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WEST COAST SWING: The GREAT GRAND DAUGHTER of all Swing!

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         West Coast Swing is the 'Official State Dance of California'. Historically San Diego, San Francisco and Los Angeles all argue about what city West Coast Swing originated in, however the Los Angeles California area tends to win the debate on it's evolution. West Coast Swing roots back to or originated from an earlier dance known as the Savoy Style Lindy,  which was done at the Savoy Ballroom in New York in the early 1930's. Although WCS was not invented by, it was indirectly spawned by a man whose name was Dean Collins, who also danced at the Savoy while he was living in New York.

 


WCS: Dean Collins

   Collins came to California in the 1936 to get into the movie business and brought with him 'his version' of the "Savoy Style Lindy." Collins, after dancing in Hollywood for a couple years and swing dancing in many night clubs began dancing and competing in dance contests. He would get to know some of the other local dancers, which they have been said too have "not seen that style of swing before, but they liked it very much." It was alot different than what they were doing at the time ... which they called it "The Whip" (NOTE: different than the later "Houston Whip" which is a Descendant of WCS ... to make a slightly long story short,) "Sophisticated Swing" and/or sometimes the "New Yorker".

   When Collins started winning contests everyone wanted to learn his style. Dean's first partner was Bertha Lee but later joined up with Jewel McGowen who was to become the hottest female swing dancer who had ever "Switched" (swivel'd back and forth) with Dean(Bertha was frickin' good as well). They made many movies apart as well as together. When Dean would be asked what style of swing he was doing he would say "there is no style, there is only Swing." He never said there is only Lindy Hop or West Coast or Jitterbug, etc., NEVER!, there is only swing. And being a true master of swing realized that "Swing is Swing"... period!

   Collins started teaching "his version" to L.A. and soon everyone on the West Coast was doing it. Dean finally got his break and started doing many more Hollywood Hollywood Movies in the 1940s and 1950s. He brought many local swing dancers who he had taught this "new style" with him into many of these movies as well. During this time, the movies billed WCS dance as "Jitterbug or Rock and Roll." Many soldiers danced this version of swing in W.W. II. The soldiers and U.S.O. took "West Coast Swing" AND OTHER FORMS OF SWING all over the world ... disguised as the newer term of Jitterbug or Rock and Roll (before these titles swing was known as the Lindy Hop). Dean past away in the mid 1980's. In the clips below you can see the legendary Kenny Wetzel interviewing Dean at the famous Lion d'Or in Downey, Ca. As well as Dean featured in the other two clips. Also here is a You-tube link to Dean teaching at the Palladium in 1983.



The Main Movies Styles of Swing!

  1. Lindy Hop,
  2. West Coast Swing,
  3. East Coast Swing.
    Although the 'Sugar push' is said to have existed before it was not (or barely, if so) portrayed in the other styles on film (actually it was the 'Sugar Foot' that existed before the "Sugar Push" which helped give birth to the Sugar Push when mixed with 'switches'.) If you see swing dancing in old 1940's / 1950's movie scenes and the Caucasian dancers do a "Sugar Push" you are watching them do West Coast Swing which was obviously done to faster Big Band or Rock and Roll music of the 1940's and 1950's rather than the music that may be used today. Many dancers still love doing this faster form of West Coast we call 'WCS Flying Lindy' (aka the Bugg, Boogie Woogie) however these dancers were NOT doing the Lindy Hop or Jitterbug!!! (because the music, title or Lindyites might suggest it to be so,) they were doing West Coast Swing. During the 1940's basically all swing dance styles were under an umbrella term called the Jitterbug, so we could/should call West Coast Swingers .... West Coast Jitterbugs.

The 2009 Movie Love N' Dancing features many of todays West Coast Swing dancers. The film is based entirely on WCS.... Check It out

The Slot!

       The slot is not original to West Coast Swing but is strongly linked to it today. West Coast Swing, which is a strictly slotted (a 3'X6' or 3X8' rectangular dance space) ... has the leader dance in place (Center of lot) while the follower travels back and forth. This style of swing has some to say that this slot was born out of "WIDE ANGLE LENSES" not having been invented yet! (not totally true). The Directors needed to put the dancers in straight lines to get them all in the camera. However, many swing movies only had "one couple dancing" at a time and many previous movies of Whitey's Lindy Hoppers will show a slot being danced ("for the camera", I believe.)

