History of Workout and Dancewear

Dancewear, Activewear and Wolrkout Wear Trends

How the Leotard Dress Code of the ’80s Set the Stage for Your Yoga Pants.

What we wear to work out (and hang out) has a surprisingly feminist backstory. History of Workout wear and Dancewear.

Over the past decade, women have gradually embraced living their lives sheathed in spandex. The shift from so-called “real clothes” to athleisure has long been a polarizing one, with critics lamenting both our collective dressing down and the fact that wardrobe staples like workout leggings hug the body so tightly we might as well be walking around naked. “We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex,” an opinion editor wrote in The New York Times in 2018, “But wouldn’t it be easier to do so in pants that don’t threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?” Ouch.

Given the tenor of that criticism, the story of how workout wear became street fashion is a surprisingly feminist one. It’s a story of women ditching their girdles and so-called “ladylike” attire in favor of comfort and freedom of movement, and it reveals a profound evolution not only in the way women move through their lives, but also in how we think about our own bodies. And it traces back to Gilda Marx, an ambitious aerobics instructor to the stars, who almost single-handedly launched the leotard dress code of the 1980s.

In the mid-1970s, while Jazzercise and small studios across America were bringing aerobic dancing to the masses, Gilda was teaching her own version of dance fitness to Hollywood’s elite at Body Design by Gilda, a penthouse studio in Los Angeles painted shades of peach and blue. (Think Body by Bunny from Apple TV’s Physical, but much more LA.)

Credit: Shutterstock

Gilda attracted A-listers from Bette Midler to Barbra Streisand, who paid homage to Gilda in the 1979 romantic comedy The Main Event with a campy workout scene shot at the studio. “There were some classes where it was almost like a meeting of the gods,” studio manager and instructor Ken Alan told me. “You know, the two biggest names in movies would be three feet from each other.” Gilda’s studio even launched the queen of fitness herself: Jane Fonda became hooked on its group classes in the late ’70s; by ’82 she had opened her own workout studio and released a mega-bestselling fitness book and home video.

But Gilda’s influence would extend far beyond the rich and famous when she embarked on a quest to transform the era’s universal exercise uniform. She wanted to build a better leotard.

As someone who spent most of her time in leotards (she was a professional dancer before taking up aerobics), Gilda appreciated how they moved. But it bugged her that, for anyone who wasn’t built like a prepubescent ballerina, leotards weren’t always flattering — or comfortable. The garment hadn’t changed all that much since its introduction by French acrobat Jules Léotard in the 19th century. By the 1930s, leotards dyed pink or black were dancers’ rehearsal outfit of choice. But the leotards of mid-century America were still made of natural fiber blends, which meant they rode up in places they should stay down and sagged in places they should stay up.

Gilda knew there had to be a better design, one that supported, flattered, and fit properly. “I wanted to create a beautiful garment that would inspire my students to want to exercise,” she wrote in her 1984 exercise book, Body by Gilda. One that was “flexible, functional and fantastically glamorous.” She would soon discover that the key lay in one of the DuPont chemical company’s newest synthetic fibers: Lycra. The company had spent decades developing Lycra in a quest to design a better girdle, but thanks to Gilda, its triumph would come not from restricting women’s bodies but setting them free.

Credit: Courtesy

In the 1940s, when DuPont launched its multimillion dollar effort to invent the perfect sturdy-but-stretchy fiber — or spandex, as engineers began to call it, which was an anagram of expands — it had one objective: to revolutionize and then dominate the girdle industry. That’s because, at the time, pretty much every woman over the age of 12 was wearing one.

“In the period when Dupont was casting around for new synthetic fiber opportunities, it was taken for granted that a woman should not appear in public, and hardly in private, unless she was wearing a girdle,” writes the anthropologist Kaori O’Connor, who in the early 21st century gained rare access to the company’s archives and in 2011 published Lycra, an investigation into the birth of the fiber. Girdles were a “hallmark of respectability” and a prerequisite for looking good in clothes.

But the experience of wearing a girdle was hellish. This was partly due to the fabric, which was made from a stiff rubber-covered thread that makes today’s Spanx — even more extreme waist trainers — seem forgiving by comparison.

When DuPont surveyed American women about their dream innovations, they consistently asked for more comfortable girdles, and the company saw the potential for massive earnings. Eventually, in the early 1960s, a DuPont chemist named Joe Shivers revealed a fiber that was lighter than rubberized thread but had much more restraining power. The company named it Lycra. Cut to: stretchy girdles aplenty.

At first Lycra girdles were a hit, and demand outran supply. Then, a curious thing happened. Despite the fact that the first massive wave of baby boomers were becoming teenagers — the age when most women began to purchase figure shapers — girdle sales started to fall. DuPont and the rest of corporate America had assumed that the young baby boomer women would shop and dress like their mothers. Instead, as the 1960s unfurled, they were faced with what legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland dubbed the “youthquake” — with miniskirts and Mary Quant and a full-on fashion rebellion.

