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Famous African Dancers Who Changed the Face of Dance

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When it comes to the world of dance, African dance cannot be overlooked as it has significantly influenced and made an immense impact on dance routines globally. African dancers are known for their unique, rhythmic, and expressive movements that are deeply rooted in their culture and traditions. Even today, these dancers continue to inspire and influence different forms of dance styles, including contemporary, modern dance, and ballet. In this article, we’ll explore the contributions of famous African dancers who have made significant strides in shaping the dance world.

1. How African Dancing Influenced the World of Dance

1. How African Dancing Influenced The World Of Dance
African dancing has been a major influence on the world of dance. It has inspired and influenced many dance forms, particularly those in the African diaspora. African dance is characterized by its unique rhythm and energetic movements that reflect the culture, history, and environment of the African people. These dance elements are an integral part of African culture and have deep-rooted meanings.

African dance has had a significant impact on modern dance as we know it today. Contemporary dance choreographers have looked to African dance for inspiration and have incorporated African dance elements into their work. As a result, African dance has become an important part of the contemporary dance scene. African dance also played a major role in the development of other dance forms such as jazz, tap, and hip-hop. These dance forms were created by African Americans and were heavily influenced by African dance.

In addition to its influence on dance, African dance played a central role in African culture, particularly in social events and ceremonies. African communities used dance as a means of communication, entertainment, and spiritual healing. African dance was not just a form of entertainment but an essential part of the community. It helped to bring people together and reinforce social bonds.

African dance has also had a significant influence on music. The unique rhythm and energy of African dance have inspired many musicians and composers. African dance and music are closely intertwined, and the rhythm and beats of African dance have been adapted and used in various forms of music.

African dance has influenced the world of dance in many ways. It has inspired and influenced many dance forms, played a central role in African culture, and had a significant impact on music. African dance continues to evolve and has become an integral part of the contemporary dance scene. It’s essential to understand the importance of African dance history, its unique characteristics, and its contribution to the dance world.

1.1 The Role of African Dancing in the Development of Other Dance Forms

It is no secret that African dance has had a significant influence on the development and evolution of dance forms throughout the world. The rich cultural heritage of Africa has gifted the world with a diverse range of dance styles, each with their unique characteristics and elements. From the traditional communities who have used dance as a way to celebrate social events and spirituality to the influence on music and rhythm, African dancing has left its mark on various dance forms. In this section, we will explore the role of African dancing in the development of other dance forms, and the impact that it has had on the world of dance.

1.2 Impact of African Dance on Modern Dance

African dance has had a significant impact on modern dance. It has contributed to the evolution of contemporary dance in the Western world. African heritage brought with it a unique way of expression through music, rhythm, and dance, which has continued to inspire modern dancers and choreographers in the present day.

African dance emphasizes rhythm, which is expressed through the whole body, including feet, arms, and torso. Dancers incorporate many different movements, such as swaying, shaking, and stamping. African dance is characterized by fast and complex movements that require substantial physical strength, agility, and flexibility.

The incorporation of African dance elements, such as rhythm and movement, into modern dance has led to the creation of new dance styles. These styles incorporate the African aesthetic, merging it with other elements to form unique dance styles. For example, contemporary dance incorporates elements of African dance, as well as Western dance forms like ballet and jazz, to create a style that is both modern and rooted in African traditions.

The use of African dance rhythms in music has also had a significant impact on modern dance. For many modern dance choreographers, music is one of the most important elements of a performance. The incorporation of African rhythms has given modern dance a new dimension by introducing a different type of beat, which is not based on the traditional Western musical scale.

It is not only in dance and music that African dance has made its mark. African dance and its elements have also been adapted into other creative fields such as theater, film, and fashion. These industries have embraced African dance styles, using them to create new and innovative works.

The influence of African dance on modern dance is apparent in the unique styles that have emerged as well as in the incorporation of African rhythms in music. African dance has also been widely embraced in other creative fields such as theater, film, and fashion. It is this rich cultural heritage that continues to inspire modern dance around the globe. For more information on the topic, please visit african-dance-influence-on-modern-dance.