   This "Slot" idea was to get the profile of the dancers rather than the backs of the dancers to the camera. If the dancers rotated while dancing it would not have shown the moviegoers as much facial dancing. This "slotted-style" eventually caught on as the norm and STAYED STRICTLY SLOTTED! when West Coast is danced socially. The film "Don't Knock the Rock" in the clip on the right strongly features the WCS Slot that California dancers prided themselves on by dancing on a couch, coffee table etc. Don't really know if the choreographers wanted to feature the craziness of swing (probably,) the "Slotted Style" or the dancers making a statement, but the slot is there as plain as day. (dancers were Gil & Nicky, Freda Angela, Lennie Smith, Lou Southern and others).

   Yet, another story is that because Los Angeles had many small night clubs, and there was a huge migration happening in California at the time. The L.A. dancers had to squeeze together and thus maintained a "Slotted type movement" to avoid hitting each other. The two above ideas merging together would be the main reason people today dance slotted swing socially (I support this story very strongly.)

   One of the most famous stories of the time was when Benny Goodman played at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles in the early 1930's. Kids packed the Palomar and lined up for blocks to see him play. The newspaper reported that they were "Jitterbugging in the Isles." That was the start of the Swing Era and Swing bands, the term Jitterbug and Swing dance for white America. Goodman's next stop was at the Paramount theater in New York, again the newspaper reported that the "Kids were Jitterbugging in the Isles to Goodman's music" (every isle I have ever seen was a slot!).


The Footwork !

The footwork theories have been told to me many times by various older swing dancers as:

  1. Tap dance was the start of the main footwork within the African-American community early in the birth of swing. As time went on, this footwork became a stable of movement and Laid the Ground Work for the syncopation framework within the swing dance community which would be changed and modified to suit the ever changing times. Eventually this footwork and syncopation would dis-associate itself from the standard Tap Dance movements and grow into something more within the swing dance family. Some of these feet movements are still done today, while others have faded away.And as time went on ....

  2. Blues music was very popular with the African-Americans again as well and in the late 1940's was to explode and later become Rock and Roll for various reasons that are to long to explore here. Many swing dancers started swingin' to the Blues, both fast and it's slow and burlesquey sounds. On the clip to the right George Christopherson and Freda Angela Wyckoff dance to both speeds. 95% of the videos available today are only of a performance nature (fast). This clip shows some WCS Blues messin' Around in the 1950s.

  3. Latin Music was being born in the states and was becoming very popular. As the dancers learned Latin movement they would incorporate it into West Coast Swing. The ladies and "Pachuco's" would do what is referred to today as a Latin West Coast Swing (or Latin Swing) to slower sexier Latin type music and incorporate Latin body and footwork movements into the dance. Since the Cha-Cha and the Whip are of the same 8 count rhythm, it was simple to add this style of movement. During W.W.II, many men were in the service and many of the "Hot Clubs" were no longer hopping locally. However many of the Latin places were booming with all kinds of dancers and new music. This gives rise to why West Coast dancers love to West Coast to Cha-Cha based music as well as the slower tempo for West Coast Swing being preferred to faster music. 100-120 Bpm. is great for syncopation's and the body movements we see today with a preferred sexier and slower tempo range of 90-125 beat per measure (Bpm.). Even the Lindy dancers are preferring the slower tempo of West Coast Swing. ...

  4. The Prostitutes (theory); in some of the dance halls and night clubs in the 1940's on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach and San Diego California would get kick-backs of liquor sales (became illegal) in which the sailors would purchase. The Prostitutes, knowing the sailors were on "short leaves" (the sailors were warned about their nightly profession) and knowing the Sailors also loved to dance (and so did the ladies of the night btw) would regularly use the dance and drink idea. The sailors would get drunk on their leave and these "Ladies" would dance with them, entice them, and as they got drunker the sailors couldn't dance so well so these "Ladies" would just hold on and sexy wiggle and do sexy footwork (enticing) at the end of the slot till he was ready to spend the remainder of his money behind closed doors ... Well, that's enuff! ... You get the idea ... he-he!... There were also the "Victory Girls!."

