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Ballet's "elitist" image --what do you think?

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Patrick..

Dance is quite a different thing from most other "Arts". You have to attend a performance. You can listen to a ballet on a CD or in you car or on the radio... the music yes.. but not the ballet. You need to OBSERVE it.. and like a play it takes time. The visual arts can be reproduced as are and why we all know the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper.

Even music can be listened to "in the background" and most people DO.. whether it is po music or classic music or folk music you CAN do other things AND listen to music. Dance and ballet are different.

You can see them on film or video or TV... which are very different experiences from seeing a performance "full scale" and live. Even so because the niche market not many ballets are available on video and TV.

Modern dance is perhaps perceived as "elitest" as well. I think in the public's mind it is simply what modern choreographers do. Would Mozart write the same music were he alive today? We tend to be a product of our times.

Ballet seems to be a much like a living museum, a time machine... a body of work and rules and so forth which have been performed continuously since their original creation... much like Shakespeare's plays perhaps. Like folklore the art and mystery of ballet is passed down through the generations.

I think you combine all the attributes of the ballet and the ballet experience and you can see how it is a very special and esoteric genre and why it is tagged with being "elitest".

Thankfully we live in a free enough society that we can choose to gravitate toward different aspects of our culture... and we do so for any number of personal reasons and circumstances as Mouse so beautifully demonstrated above. Ballet is a very strong magnet and that is why it is not likely to disappear from the cultural landscape, despite being tagged as elitist.

No?

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Those making sacrifices for the arts to so because they LOVE the arts, pure and simple [...]

I'm the daughter of immigrants. Of course this is the land of opportunity and I could have grown up to be president. Okay, it's a myth; but, like most myths, there's an ideal involved that encourages the hopeful to reach heights never before imagined. Myths are important. Dreams are what makes artistry work. Believing as a child that each classmate and I could have grown to be president made it possible for each to dream of an occupation beyond those we already knew.

Who is to say that the myth really doesn't work? Perhaps those that found no promise in it simply stopped believing and hence stopped trying to achieve their goals.

Thanks, mouse. All of us posting here, or even just reading, are truly blessed to have reached this point in our lives where we see how much exposure to the arts has formed and changed us.

Exposure to the arts, and affordable access to them, have been important in each story posted here so far. But none of it will stick unless that "love" that you mention is somehow nourished and given the chance to be succeed. I've seen this in people from all backgrounds. Rich or poor, people with this kind of support are "privileged."

Your concept of "myth" is pretty much the same used by social scientists. The point about myths is not whether they are true or false, but how deeply they are believed. Successful social myths survive because there's just enough truth in them, as you say, to change people's behavior.

My own personal "myth" had a lot to do with previous generations of Italians from a small city in Tuscany believing that opera was fundamentally an art of the people, whatever the ruling class thought. Art, like food or shelter, was a fundamental need. A fundamental right, really. This led to the expectation that all those little dukes and princes would make very low-cost tickets available to the theaters. And that they would tolerate quite a lot of suspicious behavior in the upper balconies: weeping, cheering, and rolling (at least metaphorically) in the aisles. (I still like to hoot and holler after a good performance.)

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Patrick..

Dance is quite a different thing from most other "Arts". You have to attend a performance.

Even music can be listened to "in the background" and most people DO.. whether it is po music or classic music or folk music you CAN do other things AND listen to music. Dance and ballet are different.

You can see them on film or video or TV... which are very different experiences from seeing a performance "full scale" and live. Even so because the niche market not many ballets are available on video and TV.