Throughout the decade, DuPont poured resources into trying to keep women in girdles. They even launched an item called a “form-persuasive garment” aimed specifically at the teen market, in case it was the word girdle to which teens were averse. (It wasn’t. And adults felt the same.) Despite popular legend, few women in the late ’60s and early ’70s burned their bras, but most actually trashed their girdles. When the president of the undergarment giant Playtex called up his marketing firm in a panic to report that his own wife had thrown away her girdles, according to the 1997 book Rocking the Ages, the end seemed nigh.

“‘Getting rid of the girdle’ emerged as a significant cultural moment, in every sense a defining act of ’emancipation,'” writes O’Connor. “Its abandonment was political action on the personal level, an act of liberation through stuff.”

By 1975, girdle sales were half of what they had been a decade earlier. With American women now moving about happily unbound, warehouses filled with unwanted girdle fabric, rolls upon rolls dyed a rainbow of vibrant colors. Gradually, small professional dancewear manufacturers and seamstresses began to snatch it up to make garments that, they discovered, “hugged the body and moved with it in a way that had never been possible before.”

But it was Gilda Marx who would bring these new leotards to the masses.

Credit: Courtesy of Gilda Marx

Gilda teamed up with a manufacturer who until then had specialized in car seat upholstery; her home was converted into a leotard laboratory where she experimented with different Lycra blends until she landed on her holy grail.

In 1975, she introduced the Flexatard, a nylon-Lycra blend leotard with all the support of a girdle and none of the cultural baggage. Flexatards came in long-sleeved, cap-sleeve, and spaghetti strap versions. And they came in dark, chic colors (red and burgundy and navy) and later, yellow and peach and green and raspberry.

She opened a small boutique in her penthouse exercise studio and began selling Flexatards to students who served as a kind of instant focus group for her products. “One day I looked at the back of my class and saw Bette Midler with arms, legs, and everything flying,” she wrote in Body by Gilda. “She was having a wonderful time” — and wearing a Flexatard. “After the class a panting Divine Miss M bounced up to me and said, ‘I absolutely adored this workout and this leotard is great. It is the first leotard that was ever able to support my chest.’ To a leotard designer, that was the ultimate challenge and the ultimate compliment.”

Gilda incorporated as Flexatard, Inc., and before long, women in aerobics classes across the country would be wearing her garments. Dancewear giants Capezio and Danskin got in on the game, too, and began making their own colorful Lycra-blend attire for aerobic dancers. In Britain, a former model named Debbie Moore was building her own dance empire at the Pineapple Dance studio. She built on Gilda’s designs, working with DuPont to blend cotton with Lycra and release an even more comfortable line of leotards and dancewear. Her footless tights became predecessors to today’s leggings.

RELATED: Colorful Leggings Are Back — See How Celebrities Are Wearing Them Right Now

When anthropologist Kaori O’Connor interviewed women about their memories of slipping into Lycra leotards and leggings for the first time, they told her it felt exhilarating. The fabric bonded women exercisers, they said, by serving as a kind of collective aerobics uniform that “seemed to free the body and hold it, cover it and yet expose it.”

By the early ’80s, Lycra leotards and leggings would burst out of the studio and onto the street, as Gilda and other designers introduced tops, skirts, and shorts that allowed women to come and go from aerobics class without having to change. Dancewear also became popular among women who liked their fresh, edgy “fashion look.” (Think: Jennifer Beals in Flashdance and early Madonna.) In 1984 alone, American women purchased 21 million leotards. An aesthetic that still feels like textbook ’80s was born.

This represented a paradigm shift in the way women viewed their physicality. “Lycra became the second skin for a new life in which self-confidence would be rooted in women and their bodies, not in rules, dress codes, wearing clothes that were ‘appropriate’ for age or social status, and especially not in wearing girdles,” writes O’Connor. “What had been the ultimate fiber of control now became the defining fiber of freedom.”

Credit: Getty Images

In the years that followed, middle-and upper-class Americans’ wardrobes became increasingly dominated by activewear, as signaling that one cared about working out was as important as actually working out (a trend that lives on, especially in fashion). “Now all the world was a gym and our closets were fast becoming lockers,” wrote the journalist Blair Sabol in her 1986 book The Body of America. “In fact, jock couture was probably the first time American designers became an honest fashion force. We had the handle on sweat and lifestyle, while Europe continued to runway sleek and fantasy.”