          (Note ... To clarify: These 'prostitutes' and/or "Victory Girls" were not the typical WCS female dancers of the time, and should not be representative of them. The majority of the female dancers in the clubs were not prostitutes or the like. These particular type of clubs were not frequented by the general dancing public and as such is only a story of CERTAIN MOVEMENTS told by sailors, etc. of the time, but other than that, this does not offer much in the overall validity as a whole.) Later the ...

  5. The "Switches" (right & left motion or switch back and forth for the ladies) commonly done in the Lindy eventually gave way to a not so simple (forward) Walk-Walk on counts 1-2, and the Coaster Step replaced the circular crossing step shuffle in the Lindy Circle and Swing Out on 3&4 of the whip, plus all the patterns began to "Anchor Step" (last 2 beats in place) instead of Arthur Murray's use of the Coaster Step (a back-together-forward step) at the end of each pattern. This Anchoring added alot of SYNCOPATED freedom to WCS for both leads and follows. Add the Sugar Push from the "Sugar Foot" step and a little better posture and the rest basically remains the same. As a side note, basically WCS and Lindy are in stark contrast of each other, or reversed. West Coast Swing and Hollywood Style, generally. altho they can, do not use any of the Charleston movement or patterns that the earlier Lindy Hop used. ...

  6. The Flying Lindy and Aerials: (Leg Flying Movement) and/ or Double Shuffle Speed Swing (delayed single rhythm unit) are two main components of dancing West Coast Swing to fast or Boogie Woogie and 'Jump Blues' music and are geared more toward this faster style of West Coast Swing. Aerials (air-steps) done in West Coast are done thru competition "Showcase Divisions" only these days and are not part of the social structure of this dance, however it is still a big part of the Hollywood style, but again, mainly becoming for competition/ exhibition purposes only there as well. The West Coasters only use AERIALS (aka: air steps) in the "Showcase" division during competition, some do them extremely well, but most (not all) of the 'Westies' are unable to do a good showcase routine due to the aerial and 'side by sides' requirements thus opting for the "Classic" styled division's instead.

Overall, it was probably a mixture of all the above and more that lead to the massive Foot and Bodywork that is done in this dance rather than just one scenario.


Other Basic WCS Information:

    In one of Arthur Murray's dance books in the mid 1940's, Murray describes a dance called "Rock and Roll dancing." It names the "Under Arm Pass, the Whip and the Sugar-Push." The ladies are told to take " Two Walk Steps forward " on counts 1-2 towards the man (and not away) and describes the "Coaster Step" and "Anchor step" very clearly.

    Later he would call this style of "Western Swing" "Sophisticated Swing." In the Video clip on the right we can see a UK TV Advertisement done in 1960 that portrays WCS. It's an interesting watch as they didn't hardly use any triples ... namely tap-steps and step-taps (aka the Dbl. Shuffle).

   

Today there are EIGHT BASIC STEPS that the whole dance revolves upon. They Are:

  1. Closed Starter Basic and/ or Preparatory Basic.
  2. Throw-Out.
  3. Under-Arm Pass.
  4. Under Arm Pass with a Hand Change.
  5. Side Pass.
  6. Sugar Push (es).
  7. Open Two Hand Tuck Turn. (Done from open position)
  8. The Basic Whip (the Whip is also the very first pattern into intermediate as well).   

     In the 1940's Ms. Laurie' Haile (d.) was hired by Mr. Murray to document the dances set in Murray's curriculum and the current dances being done around town. This was no easy task, but she did it beautifully. She knew Dean Collins and some of the other dancers and documented what they along with the Sailors in San Diego and Long Beach were doing at the time by Arthur Murray. She called it "Western Swing" which is were we get the name "West Coast Swing." However, the term Western Swing as opposed to Eastern Swing would later be confused as Country Western Swing or Western Swing Music (think Bob Wills) because of the western part in the name and Country-Western Swing was not West Coast Swing by any means. This was right about the time of Murray's book (above.)

    Myrna Myron of Myron's Ballroom in Los Angeles, California coined the term "Sophisticated Swing" in a conversation to Arthur Murray years earlier by describing what she saw being done in and around Los Angeles in the early 1950's. Although a song title with the name did exist earlier, it was not associated with swing as a dance but rather a musical style. West Coast did not look like the reckless abandon of the previous swingers and looked much more smooth, polished and stylish. Murray used this term quite frequently to describe West Coast Swing. There are numerous national newspapers advertising West Coast Swing dance lessons throughout the country from the early 1940's by various studios. Skippy Blair is credited for changing the name from Haile's 'Western Swing' to 'West Coast Swing' in California and with California being the home of WCS, that cemented it's use.