2. Famous African Dancers Who Changed the Dance World

African dance is an essential part of African culture that has influenced the world of dance. Many African dancers have made notable contributions to dance history worldwide. Here are some of the Famous African Dancers Who Changed the Dance World:

2.1 Pearl Primus – the Pioneer of African Dance in the U.S.

Pearl Primus was a dancer and anthropologist who made significant contributions to African dance history. She was born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in New York City. Pearl Primus started her career as an anthropologist, later moved towards dancing. She is known for her African-inspired dance performances that highlighted social and political issues, including racism, war, and oppression. Pearl created art that was a representation of her cultural heritage and a reflection of the world’s realities. She combined her knowledge of African dance with the elements of modern dance, which helped her create unique dance pieces. Her unique moves, inspired by African dance movements, made her an essential pioneer of African dance in America.

2.2 Katherine Dunham – a Legendary Dancer and Choreographer

Katherine Dunham is an African-American dancer and choreographer whose revolutionary style influenced modern dance. She was one of the first prominent black choreographers who integrated African and Caribbean dance movements into her performances. Dunham’s dance style showcased complex rhythms, dynamic movements, and blended African and Caribbean dance elements with ballet and modern dance techniques. She created the Dunham Technique, a dance movement that incorporated African cultural elements, movement training, and intercultural exchange. The Dunham Technique has been taught in dance schools worldwide and had an immense impact on the growth of African dance worldwide. Katherine Dunham’s work paved the way for many black dancers and choreographers to share their cultural heritage in their performances.

2.3 Alvin Ailey – the Father of Modern Black Dance in America

Alvin Ailey was an African-American dancer and choreographer who revolutionized modern dance by incorporating African-American cultural elements into his performance. His celebrated dance company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, inspires modern Black dance culture in the US. His dances, such as “Revelation,” embraced African-American heritage and highlighted slavery, deprivation, and the Black American experience in white America. He founded his dance company in the 1950s, which aimed to celebrate the cultural heritage of African-Americans. Under his leadership, the Alvin Ailey Dance Company became an institution that promoted Black dancers’ excellence and talent.

2.4 Ronald K. Brown – Contemporary Dance Innovator

Ronald K. Brown is a contemporary African American dancer and choreographer known for his unique blend of African, modern, and social dance styles. His dance company exhibits a contemporary interpretation of African dance moves, which are often symbolic of community, struggles, and individual freedom. Over the years, Ronald K. Brown has been a recipient of numerous awards, and his contemporary interpretations of African Dance has changed the way African dance is presented globally.

2.5 Asheley Bouder – Breaking the Stereotype for Black Female Ballet Dancers

Asheley Bouder is a famous African American ballet dancer, who broke the stereotype of black female ballet dancers. She has been a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet since 2000. As a black female ballet dancer, she faced discrimination and stereotyping. She overcame these barriers, paved the way for a new generation of ballerinas, and significantly contributed towards a more diverse and inclusive ballet world.

2.6 Akram Khan – Unique Blend of Contemporary and Classical Dance

Akram Khan is a British dancer and choreographer of Bangladeshi descent, known for his unique blend of contemporary and classical dance. His dance style showcases his cultural heritage that intertwines traditional and modern dance elements. He has collaborated with various international artists and dance companies and has received numerous awards for his groundbreaking work.

2.7 Shabba-Doo – Popping and Locking Pioneer

Shabba-Doo was a famous American dancer, choreographer, and actor, who pioneered the dance movements, popping and locking. He contributed towards the development of the funk styles, which later became a global phenomenon. Shabba-Doo set the standard for funk dance culture, and his contribution has helped funk styles stand the test of time.

2.8 Fela Kuti – A Revolutionist with Dance

Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician, producer and multi-instrumentalist, recognised for his contribution in Afro-beat music genre. He was known for incorporating dance as a potent tool in his music. Fela’s music was wrapped in revolutionary messages against an unjust government that resonated throughout the world – through the music and the dance.

2.9 Djimon Hounsou – Dancer Turned Hollywood Star

Djimon Hounsou is a Beninese-American actor, model and dancer who started his career as a professional dancer. He has modeled for high-end fashion brands and appeared in numerous Hollywood movies, including “Amistad,” “Gladiator,” and “Blood Diamond”. His dance background has significantly influenced his acting, and his work has contributed towards diversifying Hollywood.