I used to think you had to attend a live performance, and that's all I did, many years of NYCB especially. I no longer do think that's 'the only thing' the deeper you get into it (and it's not even enough if you really want to study it really exhaustively). The live performance is the real thing, of course, but when you want to study the works more carefully, you even need the taped performances. You can go back and forth when you want to take another look at something closely. Actually, take a look through the NYPLibrary catalog and you will see that there are hundreds of VHS and DVDs: I know, because I am checking at least 10 out per week, and watching at least one a day. Last night I watched, for example, the 'Ultimate Swan Lake' tape from the Bolshoi, 1984. This is the one hosted by Gene Kelly and has Bessmertnova and Bogatyrev. Well, the corps de ballet is so magical I feel cured of that ABT broadcast from 'Dance in America.' And, at least in this one case, I would much rather have seen this Bolshoi performance on television than the ABT one live, with all its cuts and various other hateful things I'll be kind enough not to enumerate this time. Of course, if it's a fantastic performance and production, I'd prefer to see it live, but you don't hear music when you're studying scores either, at least you don't hear it with your physical ear, but rather with your mental ear. Frankly, I'm not all that concerned with ballet's 'elitist image' problem, as I think there are attempts to get it less and less pristine. I'm much more worried about creeping slobbism than I am of snobbism that could 'threaten democratization' (and possibly even proletarianization) of ballet. If ballet can survive without excessive 'democratization', it will be all the better off, IMO.

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I plead guilty to not having used the library since college. And now the internet has replaced the library for me.

I suppose there are ballet performances available via the web? For a study aid I can see the value, but as I am not a dancer, but a consumer... the experience to me is very much about it being live... the lighting, the acoutics.. the orchestra... the energy. For me, seeing it live and on memorex are very very different experiences.

Having said that... I have found myself enjoying opera on PBS and some dance... but of course the rest of the TV offerings are so bad I hardly watch the tee vee.

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Nancy Dalva to Richard Howard: Richard, is poetry for everyone?

Richard Howard to Nancy Dalva: No, Nancy, poetry is for anyone.

radio interview by Nancy Dalva, the National Arts Review (circa 1980)

I guess I'm just lucky, but I've never understood the intimidation factor. I had no classical arts education whatsoever growing up, nothing till my senior year in high school. But after I first saw ballet at 18 I began reading dance critics, and these writers made attending performances an intellectual as well as aesthetic adventure. And I never thought class.

In his book "The Culture We Deserve," Jacques Barzun defines culture as

“the traditional things of mind and spirit, the interests and abilities acquired by taking thought [emphasis mine]; in short, the effort that used to be called cultivation – cultivation of the self.”

A bit further he writes that

"culture and education are qualities found in persons who have first been taught to read and write and then have managed, against heavy odds, to cultivate their minds, to educate themselves."
Some people are born with a desire to exercise their minds, he says, but many others can be encouraged to cultivate the same desire. After years of ballet-going I still feel like a relative beginner in some ways, but when I hear people who look moneyed talking about mundane matters before the curtain goes up and after it goes down . . . they’re not in any elite that I recognize.

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The exchange quoted above between Nancy Dalva and Richard Howard is very close to something that's often attributed to Balanchine (and apologies if I posted this earlier iin the thread): Ballet is not for everybody, but it is for anybody.

The "elitist" charge can be interpreted so many ways. It's only for those awful RICH PEOPLE (new slur, and an odd one in a land where most people think they're going to be a millioinaire, according to polls). Or that it only appeals to a small percentage of the population, and that group is generally better educated, or more culturally aware, than others. The elite "club" IS something that anyone can join. It takes a bit of effort. Some people grow up in families that value art, others discover the arts later iin life. The door is always open. My question to those who think that "elitism" is a "charge": why are you so threatened by this? Just stick to what you like and leave me alone.

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I think much of ballet's image in the U.S. derives from its relative inaccessibility. And much of that is sheer physical inaccessibility for most people. ABT and NYCB are by far the most visible ballet companies in the U.S. NYCB is resident at Lincoln Center in New York, and ABT performs its longest and most publicized seasons in New York. Outside of New York, I think ballet is a performing arts afterthought, and outside of the other major metropolitan areas that have a major ballet company (San Francisco, Houston, etc.), it's not even on people's radar.