    American Bandstand (and others) and Arthur Murray's television show introduced many a dances over time such as the Twist, Hully Gully, The Swim, Watusi, the Bop, the slop with West Coast Swing having some air time as well but not named as such (except thru the A.M. Television show.) Historically, the Dance Master's of America were trying to control what people danced and tried every year to create, develop and introduce new dances to the money spending public. When the music would change, often, they would just change the name of some of the dances and re-introduce them to the public.

    Swing as a dance was the main dance that would be changed or another variation of the same dance was introduced such as "single rhythm" instead of the "triple rhythm" as well as many performers trying to take credit for a new style by giving it a new name, most didn't catch on. The clip here shows WCS on the 1985 "Dance Fever" Television show by Lance and Maryanne who were the top WCS competitors of  the 1980's.

   The Ballroom community, looking for a much more simple and mild form of swing, invented a much simpler and milder form called "Eastern Swing" (East Coast Swing) in the forties. In Los Angeles in the 1940's and 50's many teachers would dance West Coast Swing as sort of an enticement. But when the potential student would ask what it was and where they could learn it, they would be told it was Jitterbug (as you were only allowed to teach the studio's syllabus which was fiercly governed by the Dance Masters of America Org.) and signed them up to actually learn ECS. Plus add the fact that America was racist about teaching their adorable young school children this vulgar African-American vernacular based dance(s) of any form and doing so could get you shot (well fired anyway) by the complaining mothers of the day.

    East Coast was much easier to teach, learn and sell to the racially segregated parents. However, the student would think they were getting one style, but unfortunately was taught the OTHER style (See East Coast) and if they could advance, they were finally taught WCS privately. Many dancer's of the 1950's grew up on East Coast Swing as that was the only style of swing that was allowed to be taught in the dance studio's and schools due to racial factors (like the above) at the time as well as it being much, much easier to teach. However, some independent studios taught both. (Even when I started dancing ... East Coast Swing was done by 90% of the people dancing swing.)

   During the 1960's, Television put dancing on the back burner. Most people did not have to leave their homes for an evenings entertainment as in the past. Televisions were now affordable and almost in everyone's home. Since these couples dancers were not going out and dancing and leading the way like they used too, newer dancers generally did not know what or how to do the dances of the past. In walks a dance called the "Twist, Frug, Hully Gully etcetera" plus "dancing in the sand" at the beach would be the death blow to most structured partner dances (thanks gidget) and no one had to learn anything, just flap your arms, shake your hips or twist and shake the night away." Other free form style dances would follow and a whole generation grew up without partner dancing. However, there were still a small group that did dance partnered dances and kept it alive, these dancers formed Swing dance clubs and would continue to pass it on when they could.

   Then in the 1970's, Disco became the rage, especially after the movie Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta and these Swing Dancers were now dancing to new Disco music trying to survive and entice younger members while dancing the dance they loved. Basically overnight, all nightclubs became disco's. These new dancers of the 1970's did not know of  most of the earlier dances and copied some of the Swing and Salsa dancers that they saw or that a few could remember. The clip here shows Eddie and Lisa doing a performance Adagio Hustle dance routine on 1987 Star Search TV show. Eddie and Lisa were one of the main pioneers and exponents of the Hustle. (I listed this just so you can see the competitive form of Hustle if you were/are not aware of it.)

   (The Hustle is actually a mix of Latin and EC Swing.) Then a few years later, Country Western music and dancing gained popularity and people were now confusing "Western Swing (WCS)" with Country Western dancing or Western Swing. It took many dance teachers to call it "West Coast Swing" to veer away from any Country Western association, however, rare, the term West Coast Swing in print was used as far back as the mid 1940s to late 1950's. There are some who claim to have named the dance over the years, but there is some printed, dated documentation and newspaper ads that exists prior to their date claims to discredit them. For a time many Country Western establishments outlawed West Coast Swing being done in the clubs (only a few dancers were doing it at the time) ... as being too Sexy and having too much Attitude along with stating that it "NOT" being Country. However after awhile everyone wanted to do it except for the die hard C/W dancers.

