Get a Massage with a Friend for Your Health

“It’s a calling, not just a living,” said Hollie Merchant, licensed massage therapist and owner of Blue Valley Massage in Sugar Grove, Ohio. “Giving massages is not something that is taught in school. It’s a gift either you have or you don’t have.”


Merchant opened her business as the sole owner and employee in 2001. Since then, it has grown to nine employees, all of whom are licensed massage therapists as required by the state of Ohio. The business provides an average of 300 massages per month (April is a slow month; September and October are the busiest). Sugar Grove is located in a popular section of southeastern Ohio called Hocking Hills.


John and I enjoyed our couple’s massage from Blue Valley Massage.

Hilly is indeed what the area is, with hairpin turns and more than 1,000 tourist cabins nestled throughout the county’s seven state parks. Because the area is large and sometimes confusing for visitors to navigate, Merchant decided to offer a special service to customers – the employees of Blue Valley Massage would drive to the location, set up their equipment and give the massages there.


“I’m the fourth generation in my family to live in Hocking Hills,” said Merchant. “I love it but know it can be challenging for newcomers to drive.  In addition, it’s not a good idea for most people to drive after a massage because they are so relaxed.”


Merchant says the benefits of massage therapy continue to unfold through research. “Science has proven that the body releases serotonin, which contributes to feelings of well-being during a massage,” she said. “A massage also increases red and white cell counts. A person can even lose weight from a massage because it speeds up metabolism. It’s rare to find something that feels good like a massage and is so good for you.”


After a horseback ride at the Smoke Rise Ranch, we were ready to relax our sore muscles with a massage.

Couple’s therapy is Blue Valley’s most popular type of massage. “Having a massage with a partner offers the rare opportunity for a married couple to spend an hour quietly enjoying something with each other,” said Merchant. “It’s not only romantic, but a massage is a healing and bonding experience on a level you don’t get often in our world.”


Merchant adds that 85 percent of the men who participate in couple’s therapy have never had a massage. “They are more comfortable having a massage beside their partner and in their own places, not necessarily a fancy salon,” she said. “There is no guilt factor from the wives for having a massage because their husbands feel that same wonderful glow.” Group massages with girlfriends or family members are also available.


Merchant employs one therapist who is an RN and another who is working on her RN degree. She advises nurses to schedule regular massages to enhance their care giving skills. “Nursing is a physical job and nurses often don’t take care of themselves,” she said. “If they would invest in themselves through regular massages, they could become even better caregivers.”


One unique group the Blue Valley massage therapists see is American soldiers home from the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We offer free massages to those military people who have arrived home within the last year,” said Merchant. “We do it to thank them for their service to our country.”


Besides the complimentary massages to soldiers, Merchant and her employees contribute free massages as prizes to benefit local charities. “It’s important for us to give back to our community,” she said. “We’re in a career that can easily do that because people want it. That’s part of why we love our jobs. It’s a peaceful work environment and people love to see us.”


For more information about Blue Valley Massage contact :


PO Box 271, Sugar Grove, OH 43155.

Business: 740-653-CALM (2256)

888.747.3223 (74PEACE)


How Peyton Manning has helped thousands of Americans

This excerpt about Peyton Manning is from my children’s book, Celebrities Giving Back (Mitchell Lane 2010)

My children's book entitled: Celebrities Giving Back (Mitchell Lane).


Peyton Manning

Whenever someone enters the children’s section of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, they think of Peyton Manning, former quarterback for the city’s football team, the Colts. They don’t think of him for his ability to throw a football or because he was Super Bowl XLI MVP. The people of St. Vincent know the name because on September 6, 2007, the children’s hospital was renamed in appreciation of Manning’s devotion to the children of Indianapolis and other cities across the nation. It was renamed Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.


Peyton Manning has helped thousands of children.

Manning has used his time, talents and funds to help children for years. In 1999, Manning established the Peyback Foundation to help disadvantaged children in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Indiana. The foundation provides assistance to organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs; area food banks; and summer, after-school, and youth athletic programs. By 2010, it had donated more than $3.6 million to those organizations.