By the 1990s, workout leotards and tights were increasingly replaced by Lycra sports bra tops and bike shorts, as girls whose moms had worn Gilda Marx’s Flexatards came of age and put their own spin on sweat couture. Buns of Steel frontwoman Tamilee Webb appeared in the iconic early ’90s home workout video series in a sports bra and bikini bottoms, all the better to show off her aspirational hard body; in the 1995 movie Clueless, Cher (Alicia Silverstone) goads Tai (Brittany Murphy) to sculpt her own body in Tamilee’s image while both women don bike short silhouettes. Princess Diana helped to make the bike short fashionable as everyday wear, often pairing graphic tees and sweatshirts with colorful Lycra bottoms.

As yoga exploded across America in the second half of that decade, it birthed yet another booming Lycra apparel industry (much to the dismay of yogis who taught their disciples to seek spiritual rather than material wealth). The supermodel yogi Christy Turlington launched her own line of proto-athleisure in the mid-’90s, and Lululemon was founded in 1998; its iconic fabric, luon, is a blend of nylon and Lycra. Madonna, once again, helped to take gym fashion from the studio to the street when she became a poster woman for yoga with her 1998 album Ray of Light, an homage to her practice. Yoga pants were here to stay.

Most recently, the pandemic has ushered in an era of unprecedented sartorial comfort, as women, confined to their homes, now swaddle themselves in whatever stretchy, forgiving fabrics bring them pleasure. Contemporary athleisure — or “athlivesure”as InStyle recently dubbed it — is less its own distinct look than an amalgam of the past few decades’s styles; we’re wearing sports bras and bodysuits and bike shorts and yoga pants in whatever way feels good. In something of a full-circle moment, today’s trending workout wear is also hewing back toward the look of corsetry. It’s important to note, though, that this is a result of a new form of sexy dressing kicked off by Bridgerton more than a prescriptive requirement to be cinched. (Kardashian-beloved waist trainers are somewhere between the two; they promise shape-related “results,” but they don’t hold nearly the cultural grip on women’s bodies as their forerunners did.)

The last few years have, after all, seen major workout wear brands, from Athleta to Lululemon, begin to feature models in a wider range of sizes, as our cultural understanding of what a “fit body” looks like is evolving and we are reconsidering our aversion to “dimples” and “rolls.” While truly size-inclusive workout wear is still limited — with a few shining exceptions — we appear to be inching closer to a place where all women can have access to the kind of physical liberation and pride that straight-sized women have been experiencing since Gilda led them away from girdles into leotards’ light in the 1970s. Now we just call yoga pants “flare leggings,” and we wear them wherever we want.

Some, still argue that Lycra clothing — especially of the compressing, control-top variety — is merely a girdle by a different name. But personally? I’d much rather slip into spandex designed to help me dance, run, sweat, and generally move with ease than a figure shaper meant to cinch my body into one socially acceptable form. Fashion that expands often allows women to do the same.

Danielle Friedman is the author of the new book Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, a cultural history of women’s fitness.

Article By Danielle Friedman: Originally Published on instyle.com , Jan 13, 2022 @ 1:45 pm.

Danielle Friedman is the author of the new book Let’s Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World, a cultural history of women’s fitness.

Other Related Dancewear Topics.

Livestream Dance Shows: How Online Watch Parties Work – and Their Perks

Fisrt Posted on by Alison Roberts-Tse in Dance Dispatches

With all of the wonderful streaming performances freely shared to lift our self-quarantined spirits, there is plenty of opportunities to watch dance, opera, musicals, and more with friends (and other fellow art lovers). And it’s not only the dance and performing arts companies that are showing work; many theaters and opera houses host Livestream dance performances on their Facebook and YouTube channels, too. These live streaming dance shows and digital watch parties don’t bring the same buzz as a live performance, but they have plenty of additional perks – and keep audiences and performers safe at home.

Check out our comprehensive list of digital dance home resources to see where you can find online dance performances, both streaming and on-demand

Is The Online Performance ‘Live Streaming’ – or ‘On Demand’?

Are you curious how are all of these theaters are streaming live performances – if theaters remain shut and everyone is supposed to be quarantined? Well, in many cases the theaters are ‘live streaming’ productions that have already been recorded.* However, they are still labeled as ‘live streaming videos’ because the organization has chosen to broadcast the performance at a specific time. Viewers can attend the online ‘live streaming’ premiere to watch the show as soon as it becomes available.

Note: In other cases, the performances really are staged live and broadcast immediately – but with online audiences, instead of live audiences.

After a dance video is livestreamed, it can also remain ‘on demand’. Depending on the publisher’s video settings, a performance may or may not be available to view after the livestream. Some shows will be accessible for 24 hours, a week or even longer. An ‘on demand’ video just means that you can watch it at your convenience, as long as the host continues to allow access.

Note: Not all ‘on-demand’ performances are uploaded with a live stream or live digital watch party; but it does seem to be a common trend.