   When the music (Big Band) died out in the 1950's for various reasons and Rock and Roll music became popular, swing dancers had to adapt and swing to Rock and Roll music. Then the 1960's came along and the Twist ... again they adapted to the music. Then the Disco beats of the 1970's and they adapted again ... where as today we no longer adapt ... we embrace the new dance-able music. "We loved Swing dancing and would do it no matter what music was played." We we're not leaving the dance just because the music changed. Today, these things make it one of the most versatile dances you can learn. Todays dancers tend to like the different rhythms and syncopations of the different and varied music styles to dance too and play with, which helps keep them dancing all night long.

   Westies (West Coaster's) generally do not like dancing to live music, (Blues being the exception) on a weekly basis as the musicians/singers are usually not versatile enough or do not want to play all the different styles of music (Latin, Funk, Pop, Hip-Hop, Motown, Soul, Disco, R&B, Blues.) Also, DJ's can pop a new song in they day after it's released, where as a band may take months or longer to include it into a set, if they do at all. Understandably, Bands tend to play only a specific style and tend to not play other musician's songs or styles we tend to love, but these dancers do respect all these musicians, and we show our appreciation by purchasing CD's, playing them and raving about their songs. This clip shows WCS being social danced at our Wednesday pre dance to the US Open in November (2012).

   The 80's introduced Rap and Hip Hop to the scene and some elements can be seen today in modern WCS. West Coast Swing is still evolving. Today, it is not similar to its original ancestor - the Savoy Style Lindy at all. It does not have a certain dress style, usually just casual dress of the day ... However, it does tend to be more modern in clothes. It is not music dependent, (meaning that) IT CAN BE DANCED TO ANY 4/4 time music available (old or new) but wether you want too or not is a whole nother story. The basic music for West Coast Swing is generally the Blues which, is generally made up of swung eighth's (a type of shuffle rhythm.) However many dancers also like dancing to the more slowed rhythms of Funk, Disco, Jazz, Soul, Motown, Beach, Techno, Rap, Pop, as well as the up-tempo's of Country, Big Band Swing, Oldies, 50's/60's Rock and Roll, Retro, and even some Latin. As long as they can count it and feel the "swing" or pulse of the Down and Upbeats and is basically of good rhythmic sound, it becomes a song you can dance West Coast Swing to (however, it is not swing music.) Lessor trained dancers, usually can only hear one type of rhythm which is usually based on the dance they are best at. There is no rule written that a particular song has to have a particular dance and vice-a-versa but there are always some who UNSUCCESSFULLY try to convince us of this. Although many songs definitely have a style of dance in mind when they were written and are not crossovers, meaning that, the particular dance style should be done to that particular song (example: Hernando's Hideaway=Tango, not another dance.)

   The beauty of West Coast Swing is you can basically dance West Coast almost anywhere, almost any place and at any time with almost anyone, almost any way you want to do it (classic, contemporary, old skool etc,) however this does not mean making up your own dance version. Once you learn the basics, you are never told, that isn't original style-Don't do it!, only maybe it might work or look better like this. West Coast Swing is a dancers dance, it's a living dance, meaning, that this dance will always change to challenge you but still be based on the original form, with many dance styles / movements inbred into the dance. There are over 5000 documented patterns and more are added every year. West Coast Swing has added alot of the old hustle patterns (Swustle) as well. Carolina Shag footwork is being added to its already extensive list of WCS footwork patterns (Swag,) and even the Tango has been injected (Swango).

   The Lindy dancers did do this as well in their day by adding the dances of the time such as the Charleston, Shimmy, Black Bottom, Baltimore Buzz, Grind, Mule, Apache, Texas Tommy, Mooch and Sugar and more to the Breakaway etc. of DAYS GONE BY (To bad they did not have Hustle, Disco, Lambada, Dirty Dancing, Mambo, Latin, Cha-Cha, freestyle dance, Hip-Hop dances etc. to add to the Lindy back in 1927 .... Oops, that would make it WCS :). Best of all, because of the slower tempo that you can dance to, you can dance West Coast Swing all night long with young and old alike and not have a heart attack. All forms of swing can be done fast, INCLUDING WCS, but only one can be done real slow and still look and feel great ... WCS!.   The clip here shows Dean Collins later in life "adapting" to the music, as he's seen here dancing his WCS to Michael Jackson's song Billy Jean (1982).