These African dancers’ contributions have shaped the dance world and promoted African culture, traditions, and movements. They have enabled dance to evolve, grow and adapt across the globe. Africa’s history is incomplete without its dance culture, and African dancers’ contributions have kept that culture alive.

2.1 Pearl Primus – the Pioneer of African Dance in the U.S.

Pearl Primus, a dancer and anthropologist, played a significant role in introducing African dance and culture to American audiences. Her work was groundbreaking in the 1940s when it was uncommon for Black performers to have a presence in mainstream dance. Primus was a pioneer of African dance in the United States, bringing traditions from the African continent and fusing them with modern dance elements to create a unique style. Her work had a lasting impact on Black dancers and also contributed to the development of modern dance as a whole. To fully understand Primus’s contributions, it is necessary to explore the history and importance of African dance, which can be found at /african-dance-history-importance/.

2.2 Katherine Dunham – a Legendary Dancer and Choreographer

Katherine Dunham was an African American dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist born in Illinois in 1909. Dunham had an innovative approach to dance, synthesizing techniques from classical ballet, modern dance, and African dance, eventually developing her own style of dance that incorporated elements of Caribbean, West African, and American dance. She was highly influential in the development of modern dance, with choreographers such as Alvin Ailey citing her as a major influence.

Early Life and Education

Dunham was born in a racially segregated area and experienced discrimination from a young age. Despite this, she pursued her passion for dance and studied anthropology at the University of Chicago, where she was introduced to the African diaspora and its cultural traditions.

The Dunham Technique

Dunham’s signature style, known as the Dunham Technique, involved a combination of ballet, modern dance, and traditional African dance movements. She believed that dance was a way of connecting with people and expressing cultural identity, and her choreography often incorporated themes of social justice and freedom.

One of Dunham’s most famous works was the ballet “Southland,” which explored the history of slavery and the violence against Black people in the United States. The ballet was groundbreaking in its use of Black dancers in leading roles and its frank depiction of racial violence.

Legacy

Dunham’s legacy in the world of dance and anthropology is significant. She went on to establish the Katherine Dunham Dance Company, which toured internationally and brought African American dance and culture to a global audience. Dunham also conducted extensive research on the dance and culture of the Caribbean and West Africa, documenting her findings in numerous publications.

Today, the Dunham Technique is still taught in dance schools and universities around the world. Dunham’s contributions to the dance world and the cultural landscape of the United States have been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including a Kennedy Center Honor in 1983.

Internal link: To learn more about the influence of African dance on modern dance, check out our article on African Dance Influence on Music and Rhythm.

2.3 Alvin Ailey – the Father of Modern Black Dance in America

Alvin Ailey is regarded as the Father of Modern Black Dance in America for his immense contributions to the dance industry. He was born in 1931 in Texas and grew up during a time when racial segregation was at its peak. Despite the challenges, Ailey pursued his love for dancing and founded his own company called the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958.

One of his most famous works is “Revelations,” a reflection of Ailey’s own experiences as an African American growing up in the South. The piece premiered in 1960 and has since become a staple in the modern dance world. It portrays African American spirituals, gospel songs, and blues music through a series of powerful and emotional dance performances. The piece celebrates African American culture and the struggles that have been overcome.

Apart from his artistic contributions, Ailey also worked towards breaking down racial barriers through dance. He actively sought to provide opportunities for African American dancers to showcase their talents on a larger platform. Ailey’s work has inspired generations of dancers and choreographers and has played a significant role in diversifying the dance industry.

Ailey’s legacy lives on through the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which continues to showcase his works and other modern dance pieces. The company’s commitment to engaging audiences through dance and addressing important social issues has cemented its place as a cultural institution.

Alvin Ailey’s contribution to the dance world highlights the important role of African dance in influencing Western dance forms. Through his works, he drew on African dance elements and incorporated them with modern dance techniques, creating a unique style that has since become widely recognized. Alvin Ailey’s impact on modern dance, African dance, and the representation of African American culture in the performing arts is immeasurable.