In addition to financial assistance, each Christmas season, Manning takes over the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for the PeyBack Holiday Celebration. More than 1,000 children from 100 community agencies attend. The special event includes dinner, a visit from Santa, special Christmas gifts from Peyton, and the opportunity to visit the nationally renowned museum. The foundation also hosts Christmas parties in New Orleans and Knoxville, Tennessee. (His father, Archie Manning, was a quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.)

An opportunity to play in the arena for the New Orleans Saints when he was a high school football player was an experience Peyton Manning never forgot. He created the same experience for Indianapolis area athletes with the PeyBack Classic, launched in 2000.


Peyton Manning spends time off the field visiting children.

“I wanted Indianapolis high school teams to feel that same sense of pride I had when I ran onto that field with my teammates,” he said. “I also wanted a chance to pay back local high school athletic programs for providing such wonderful opportunities to these kids.”

Peyton’s Pals, another program of the Peyback Foundation, sponsors a series of monthly educational, cultural, and community service events for 20 middle school kids. Students learn about living a healthy lifestyle and how to deal with peer, family, and school pressures.

Peyton Manning’s generous spirit has touched more than students in Indianapolis. In 2005, he and his brother Eli, a player for the New York Giants, organized a plane full of relief supplies to be delivered to Katrina victims in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That year, Peyton Manning was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for his off-the-field community service.


Why has Peyton Manning given so much time and money to helping kids? “I had great parents, a great support system and a blessed childhood,” he said. “What can I do to help kids have some of those same opportunities? Provide them with some of the same types of support and give them opportunities to have memorable moments in their lives.”


Please contact me if you’d like a copy of this title autographed by me for your child. Contact me at

(delete the @’s at the beginning and end; they are there to prevent Spam).

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Tribute to Laurel Clark

A few days ago my church lost a good friend to an illness. Laurel Clark was in his late 80’s but a regular attender at church who always came with his wife, Laura. He was a dedicated Christian and an avid walker. Year-round he would trek the streets and sidewalks around our town. I wrote this story about Laurel Clark in 2007 as part of a Senior Living section for our local newspaper. We miss him, but I like the way our pastor put it, “Laurel is now walking on streets of gold.”


Unfortunately, I don’t a photo of Laurel.




Laurel Clark, 84, is a man on a mission. He allows little to stop him from his daily regimen of exercise of walking and anaerobic exercises. Laurel Clark  and his wife, Laura, go to Bluffton-Harrison Elementary School where they walk  the halls each day, along with several other adults and children. The school allows walkers to walk in their halls each week night from 4:00 – 8:00 pm. The Clarks take advantage of this warm environment to walk about one mile. Laura Clark is 87 years old.


Although he is grateful for the use of the school,  Laurel Clark prefers to walk outside and has done so much of this winter’s colder months. Only  when temperatures dip into the 40s does he  head inside.


When the weather is warmer, Laurel Clark walks five miles daily outside. Beginning at his home, he treks from his home on South Wayne Street to Main Street, then north toward the river. From there he  turns on to the River Greenway and goes as far as the  covered bridge. He then turns around, heads back to Wayne Street and arrives home. He complete all five miles in one hour and 15 minutes.



A case of arthritis in his leg has slowed Clark’s exercise regimen somewhat over the winter. Although he has received shots to help the pain and swelling in his knee and received advice from is doctor to slow down, Laurel refuses to quit. “I’m going to keep walking as long as this leg will allow it,” he says. 


Walking isn’t the only means Clark uses to stay in shape. When he rises each morning, he performs 60 back bends in which he stands and lean back as far as he can. This is for flexibility, he says. He also does 30 sit ups daily. “I’ve been doing them for 6 years,” he says. “The doc recommended I do them because they could keep me loose,” 


Laurel Clark started walking in 1977 when he retired as a truck driver. Due to a muscular deficiency condition with his left hand (his left hand won’t reach his mouth), Laurel could not serve overseas during the war. Instead, he began driving Army trucks during the Second World War.


He continued to do so in the years following. In 1960, when the Clarks lived in Wyandotte south of Detroit, Laurel Clark hauled Caddys from Detroit all over the country. Laura only saw him on Wednesdays and Sundays.