   Because of the vast music style variations the West Coast Swingers dance too, this dance is always under attack from the "Purists." However, West Coast Swing is a "Living Dance", meaning it is an old dance form constantly evolving, growing and changing to the music style of the ever changing times, (but we will never leave the Blues) with the 'old skool classic style' being highly sought after so as the dancer possesses great roots (fundamentals/basics) in the dance, rather than just having what's called a 'temporary-contemporary' style that may change or be dead and gone next year. The two main styles of West Coast are "Classic W.C. Swing (pulsing down. strictly slotted, slight edge use) and "Funky or Contemporary W.C. Swing" (pulsing up, strictly slotted but uses side edges of slot more) with the basic steps being exactly the same, just done to different types of music which gives a different feel and look.

   Without a good understanding of the 'Classic Style', you can not master the other. Without the classic style of the dance the contemporary style gets way out of control and starts to become dancer based rather than social based (meaning each dancer's style starts to become very incompatible with other dancers styles and folks can't dance with each other socially, classic style holds them all together.) Although teenagers are encouraged to try, and some have become fantastic paid performers, movie, TV dancers and dance contestants, this dance unfortunately is mainly for the adult dancer.

   A couple of years ago (around 1997), the Retro-Swingers started to use a term called "Hollywood Style Lindy" before they realized it was basically "Hollywoods West Coast Swing they were doing." Altho the term is now mainly deprecated, they just call it Hollywood Style Swing with the term being coined by Erik and Sylvia Robeson. This Hollywood Style Swing was actually the original "old skool" style of West Coast Swing when it was still heavily rooted to the Lindy but as done by Dean Collins and Jewel McGowen, Gil and Nikki Brady, Lou Southern, Lenny Smith, Frieda Angela (Wyckoff) etc. and others of days gone by. Many of the old time West Coast Swingers who are still around today have helped them with this "authentic style" which is really very kewl. However, when they try to turn Hollywood into today's West Coast they come up a little short (however it is very workable.) The Westie has to dance very basic to low intermediate style/steps with the Hollywood Style dancer until they get the idea, then they rock!.

   In competition, West Coast Swing has become a highly technical dance, that is not very friendly to the average competition dancer, in other words, they devour their young!. The competitor needs to put many long hours and finances into the competition arena and the rewards are few, (except for the reward of looking so damn good!). On the social side however, it's not near as serious except for being taught like you are a future champion dancer (you could be the next champ-right!) during the dance lessons.

   When learning this dance, the dancer needs to keep a very open mind to succeed or they will fail as the dance uses many different and varied techniques. There is many levels of progression when learning. Plus, there's not a better group of people YOUNG or OLD to be found. Once you learn, you will have many friends for life as well as being able to dance to all kinds of music, anywhere, anytime with anyone.   The clip here represents the Showcase Division of competitive WCS of Benji and Torri in the 11/2012 US Open Swing dance championships.

   Many folks ask what style of swing (Jitterbug) is best, West Coast, East Coast, Whip, Push, Lindy, Shag etc. However, there is no best style. The best style would depend on what type of music you are dancing to at the time, geographic's, the theme of the dance being held, the speed in which the music is played and the dance knowledge of you and/or your partner. If you're partner only knows one style of swing, then their style would be the best style to dance with them at that time. If they only know one style they usually will declare that the style they know is the best style above all others and usually will make derogatory statements about other styles for many varied reasons.

   Swing (aka: Jitterbug) is a wonderful dance form in all it's versions that fits all types of music, Personalities, Finances etc. Calling yourself a swing dancer means you can at least do the basics in many forms of swing and a few well. So learn to swing dance whatever style, you're unique and your dances should be varied and your style should represent your knowledge of dance that other, newer dancers (and they are the majority) don't posses by not limiting yourself to only one. However you will eventually find you like them all and soon you will understand the importance of them all, as well as understand why there are different styles to begin with. So enjoy them and mainly smile, laugh and have fun.
... Copyright 1996 all rights reserved: Sonny Watson!

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