2.4 Ronald K. Brown – Contemporary Dance Innovator

Ronald K. Brown, a Brooklyn native, is a highly acclaimed and award-winning choreographer who has made significant contributions to contemporary dance. Brown’s style is a unique fusion of African, Latin, and contemporary dance forms, with a particular emphasis on spirituality, social justice, and the human experience. Brown has been praised for his ability to create powerful, emotional narratives through movement that connect deeply with his audience.

One of Brown’s most notable works is “Grace,” which has been performed by his dance company, Evidence, A Dance Company, since its premiere in 1999. “Grace” explores themes of redemption, forgiveness, and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. The piece is set to music by Duke Ellington, Roy Davis Jr., and Fela Kuti and incorporates elements of African, modern, and ballet dance styles. The New York Times praised “Grace” as “a work of pure inspiration, a reminder of the boundless capacity of the human heart and soul.”

Brown’s choreography also frequently incorporates African dance elements and rhythms, paying homage to his roots and cultural heritage. In an interview with Dance Magazine, Brown stated, “I’m interested in seeing how these [African] aesthetics can still exist, not only in dance but in fashion or visual art. To me, that’s the future—no more compartmentalization.” Brown’s commitment to bringing together different cultural dance forms has made him a beloved figure in both the contemporary dance and African dance communities.

Ronald K. Brown’s work has been transformational in the contemporary dance world. Through his unique style, focus on spirituality and social justice themes, and incorporation of diverse dance forms, Brown has solidified his place as a groundbreaking contemporary dance innovator.

2.5 Asheley Bouder – Breaking the Stereotype for Black Female Ballet Dancers

Asheley Bouder is not only a renowned ballerina but also an inspiration for young girls who dream of a career in ballet. Breaking the stereotype of Black female ballet dancers, her remarkable performances and relentless dedication have made her an iconic figure in the world of ballet.

With her unique talents and outstanding technique, Asheley Bouder has performed leading roles in ballets such as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake. Her elegant movements and incredible expressions are awe-inspiring for both the audience and her fellow dancers.

As a Black ballerina, Asheley Bouder has faced many challenges and prejudices throughout her career. She had to overcome stereotypes that questioned her ability to perform classical ballet due to her race. Despite all the criticism and scrutiny, she remained committed to her passion and proved everyone wrong with her exceptional talent.

Her success in the predominantly white world of classical ballet has not only been inspirational for aspiring Black dancers but has also opened doors for more representation in the field. It is crucial to celebrate dancers like Asheley Bouder who have shattered the norms and set new standards for the next generation of dancers.

Additionally, Asheley Bouder’s achievements have helped raise awareness about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the world of ballet. Her contributions have been exemplary, promoting the idea that ballet is for everyone, irrespective of their race, ethnicity, or social background.

Asheley Bouder is a true legend in the world of ballet and an inspiring role model for young women around the world. She has proven that with hard work, dedication, and passion, anything is achievable. Her remarkable story is a testament to the fact that diversity and inclusion are essential for the growth and development of any field, including ballet.

2.6 Akram Khan – Unique Blend of Contemporary and Classical Dance

Akram Khan is a British-born choreographer and dancer of Bangladeshi descent. He is renowned for his unique blend of contemporary and classical dance styles. Khan has a strong background in Kathak, a traditional Indian dance form, and his work often incorporates elements of this style. He has also trained in contemporary dance and has collaborated with many other dancers and choreographers over the course of his career.

Khan’s performances have been praised for their emotional intensity and the way in which they explore complex themes such as identity, memory, and displacement. Many of his works draw on his own experiences as a British Asian and deal with issues of cultural identity and assimilation.

One of Khan’s most famous works is “Zero Degrees,” a collaboration with Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The piece explores questions of cultural identity and the human condition, incorporating elements of both contemporary and classical dance. Khan’s Kathak background is particularly evident in the footwork and intricate hand gestures he employs throughout the piece.

In addition to his work as a performer, Khan is also a respected choreographer and has created works for numerous companies around the world. He has received numerous awards for his contributions to the dance world, including an Olivier Award, a Bessie Award, and a New York Dance and Performance Award.