Laurel Clark admits he got little exercise during that time. “My doc at the time said I should start walking regularly after sitting in the truck all those years,” he says. “He put his finger near my face and said, ‘Now you’re going to start walking. And I don’t mean around the block.’”


Laurel Clark recalls seeing this same doctor years later. “He asked me if I was walking yet and I told him not much. Last year I only walked 2,578 miles.”


Clark chuckles as he remembers the doctor’s shocked expression. “He asked me to repeat that number and when I did, he looked impressed.”


In 1999 and 2001 he again walked over 2,000 miles annually. Clark walked such a high number of miles because at the time he and Laura lived in Evansville, which had two shopping malls. “They would let me go in to walk at 5:00 a.m. each morning and didn’t care how long I stayed,” he recalls.


Even with his reduced mobility and cooler weather, Laurel Clark figures he strides at least 700 miles a year.  He doesn’t carry a pedometer but measures distances with his car.


Laurel Clark started running two years ago until a fall slowed him down. He then broke some ribs, crushed a knee cap and hit his forehead. He was admitted to the hospital for a few days and recovered.


Laurel and Laura Clark, who have been married since 1944, have 3 daughters, 6 grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren. In 2001 they moved to Bluffton, seeking cooler weather and a Christian church. The Clarks attend First Church of Christ in Bluffton. 


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Judy Clausen- Value of Exercise

This story of a friend appeared in a new publication, Sr Lifestyle. It is a powerful of the effectiveness of regular exercise. Do you exercise regularly? What have been benefits to you of regular exercise?


Judy Clausen (middle) of Bluffton chats about news events, local community activities and the beauty of nature with walking pals, Joyce Burke (L) and Liz Moser leading her dog.





When Bluffton resident Judy Clausen began walking for her health 37 years ago, she had no idea how it would impact her life.


Clausen started walking regularly when she was pregnant for her first child. “A friend said if I walked routinely while carrying my baby, it would assist with a quick delivery. My friend was right.”


Clausen had avoided sports and exercise as a teenager. But seeing results of a safe delivery prompted her to keep up the walking regimen after her baby was born. At that time she and her family lived in Iowa where Clausen usually walked alone. “None of my friends were interested in walking regularly,” said Clausen. “It was a great way to relieve stress by getting out of the house each night and leaving the girls with their Dad.”


After Clausen and her family moved to Bluffton in 1994, she resumed the habit of walking year-round, usually trekking four miles per session. At age 50, she began to fully appreciate the benefits of the aerobic exercise. “I had never had high cholesterol or been overweight,” said Clausen. “Then I noticed people in my age group were battling these problems and I realized walk had been good for me all of those years.” The health habit continued for more than a decade as Clausen, usually accompanied by neighbors, walked at night around their housing addition.


Then in spring 2007 Clausen’s good health came to an abrupt halt when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. During a six-week stay in the hospital that included surgery to remove the cancer, doctors were successful but Clausen was pitifully weak and dangerously ill. Her health deteriorated to the point that three times she was declared brain dead. Thankfully, her family refused to end her life and prayed for Clausen’s recovery. After a lengthy, some would say miraculous, recovery, Clausen returned home in mid-summer. She was weak and weighing only 92 pounds, but alive. More importantly, she was determined to work her way back to the health she had enjoyed prior to the surgery.


While at a rehabilitation hospital in Fort Wayne, Clausen got out of bed for the first time in seven weeks of hospitalization. When she walked the length of the hall, she credited her lifelong love of walking for her stamina. “I know I was stronger than I would have been had I not walked all those years,” she said. “It felt really good to walk that day.”


At home Clausen continued walking, slowly, but steadily increasing her goals. At first she used her walker to reach the end of her driveway.  Then she challenged herself to stroll to the neighbor’s driveway. Gradually, she learned to walk sans assistance. After several weeks of increasing her distance in increments, Clausen finally managed to resume her previous level of endurance at four miles per evening. The pace is medium as Clausen, usually in the company of neighbors Liz Moser and Joyce Burke, completes the session in 75 minutes.