I know in Los Angeles, which is not exactly Podunk USA, it is an effort for me to make it to a ballet performance, usually entailing a rather excruciating drive to either downtown to the Music Center or the Orange County Performing Arts Center. If I had not been exposed to the joy and relative ease and affordability of going to the ballet from living in NY for many years, I KNOW I would not be making that effort.

When people outside of those areas and especially outside of New York, I think ballet is either identified with young girls taking dance class or pictures of the New York social "elite" at splashy formal benefits. Maybe ABT comes to town once or twice a year, but I don't think people are going to make that effort to buy tickets (which can be expensive for many people) unless you already know that you enjoy it? I don't think a broadcast of "Dance in America" once a year is really going to do it for most people. I benefitted from a good education, lots of exposure to the performing arts growing up, but for myself, I know I did not really think about making ballet a part of my performing arts life until I lived in New York and was exposed to it as a facet of city life. (There's something about shopping for tomatoes next to Vladimir Malakhov that makes ballet that much more tangible).

Helene has pointed toward this with the fact that Americans are willing to part with hard-earned funds for sports far more frequently. Americans also love very highly-skilled sports which are not considered arts as such--they are always involved with the Olympics, with figure skating, gymnastics, with the diving and skiing competitions, etc., even leaving out basketball, baseball, and football.

Americans are highly competitive people, and one way in which it manifests is the American love of sports. They LOVE sports in ways that other countries can't comprehend (except when World Cup comes round). When I lived in Europe, I remember the Europeans thinking we were completely insane for how much we loved our sports. We love to win. I think it has something to do with our belief in meritocracy.

I don't think that the average American spends that much money in participating in sports though, and I don't think that you'd see so many kids trying to play their way out of the projects if they were. Schmaltzy B-roll during the championships are usually about how Dad built a batting cage in their backyard, and tossed his kid 50 curveballs every night. The major American sports are not terribly capital intensive. And I'd say that the ones that are (figure skating, gymnastics, etc.) are often considered rather "elitist" as well.

As far as spectator participation, even though, most NBA and NFL tickets are priced far outside of the budget of most Americans as anything other than an occasional splurge, they're still available every seasonal weekend on TV, and MLB tickets are very affordable (for my local team, the Dodgers, bleachers seats are $6 last time I checked, and Upper Reserve where I sit is $17). Many of the "good seats" are still far cheaper than the Family Circle or Standing room at the Met.

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From today's links, Joy Goodwin writes in the NY Sun:

Mr. Smuin, a former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, is no ballet elitist; he's worked for Hollywood, television, and Broadway, where he won a Tony for his choreography for "Anything Goes." He is known for his splashy suites set to pop songs — Sinatra, Gershwin, Elton John — that play like Broadway Lite: all the dance numbers and none of the book. And this week at the Joyce, Mr. Smuin's San Francisco-based company is serving up ballet as pop entertainment.

The first sentence could have been written about George Balanchine -- and add in Barnum and Bailey and the World's Fair --; however, I haven't seen a single ballet of Balanchine's that I would call "Broadway Lite" or "pop entertainment," but there are a number of ballets, like Who Cares?, Vienna Waltzes, Western Symphony, Stars and Stripes, and Union Jack that were meant to be popular entertainment.

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The first sentence could have been written about George Balanchine -- and add in Barnum and Bailey and the World's Fair --; however, I haven't seen a single ballet of Balanchine's that I would call "Broadway Lite" or "pop entertainment," but there are a number of ballets, like Who Cares?, Vienna Waltzes, Western Symphony, Stars and Stripes, and Union Jack that were meant to be popular entertainment.

Perhaps the difference might be in what I think of as the layers of the work -- the Balanchine works you mention (especially Who Cares and Stars and Stripes) have scores that could be described as popular rather than classical, and the costumes/settings are almost comically accesible, but the dances themselves are as rigorous as most of his other works. There is something there for many different people to watch.

