everything is much exaggerated; lines are longer and you must move and travel bigger.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward of my career has been getting my first professional job! All of the hard work and dedication I have put into my dancing has led up to this moment and I am ecstatic and thankful to have been given this opportunity.

A Conversation with Lauren
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What is your favorite role to dance and why?

I have two favorite roles to dance. One is "Myrtha" from Marius Petipa's Giselle. I love this role because of the technical physicality that it takes to dance this part with the jumping variations and also the weightless bourrees. I enjoy the immense undertaking of the personality and acting challenge that it requires to captivate and convince the audience. I also love the principal role in George Balanchine's Valse Fantasie. This ballet in general is one of my favorites because of the beauty that it portrays and the essence of joy that I feel when I perform it.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?

When I am not dancing, I love to cook and host dinner parties with friends. I enjoy experimenting with foods and I would like to study food science when I retire from the stage. I also love to swim and take hikes or nature walks with my family. In my leisure time I love to decorate and study fashion. I also find great joy in being involved in my church in Richmond and serving the community in various ways.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?

When I am rehearsing, touring, and performing, I find it very important to stay in shape both physically and mentally to produce my best performance on and off the stage. I always try to get plenty of rest when I am dancing full-time, as well as eat a nutritious and balanced diet. I find it relaxing after a long day of rehearsals to read and wind down so that I am fully charged for the next day.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?

Working with Ms. Farrell is an honor and a joy. I worked with her several years ago for the fall season and it was a very great pleasure. In some companies, the director wants very cookie-cutter dancers that all look the same and dance similarly, but I found that Ms. Farrell wants good dancers with hearts and souls that dance to the best of their ability and do what she is seeking. I have found that there will always be someone with their leg higher than mine, or with better pirouettes, but dancing with Ms. Farrell showed me that I can be the dancer that I am at my optimal level and give that to my audience with confidence. I also learned that she has a wonderful sense of humor alongside her professionalism, which makes the working environment light and enjoyable.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? What do you wish people knew about what's its really like to be a ballet dancer?

I love to listen to all kinds of music when I warm up. On my iPod right now I have some Christian rock, classical music, pop, alternative, and classic rock. I like to switch up my music choices or just read while I stretch and prepare for class.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?

I believe one of the biggest myths about being a ballet dancer is that we all are crazy and have eating disorders. That is very false and sadly a prominent stereotype. Dancers are very unique individuals and although it is true in some cases that we can have body image issues that lead to eating disorders, most dancers are intelligent and know that we need fuel to be athletes. I also find it humorous that people judge dancers based on movies like "Black Swan" in which we are viewed as crazy when we study certain roles. I find it very important and enjoyable to analyze the role that you are dancing in a healthy mind-set in order to perform the best quality of that part so that your audience can enjoy it as much as you do. However, I have never known a case where analyzing a role is taken to the extreme of having nightmares or harming oneself or another!

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?

One of my most enjoyed choreographers would be Ma Cong. He is a native of China and performed professionally in Tulsa Ballet for many years before retiring to focus on choreography. His works that I have seen and performed have always been very beautiful and they show off each dancer's potential, passion, and perfect femininity or masculinity gracefully. He is a joy to work with as a person and artist.

What is the biggest reward in your career?

The biggest reward in my career has been to hear the responses that audience members have said to me after performances. It is such a pleasure to know that what I do onstage touches one or many people sitting in the theatre and that they can feel and experience the joy and beauty that I live for onstage. There is nothing like being able to feel the audience holding their breath in captivation.

Photo: Lauren Garside

Read more about Lauren at www.suzannefarrell.org.

A Conversation with Audra
Posted by Audra Johnson
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
I have a few favorites. George Balanchine’s Serenade is truly amazing to dance. I have had the opportunity to dance the Russian soloist and corp in this ballet. Each role was extremely rewarding and fun. I also love Concerto Barocco. There is something special about dancing together with a group of ladies, completely unified and connected to such brilliant choreography and music. I have also enjoyed several works by Twyla Tharp.

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love family walks with my husband and son. I also enjoy refinishing furniture and home decorating.

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, and touring?
I find that taking good care of my body is extremely helpful. I try to eat good foods, stretch regularly and be wise with how I work and how much to push.

What is it like to work with Ms. Farrell? Any fun and memorable stories or anecdotes about working with her?
Ms. Farrell is an inspiration. She hears the music in a way that always intrigues me and it’s amazing. I find myself being able to move quicker and do things I didn’t think were possible. It’s always rewarding and a pleasure working with her. She inspires me to push myself to find new depths in my dancing.

What do you think is the most common myth about being a dancer? what do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballet dancer?
Dancers are hard workers and it goes beyond just our dancing. It carries into every day life. I know so many dancers who have had wonderful careers while going to school at the same time. Most of them have successful second careers. We have this drive in us to work hard and perfect whatever we are doing.

What is the biggest reward in your career?
I have had many opportunities to dance some amazing featured roles, but I think the biggest reward would be returning to the stage after having my son. I am still in awe of this and so grateful to be dancing. I remember that first performance of Episodes thinking this has to be the best thing ever and feeling like the luckiest girl in the world.

Audra Johnson in Seranade. Photo by Linda Spillers.

Read more about Audra at www.suzannefarrell.org

A Conversation with Amy
Posted by Amy Saunder
What is your favorite role to dance and why?
My favorite ballets to perform are Petipa's Swan Lake and Balanchine's Rubies. I love Swan Lake because the music is beautifully heart breaking and the emotion, especially in act II, is so powerful, yet so vulnerable. In contrast, the soloist in Rubies is flirty and fun and every step is a perfect reflection of the music. 

What do you like to do when you are not dancing?
I love to cook, hike, and travel to new places.  

How do you prepare yourself for the physical challenges of rehearsing, performing, touring?
I find that yoga helps prepare me physically and mentally for these challenges. It keeps my mind in a good place and helps me to connect to my body while simultaneously stretching and strengthening my limbs and core. 

What music do you like to listen to when you warm-up?
The music I listen to varies depending on what mood I'm in but I tend to gravitate toward happy music with a nice beat. Right now I can't get enough of Fleetwood Mac. 

What do you think is the most common myth about being a ballerina? What do you wish people knew about what it's really like to be a ballerina?
People tend to think ballerinas can't do contemporary or that they don't need to know how. I think being grounded is a very important asset to the ballet technique and that contemporary dance can help ballerinas explore different ways of connecting to the floor and connecting to their own body's movement. To me, ballet and contemporary have an ever growing symbiotic relationship.

I wish people knew how hard it is to be in a constant search for perfection when perfection doesn't really exist. Ballet never gets easier and there will always be that lingering desire to be better, stronger, more ethereal, etc. 

Do you feel an affinity for any particular choreographer?
Although I've never performed his work, I am very drawn to Ma Cong's choreography. The fluidity and artistry of his movement is so beautiful and it translates so well into his choreography. 

What is the biggest reward in your career?
The moment when I can absorb myself in a role and completely let go on stage is the biggest reward for me. This doesn't happen every single time I perform but when it does happen the feeling is euphoric. I also really love rehearsing in the studio because I can go even further with my movement and it's always rewarding to challenge what I think my limits are.

Read more about Amy at www.suzannefarrell.org

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