The walking might look the same, but the importance of the activity has been magnified to Clausen. “Walking puts everything in perspective for me,” she said. “It offers me daily freedom, health, and strength. My walking partners and I always talk about the beautiful trees and sky and sunset. That was not available to me when I was in the hospital all those weeks. I appreciate nature more because I walk and take time to see more things in my neighborhood.”


As for the physical benefits, Clausen adds that she believes walking has helped her keep her weight within a desirable range, avoid high blood pressure, and maintain general good health. “I’ve not had the flu or a cold in years,” she said. “When cold weather sets in, my walking friends and I dress for the weather and go outside for our usual distance. We think fresh cold air is good for us.”


Clausen believes having a walking buddy enhances the walking experience. “Walking with someone keeps each of us honest. If one of us is gone for a week, we know our walking friend is waiting for us to return and get back in the routine. At this point in my life walking daily is a huge pleasure. I will keep walking until I die.”


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Joe McFarren runs for clean water

This story that appeared in the Bluffton News-Banner is about a young man who is sacrificing my time, effort, energy for a group of people he does not know so they can have clean water. It is so inspiring. Please let me know what you think of it.


Joe McFarren running in 130 degree heat as a soldier in Iraq



Devotion to a cause can take many routes. One person may donate funds to show support. Another may volunteer time. Joe McFarren of Huntington, Indiana, plans to show his support for a critical Third World need in a dramatic, some would say staggering, way.


Starting June 24, McFarren, 30, will attempt to run from Bluffton to Holland, Michigan. A lifelong runner and athlete in cross-country and track in high school, McFarren will run the 200 mile route at an average of 60 miles the first three days and 20 miles the last. His purpose is for more than personal achievement and fun.


In 2010 McFarren attended the Christ in Youth Conference with members of the high school youth group at the First Church of Christ in Bluffton. McFarren is a sponsor with the church’s youth group.

At the conference McFarren and others heard a talk by Darren Wendell,  director of a Michigan-based Christian organization called Active Water.


“Volunteers with Active Water address the need for clean water in population-dense areas like Zambia, Africa,” said McFarren. “They reduce contaminated water and inadequate sanitation conditions by hiring local people to repair and build wells, thus empowering the people to help themselves.” According to the organization’s website (, people in Zambia walk up to six miles each day to obtain drinking water. Active Water assists people with a lack of clean water in the countries of Asia, as well.


As a senior human resources sergeant with the United States Army stationed at the Fort Wayne armory, McFarren has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon seeing the images and hearing the stories of Zambia, McFarren recalled his experiences living in arid conditions. “While deployed overseas, I not only ran in 130 degree weather, but saw  people who were willing to trade much for clean water, especially to help their families.”


The water problem in Zambia is exacerbated by the fact that much of the water that is available is unhealthy. “Water-borne illnesses kill more people than any other illness,” said McFarren. Poor water quality can increase the risk of such diarrheal diseases as cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and other water-borne infections. Water scarcity can lead to diseases such as trachoma (an eye infection that can lead to blindness), plague, and typhus. The average American uses 100 gallons of water for drinking and sanitation; the average Zambian uses five.


 “(Their lack of clean water) weighed heavily on my heart and I wanted to make a difference,” said McFarren.


McFarren has trained for the 200-mile trek for several months, including the completion of a 30-mile race in December 2010. He will use military leave time to participate in the run. His wife, Heather, is an Army Medical processing sergeant at the Marion armory. She is also a runner and  participated with Joe in the Indy 500 Mini-Marathon in May. The couple has two daughters — Sydney, 5 and Sarah, 1. Besides Joe’s immediate family, his parents, Rhonda and Gary McFarren, will meet him at various points of his trek northward. Students attending the 2011 Christ in Youth conference will run the last mile of the run with Joe, who also plans to attend the conference. “These kids are just awesome,” he said. “Their motivation and desire to be true workers in God’s Kingdom are a huge boost to me.”


McFarren is accepting donations for his run, all of which will be contributed to Active Water and is tax deductible. For more information call 765.702.4744 or contact McFarren at his email:


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Angela Witte, Mrs. Indiana, voted ‘Mrs. Congeniality’

Angela poses with her husband Zach and their two dogs.