I have a similar impression of Twyla Tharp's repertory, though in her case I think the popular culture elements are even more intentionally used. There's the Beach Boys, the graffitti, and there's the choreography, which can be as twisty as a calculus textbook and as exhilirating as a roller coaster.

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Outside of New York, I think ballet is a performing arts afterthought

I used to live in a midwestern college town for seven years and there were a lot of visiting ballet companies. So I think it's not that bad.

I did notice, however, Americans tend to be very insular in the way they see things: their situation is the way the entire world is. (Note your use of the words "we" and "our".)

This is not necessarily true.

I think it has something to do with our belief in meritocracy.

which is why (I guess) the US have a president right now who has serious problems stringing together a sentence.

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which is why (I guess) the US have a president right now who has serious problems stringing together a sentence.
I am one who believes that the president's verbal presentation is deliberately "reglar," and that the reason is to appear anti-elitist, despite his very elite background. I think that speaks to the underlying issue of the topic, which are the anti-intellectual and anti-elitist judgements that cause us to worry about ballet being called the E-word.

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I am one who believes that the president's verbal presentation is deliberately "reglar," and that the reason is to appear anti-elitist, despite his very elite background.

I think he desires to appear anti-elitist, but that the bad grammar is not deliberate, because it sounds too effortless: to consciously develop a personal dialect (which is close to what he's got) is a lot of trouble when it gets to the sentence stage. And of course he does successfully appear anti-elitist insofar as the Fine Arts go, since he has no apparent interest. Even on trips to China, etc., when there's time to tour, he prefers something a little less demanding.

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... And of course he does successfully appear anti-elitist insofar as the Fine Arts go, since he has no apparent interest. Even on trips to China, etc., when there's time to tour, he prefers something a little less demanding.

I respeckfully disagree :beg: as the President is pretty openly a balletomane. Here's proof from the Mariinsky Theater:

http://www.mariinsky.ru/en/info/gallery/arhiv/may25_2002

He obviously enjoyed this performunce enough to subsequently see ABT's version of the same ballet, as these official White House photos openly admit:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/20...11jpg-515h.html

Click to enlarge each photo. Especially the one of Kent/Carreno!

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:beg: drb you have Made My Day with those pics. I think I know how I just can relax and act like myself at the ballet now...

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Good grief. The White House actually identifies ABT as the "American Ballet Company" in their releases. Guess someone in the press office is a fan of "Center Stage."

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..."American Ballet Company"...

Many of us are familler with the ABC version of Nutcracker. If you'd like to see what the First Fan was enjoying in St. Petersburg, it was the production by Mikhail Chemiakin. Here are photos of the ballet, including, at the bottom of the page, the two Heads of State with Chemiakin and the First Lady with Gergiev:

http://www.chemiakinbooks.com/HTMLFILES/NE...0Chemiakin.html

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There is one glaring omission from this debate around which the elitism of ballet and opera is unequivocal and why despite tickets being expensive sports events are uncomparable to ballet in terms of elitism and that is simply - race.

High art is overwhelmingly white, and any form of art or entertainment which is situated within society as we know and live it today and does not reflect the multi-culturalism of society and the attendent issues thereof cannot be seen as anything other than divorced from society. Apart from it, elitist.

Sadly the occasional Accosta, Anderson come across as nothing more than nods towards tokenism when the sole black face is surrounded by a field of white faces.

Sports, popular culture, music culture give multi-cultural role models and stars for children, young people and adults to aspire to. The ascension from unknown to MBA, NFL or MTV star is one wholly recognisable, the struggle to achieve relevant to the fan. There is nothing of this within ballet and sadly very little done to address this.

The black dancers who were chosen to enter the halcyon major companies, such as Ashe, Long, Douglas all had tales of frustrated ambition before leaving to join environments where race was not an issue but talent was.