Khan’s unique blend of contemporary and classical dance styles has helped to showcase the beauty and complexity of traditional Indian dance forms while also pushing the boundaries of contemporary dance. His work serves as a testament to the power of dance to bridge cultural divides and explore the most profound questions of the human experience.

2.7 Shabba-Doo – Popping and Locking Pioneer

Shabba-Doo, also known as Adolfo Quiñones, was an American dancer, actor, and choreographer who gained global recognition for his contribution to the dance world. He is primarily known for being a pioneer of the street dance style known as “popping and locking”.

Popping and locking is a funk dance style that originated in California in the 1970s. It involves quickly contracting and releasing muscles to create a popping effect, combined with static poses, or ‘locks’. Shabba-Doo was one of the founding members of “The Original Lockers”, a dance group that was formed in the early 1970s, and which popularized this dance style.

Shabba-Doo’s dancing technique was unique and mesmerizing. He combined different dance styles such as popping and locking, tap dancing, and African dance elements to create his signature style. His innovative moves and fluid style set the benchmark for other dancers who followed in his footsteps.

Aside from his career as a dancer, Shabba-Doo was also involved in choreography and acting. He choreographed for several artists such as Lionel Ritchie and Madonna, and appeared in numerous films, including “Breakin’” and “Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo”.

Shabba-Doo’s contribution to the dance world paved the way for the rise of street dance styles in mainstream culture. He inspired and taught many upcoming dancers, and his legacy continues to influence dance culture to this day.

Fun Fact: Shabba-Doo was also a community activist who organized cultural African dance and events that celebrated diversity and promoted unity.

2.8 Fela Kuti – A Revolutionist with Dance

Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician, political activist, and dancer who is revered for his unique brand of Afrobeat music that blended traditional African music with jazz, funk, and highlife. However, he was not just a musician but also a revolutionist with dance. Fela used dance as a tool of protest against the Nigerian government and the society’s ills.

Fela’s Dance Style

Fela’s dance style was energetic, expressive, and unique. He would move his hips and arms in rhythm with his music, while his feet would stomp on the floor in a synchronized pattern. Fela’s dances were inspired by traditional African dance styles, but he incorporated his own modern twist, making them more contemporary and relevant to his audience.

Fela’s dance moves were not just for entertainment but were also a form of communication. He used dance to spread awareness about social and political issues affecting his country. Through his dance moves, he expressed his dissatisfaction with the Nigerian government’s corruption, social injustices, and oppression.

Fela’s dance was not just for the elite but also for the common people. He performed in local clubs and gatherings, where he would connect with his audience through dance. His dance moves were simple enough for anyone to follow, making him popular among the masses.

Fela’s Contribution to the Dance World

Fela Kuti’s contribution to the dance world was significant. He not only created a new dance style but also used it as a tool of protest against the injustices in his society. His dance style and music inspired a movement in Nigeria that was fueled by the desire for social and political change.

Fela’s dance style influenced the evolution of African dance. Today, many popular African dance styles, such as Afrobeat and Afrobeats, contain elements of Fela’s unique dance moves.

Fela Kuti was a revolutionary figure in the Nigerian music and dance scene. His contribution to the world of dance was significant, and his unique dance style and music continue to inspire generations of dancers and musicians worldwide.

2.9 Djimon Hounsou – Dancer Turned Hollywood Star

Djimon Hounsou – Dancer Turned Hollywood Star

Djimon Hounsou is a Beninese-American actor and model who started his career as a dancer in France. He moved to Paris at the age of 13 and was inspired by the street dancers he saw there. Hounsou found solace in dance, and it became his escape from the hardships of his early life.

Hounsou’s dance background had a profound influence on his career as an actor. He credits his early training in African dance for giving him exceptional body control, which has helped him in his many physically demanding roles.

After moving to the United States, Hounsou trained with renowned choreographer *Alvin Ailey*, whose groundbreaking work in African American dance helped redefine the art form. Hounsou went on to work as a model and appeared in music videos before transitioning to acting.

Hounsou has starred in numerous films and television shows, including “Blood Diamond” and “Amistad.” He’s a two-time Academy Award nominee for his supporting roles in “In America” and “Blood Diamond.” His on-screen success is a testament to the immense talent he cultivated through his early years as a dancer.