Angela decorates Christmas ornaments with a child at Lutheran Children’s Hospital in Ft Wayne IN
Angela Witte- Mrs Indiana 2011

I first met Angela Witte as she was cleaning my teeth two years ago at our dentist’s office. She was professional and friendly and gentle. At that time Angela had won a number of beauty pageants and was still competing at ever higher levels. Since then, Angela has been crowned Mrs. Indiana and is currently serving that position through July 2011 when the new Mrs. Indiana will be crowned.

In April 2011 Angela competed in her first national pageant — the Mrs. America pageant which took place with 50 other married women at a resort in West Virginia. While she did not win that crown, she was voted ‘Mrs. Congeniality’ by her peers, an honor she has received many times in her pageantry career. I love this photo of her in her gray dress. A lovely girl with a lovely heart.

If you know Angela, please leave a comment of support and I’ll be sure to tell her about them.


Wells County may be a rural area but it has a prestigious claim to fame as the birthplace of the current Mrs. Indiana, Angela Micklitsch Witte.

Witte was born and raised in Wells County. After graduating from Norwell High School in 2004, she attended Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne as a student of the dental hygiene program. In 2006, Witte (who was still unmarried) entered the Miss Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne pageant. Witte did not win that competition, but discovered she loved the process of pageantry. Over the next few years she competed and placed in a number of pageants: Miss Wells County 2006 (first runner up); Miss Mideast Indiana 2006; Miss Fort Wayne 2007 (third runner up and Community Achievement Award); Miss Mideast Indiana 2007 (winner); Miss Indiana 2008 (voted Miss Congeniality, Jon Price Community Service Award, Miss Miracle Maker Award, Hoosier Leadership Memorial Scholarship); Salvation Army’s Fort Wayne Queen of Charities 2010 (winner, voted Miss Congeniality).

After marrying Norwell High School graduate Zach Witte in 2008, Angela was eligible to compete for Mrs. Indiana. In 2010 she entered for the first time. Although she did not receive the crown of Mrs. Indiana, she was voted Mrs. Congeniality.   

Witte was voted winner for congeniality in most of the pageants, a fact that thrilled her. “That honor means so much to me because making new friends and building relationships with my peers is an important part of pageantry,” she said.

On November 13, 2010, Witte competed again for Mrs. Indiana (2011) against eight competitors. This time she won. She also was awarded Mrs. Congeniality and the Physical Fitness Award.

On March 31, 2011, Witte and 50 other contestants from the nation (one from each state; Washington DC enters its own contestant) arrived at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia for the Mrs. America pageant. The competition runs April 2 through April 14 when Mrs. America 2011 will be crowned.

During the first week, the contestants are not judged but spend time getting to know each other and participating in volunteer activities with Habitat for Humanity and other charitable organizations. “Each day we’re doing something different,” said Angela in an email shortly after her arrival. “According to our itineraries, we’re expected to attend some events that require formal attire while others just need us to wear blue jeans,” she said.

On April 11, the contestants will begin the first day of competition with judged interviews. This area of competition in the Mrs. America pageant counts for 50 percent of the each contestant’s final score. Other areas to be judged will be Physical Fitness in Swimsuit (25%) and Evening Wear (25%). 

Preliminary competition will commence on April 12 with final judging to be announced on April 14. “No one knows until the last day who the top contestants will be,” said Witte in an interview a few weeks before leaving for the Mrs. America competition. The contestant voted Mrs. Congeniality by the other contestants will also be awarded on the final night. Winner of the Mrs. America pageant will then compete for Mrs. World later this year.

The Mrs. America event will be televised on My and Schedules are available on the Mrs. America website (

In the weeks leading up to her departure, Witte was feeling confident about her chances at being crowned the next Mrs. America, due to her Hoosier upbringing. “I am very proud of being a Hoosier,” she wrote in an email interview. “Being born and raised in Indiana has given me a strong direction of right and wrong, taught me the importance of community, and encouraged me to develop my faith in God with others. From a young age I was always encouraged to do my best and dream big. I am who I am today because of being raised in Indiana.”

She also found a welcoming omen upon her arrival which she described in an email: “The room I share with Mrs. Kentucky has big, fat, pink peony wallpaper — Indiana’s state flower!!