Not one poster here mentioned race, because I hazzard a guess not one poster who contributed to this thread is black? (Please correct me if wrong) And until ballet addresses this it cannot be anything other than elitist.

American soccer is dominated by whites and it's not referred to as elitism. So is figure skating, hockey, Irish dance, curling and many other sports dominated by whites. People refer to the culture of ballet as being elitist for a reason. We can't ignore that.

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There is one glaring omission from this debate around which the elitism of ballet and opera is unequivocal and why despite tickets being expensive sports events are uncomparable to ballet in terms of elitism and that is simply - race.

High art is overwhelmingly white, and any form of art or entertainment which is situated within society as we know and live it today and does not reflect the multi-culturalism of society and the attendent issues thereof cannot be seen as anything other than divorced from society. Apart from it, elitist.

Sadly the occasional Accosta, Anderson come across as nothing more than nods towards tokenism when the sole black face is surrounded by a field of white faces.

Sports, popular culture, music culture give multi-cultural role models and stars for children, young people and adults to aspire to. The ascension from unknown to MBA, NFL or MTV star is one wholly recognisable, the struggle to achieve relevant to the fan. There is nothing of this within ballet and sadly very little done to address this.

The black dancers who were chosen to enter the halcyon major companies, such as Ashe, Long, Douglas all had tales of frustrated ambition before leaving to join environments where race was not an issue but talent was.

Not one poster here mentioned race, because I hazzard a guess not one poster who contributed to this thread is black? (Please correct me if wrong) And until ballet addresses this it cannot be anything other than elitist.

American soccer is dominated by whites and it's not referred to as elitism. So is figure skating, hockey, Irish dance, curling and many other sports dominated by whites. People refer to the culture of ballet as being elitist for a reason. We can't ignore that.

I was a poster on some of the threads Mel mentions.

#1 I actually have heard soccer, curling, etc. referred to as elitist or overly white, but as you mention, the commenters were themselves usually not white! Probably most in these sports activities neither noticed the lack of a black presence nor missed it much.

#2 It is very disappointing for young black dancers already having endured the scarcity of other black dancers in the training years to find out it is even worse when in pro auditions and settings. In addition, skin tone counts with lighter skinned blacks faring better, and darker more noticeably black dancers being viewed as less acceptable.

#3 Until ballet is a more pure meritocracy concerning race, the ballet world will be vulnerable to this charge. Many say the dancers are simply not out there, no interest, etc. (see the discussion Mel provides the link for). Please note the fate of Danny Tidwell a long thread on "So You Think You Can Dance" as well as the fact that the most popular (I think the younger hip people call it "viral) dance videos on You Tube includes Beyonce and two other dancers both of whom were exceptional young ballet-trained dancers. Why are they in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrnNC5toyeo rather than a ballet company you have patronized lately? The answer to this question says it all...

PS I apologize to patrons of the particular contemporary ballet company that does include one of the dancers (the Boston Ballet trained one!) on the "Single Ladies" video. You do patronize her company and you know who you are. By the way, the director of this company is both non white and not from the United States! This atypical company director does have a much more diverse group of dancers than most US companies. Also please note the contemporary/classical distinction. These dancers' early ballet training included typical classical and neoclassical training (full scholarship to SAB summer for the other young lady who is not the Boston trained one). I rest my case.

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I could not find the SYTYCD thread, so I must ask, to what fate of Danny Tidwell are you referring? Was it the fact that he didn't win the competition?

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:unsure:

I could not find the SYTYCD thread, so I must ask, to what fate of Danny Tidwell are you referring? Was it the fact that he didn't win the competition?

No Hans, my concern was not where he placed in the competition.

The fact that Tidwell was in this competition at all should have been a red flag, and to some it was. I haven't been able to track what was during that time a long discussion, not just of the contest itself, but of the fact that a former ABT dancer with an apparently bright future wound up in this forum.