Hounsou’s rise to stardom is also a testament to the power of African dance and its impact on the world of performing arts. From his early training in African dance in France to his work with Alvin Ailey in the United States, Hounsou’s journey highlights the global reach of African dance and its significant influence on other art forms.

Through his work in Hollywood, Hounsou continues to push boundaries and break stereotypes about African dancers and performers. He has become a role model for aspiring artists who want to follow in his footsteps, showcasing how dance can open up opportunities for success and achievement.

The evolution of African dance has created a global community that celebrates the unique characteristics and cultural significance of the art form. Today, African dance continues to inspire and influence both traditional and modern dance styles across the world.

3. Conclusion

It is evident that African dance has played a significant role in the development of global dance forms. African dance is characterized by its diverse styles, musicality, and cultural importance. Through its evolution, African dance has inspired many dancers and choreographers across the world. The contributions of famous African dancers such as Pearl Primus, Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, Ronald K. Brown, Asheley Bouder, Akram Khan, Shabba-Doo, Fela Kuti, and Djimon Hounsou have been monumental in shaping the dance world. They have brought unique elements of African dance to various genres, such as contemporary, classical, ballet, and hip-hop, and have proven that Black dancers can excel in any dance form.

African dance is not just a physical movement but has deep-rooted cultural, social, and spiritual significance. The dance is an essential aspect of African culture and is performed at community events, social gatherings, and for spiritual purposes. African dance has been used as a means of healing, storytelling, and connecting with the divine.

African dance continues to evolve and spark creativity and inspiration in the dance world. Its elements, unique characteristics, and cultural importance continue to draw dancers and enthusiasts to its style. African dance has undoubtedly made its mark in the dance world and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Preguntas frecuentes

Question 1?

What is African dance?

Answer

African dance refers to the various dance styles found in different regions of Africa and its diaspora. Each dance style can be traced back to a particular ethnic group, and reflects aspects of their culture and traditions.

Question 2?

What are the characteristics of African dance?

Answer

African dance is characterized by polyrhythmic movements, dynamic shifts in tempo and rhythm, utilization of different parts of the body, and the use of improvisation in choreography.

Question 3?

What is the significance of African dance in history?

Answer

African dance has played an important role in the cultural, social, and religious practices of African societies throughout history. It also played a vital role in resisting colonialism, slavery, and oppression.

Question 4?

Who is the pioneer of African dance in America?

Answer

Pearl Primus is considered the pioneer of African dance in America.

Question 5?

Who is Alvin Ailey and what is his contribution to dance?

Answer

Alvin Ailey is a legendary dancer and choreographer who is also known as the “Father of Modern Black Dance in America”. His signature piece “Revelations” is a masterpiece that showcases the beauty and power of African American culture.

Question 6?

Who is Katherine Dunham and what is her dance style?

Answer

Katherine Dunham is a legendary dancer and choreographer who developed a new dance style that combined elements of African and Caribbean dance. Her dance style focused on portraying the struggle and triumph of the African American experience.

Question 7?

Who is Akram Khan and what is unique about his dance style?

Answer

Akram Khan is a contemporary dancer and choreographer who blends classical and contemporary dance styles. His unique style has won him critical acclaim and has been showcased in some of the most prestigious dance festivals around the world.

Question 8?

Who is Fela Kuti and how did he incorporate dance in his activism?

Answer

Fela Kuti was a revolutionary musician, activist, and dancer who used his music and dance to fight against the oppressive government in Nigeria. He fused African rhythms with jazz and funk to create a new genre of music known as Afrobeat.

Question 9?

Who is Asheley Bouder and what is her contribution to ballet?

Answer

Asheley Bouder is a trailblazing black female ballet dancer who has broken stereotypes and pushed boundaries in the ballet world. She has risen to become one of the most prominent dancers in the New York City Ballet Company.

Question 10?

Who is Djimon Hounsou and how did he transition from dance to Hollywood?

Answer

Djimon Hounsou is a dancer, model, and Hollywood actor who started his career as a dancer in Paris. He transitioned into acting and has starred in some of the biggest movies of our time, including “Gladiator”, “Blood Diamond”, and “Guardians of the Galaxy”.

Referencias

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