Competing for the national pageant is Witte’s last chance to win the title of Mrs. America. “Once a woman wins a state title, she is not allowed to compete again,” she said. “That allows other women the opportunity to win.”

Witte will remain Mrs. Indiana until July 30, 2011, when she will hand her crown to the next Mrs. Indiana at a pageant to be held in Westfield, Indiana.

Until then, Witte plans to continue promoting the Mrs. Indiana America pageant and focusing on community service. Besides working full-time at Dr. James Taylor and Sigler Associates in Bluffton, she will continue to volunteer throughout the state for charities. “If somebody needs my help in promoting a fundraiser, I will be glad to drive to their location and lend a hand,” she said.

Those wanting to contact Witte to schedule an appearance may do so at

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Jordan Steffen dances to a new level

Bluffton resident Jordan Steffen is quite the celebrity. As a ballroom dancer, he has been featured in two magazines, including the cover! I’m not a dancer but I think he could make me look good! Keep it up, Jordan! Those of you who know Jordan may feel free to leave encouraging messages for him here to read.

Dance partners Jessica Gallmyer and Jordan Steffen


Nearly everyone in the US is familiar with the TV show ‘Dancing with the Stars’. Well-known for more than a decade, the show pairs celebrities with professional dancers. Each couple competes against the others for judges’ points. The audience votes for their favorite couple and based on the combined total of points and votes, couples are eliminated, leaving one winning dance pair.

One Bluffton resident, Jordan Steffen, got a small taste of what it would be like to be on the show while   participating in a ballroom dancing event in summer 2010. Steffen was one of more than 100 Special Olympics dancers to compete in the Special Olympics Indiana Ballroom Championships held in Fort Wayne on July 31 and August 1 at the Grand Wayne Center. The event, the third of its kind to be held annually in Fort Wayne, was part of the USA Dance Competition. Dancers from Special Olympics and the USA Dance Competition took turns throughout the two-day event dancing for judges on the competition dance floor. Approximately 500 people from various counties in Indiana watched the dancers and cheered after each dance.

Steffen, wearing a black shirt and white tie, alternated between dances with two female partners, Sabrina Hart and Jessica Gallmyer. Each pair took first place, earning ribbons in recognition for their participation.

That was not all of Steffen’s recognition as a dancer. His status was elevated when the Fort Wayne event was featured in the September/October issue of American Dancer magazine and Steffen was photographed on the cover.

Jordan Steffen displays American Dancer magazine and Senior Life magazine. Both feature photos of him

Steffen, 26, was further acknowledged as a proficient dancer when he was photographed in a recent issue of Senior Life magazine at Renaissance Ballroom Dance Studio in Ossian. The article was a profile about Vivian Hans, President of USA Dance Fort Wayne Dancesport #2046. “Vivian asked Jordan to be featured in the magazine article about her,” said Marlise Steffen, Jordan’s mother.

Jordan Steffen began taking ballroom dancing lessons as part of a class for special needs students at Renaissance in 2008. During his first year of classes, Marlise was his partner. As the only mother and son combo, the pair competed in 2009 in the Special Olympics Indiana Ballroom Championships and earned a second place rating.  

Marlise Steffen praises Dave Cowdrey of Renaissance for his exceptional teaching ability of ballroom dancing to the class of special needs adults. “He was very positive in teaching them this activity which is great physical exercise and good for the memory,” she said.

Steffen with (l-r)Amy Isch, Bree Simonovic, and Tifany Jackson during Special Olympics Indiana Ballroom Championships

Others from Wells County who participate in the dance lessons at Renaissance with Jordan are Amy Isch, Tifany Jackson, and Bree Simonovic.

Steffen, who was a member of the JV show choir at Bluffton High School and managed the basketball team for five years, can dance the rumba, cha cha, foxtrot and waltz. “My favorite is the waltz,” he said. “I like the rhythm.”

One can guess his favorite TV show. “I never miss ‘Dancing with the stars’,” he confessed. He has taken a break from lessons since the summer competition. Soon he will be back to the Renaissance Studio for more lessons later this year. “It was a lot of fun and I love to dance,” he said.

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