I suspect we will just have to agree to disagree yet again. Maybe someone better at navigation on Ballet Talk can locate this discussion. (Thank you in advance).

I did notice that a search under Tidwell's name on this site produced several threads where he is mentioned in discussions updating his current 'work,' going back to his ABT days, and everything in between (including SYTYCD). Maybe the longer discussion was on the sister board: Ballet Talk for Dancers.

I wonder what you thought about the two classically trained dancers (flanking Beyoncé) who landed in the commercial dance video?

PS Beyoncé sang at the pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and an inaugural ball the following evening. Her performance in the recently released feature film "Cadillac Records" has also received decent reviews. Let's hope the dancers were well paid. I suspect they were.

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American soccer is dominated by whites and it's not referred to as elitism. So is figure skating, hockey, Irish dance, curling and many other sports dominated by whites. People refer to the culture of ballet as being elitist for a reason. We can't ignore that.

Elite: That would be the starting point. Race: something else. As a kid I was taught that the "old elite" was promoting "racial discrimination". The result: Only those with money-(whites)-would be having access to the private ballet academies. When everything turn all the way around, the majority of the white "elite" disappeared-(strangely, not from the ballet circles)-but the black population started to have total access to the ballet academies. Money wasn't an issue anymore...it was/is free. Endurance and skills were to be the signs of the new elite. Hip Hop elite is very well known, and is not dominated by whites. I don't think a class which ceased to be legally separated, and reduced to the same economical status of their former servants would be still considered as an "elite", even the lighter color of their skin. If something, being part of an Elite now in the Cuban Ballet Circle would be to kill yourself and offer your soul to Mme. Then she will let you in some more intimate circle...(Please note that I'm talking about a very geographically specific aspect of this broader discussion)

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The fact that Tidwell was in this competition at all should have been a red flag, and to some it was. I haven't been able to track what was during that time a long discussion, not just of the contest itself, but of the fact that a former ABT dancer with an apparently bright future wound up in this forum.

Are you thinking of page 5 of this thread "Race, Culture and Ballet"?

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I haven't spoken to Danny since our KAB days, but as far as I know, it was his own decision to leave ABT, and also to do the reality show, so I'm afraid I don't see the problem...?

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I haven't spoken to Danny since our KAB days, but as far as I know, it was his own decision to leave ABT, and also to do the reality show, so I'm afraid I don't see the problem...?

I don't know Danny Tidwell, but understand you are trying to gently let me know there is not racism lurking around every corner. I take your point.

I do think however, it is unfortunate that a dancer like Danny or the young ladies in the video too often become lost to the ballet world for whatever reason. Even if it is by their own choice, sometimes a wiser, older, and experienced mentor can make a big difference. Here is where the scarcity of role models may be relevant.

Being colorblind will ensure the attrition of such dancers. Only extraordinary effort beyond "business as usual" will ever change the status quo. As I have said many, many times, I truly am not about assigning blame. I am about making positive changes, and discovering what these might be. Are there effective, creative ways to prevent or minimize the departure of promising dancers of color (especially African-Americans) from the overwhelmingly--possibly even increasingly--homogeneous world of ballet?

I continue to believe only by going the extra mile in an open-minded and even a creative way, a firm commitment, and possibly pro-active (even preferential) treatment will ultimately make a difference against the inertia, misunderstanding, and challenging practices that pervade the ballet world. Every once in awhile I convince myself that this forum may be one of the places where people of different experiences and perspectives can have a frank (if sometimes less than lovely) discussion without getting feathers too ruffled.

Inevitably I do come back to my senses, and back off and learn to leave things as they are. I promise not to continue to pursue this any further, raise any more troubling questions, or engage in any more idle speculation until such time as I regain my idealistic delusions once more. Then, all bets are off, and I may assume my gadfly role again. Everyone is safe for the moment, and you can count on my continued silence for the foreseeable future. :wink:

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