Join a Digital Watch Party on Facebook or YouTube

Live streaming premieres are commonly advertised as ‘digital watch parties’ – either as Facebook watch parties or Youtube premieres. They encourage viewers to enjoy the show together, as a community. Dance watch parties allow groups of dance enthusiasts to watch the show at the same time and hold discussions in the live comments section (that functions like a chat room).

Facebook’s virtual watch parties are particularly social, as streams of ‘likes’ and other reactions travel up the screen when viewers react to the video. And the comments field is full of interesting observations from other viewers that may enhance your viewing. You may even glean some insight into the production from show organizers, who moderate the discussion.

There are also live streaming shows broadcast as YouTube watch parties. If you want to completely immerse yourself in the show, you can maximize the video screen, so you won’t see the discussion. Sometimes the event organizers will host post-show Q&A sessions with the dancers and/or choreographers after the show, which is a special treat.

Watching Online Dance Shows on Your TV

You can watch online dance shows on your laptop or tablet, but you may want to watch from your television, instead. To do this, you need a Smart TV, which connects with applications, such as YouTube – or you can stream live dance to your TV by using a device such as Google Chromecast. The Chromecast will allow you to pair your television with another digital device, and whatever you play on your cell phone, tablet or laptop will appear on your television screen.

Perks of Attending a Livestreamed Dance Show

Despite the availability of digital shows, many art lovers sorely miss the live theater experience. It’s understandable. But if you have grown weary of watching dance shows online, here are a few ways that online dance shows beat a night on the town. Thank goodness for these tiny silver linings!

The top 10 benefits of livestream dance performances are:

1. You Can Crash in Your Comfy Clothes.

Watching a digital dance show means you don’t have to stress about appearances, like you might at ritzier theaters. Since you’re skipping the ‘see and be seen’ part of the occasion, you can lounge around in whatever suits your fancy: sweat pants, onesies, slippers, the closet is your limit.

2. It’s Easier to Find a Date.

If you don’t have lots of ‘dance’ and ‘artsy’ friends, securing a show date can take some serious wheedling. It should be much easier to convince friends to hop on a digital dance date with you (since they can chill out in their pajamas, too). Selecting a free performance will also increase the likelihood of your friends’ attendance.

And even if it doesn’t work out, you needn’t be self-conscious of flying solo.

(Note: I fly solo to live shows all the time, but I know it makes some people feel anxious.)

3. You Can Save Some Cash.

Who doesn’t like to save money? When you tune in to an online dance show, you’ll spend much less than you would during a night on the town. There are many free shows, and renting or buying productions is much more affordable than purchasing live theater tickets. You also won’t spend money on transportation, a restaurant meal beforehand or cocktails afterwards. Cha-ching.

4. Boom, You’re There.

Once you open the web browser to the right page, you have already reached your destination. You don’t have to navigate any one-way streets or scan for a parking spot. You can skip cramming onto the trains and metro carriages with hundreds of other passengers. The short commute to attend a digital dance show is unbeatable, really.

5. The Bathroom Is All Yours.

Small bladdered theater-goers, rejoice! You do not have to line up for the bathroom before the show, during intermissions or after the shows. And since you can relish the privacy of your own bathroom – and you have your own kitchen space – you can stay as hydrated as you like, with whichever beverages you like. 

6. You Can ‘Chat’ During the Show.

If you are a chatter-bug, you can discuss the performance without disturbing other audience members when you’re all watching from home. You can either sound off in the comments section of a live streaming dance performance – or you can simultaneously call a friend to discuss the action as it unfolds.

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7. You May Gain Insight From Show Organizers and Dance Artists.

When you attend a live show, purchasing a show program will provide the best information about the choreographer, the choreography, the dancers and the larger production. In lieu of a show bill, the host organizations will occasionally appear at the virtual event to provide background into the live streaming dance piece. And after the curtain comes down, you might get to hear from the people who created or starred in the shows.

8. You’ll Have the Best Seat(s) In the House.

Shorties tuning into a live-streamed dance video do not need to worry about getting stuck behind a very tall audience member, who will block half of the stage from view with his or her head. Thanks to the camerawork, digital audience members will have a consistently clear view of the choreography. If you’re watching screen dance or dance made specifically for film, your views will be handpicked by the videographer (to focus on aspects like formations or the dancers’ facial expressions).

Additionally, when you watch an on-demand or streaming show online, you don’t even have to sit in a chair like a normal person. You can slump on the couch or sit on the floor and stretch.

9. You Can Eat All The Snacks – Even Smelly Ones.

Unobtrusive theater snacks are mostly limited to hard candies, since food and drink is typically banned in US theaters. (I was so surprised to see UK theaters sell ice cream… that you can eat in your seat!) But when you watch a dance show from home, you can chow down anything. Chomp on that crunchy apple or indulge in a curry. Your house, your food, your rules.

10. Peace-ing Out Early Is an Option.

Not every dance show is stellar. Sometimes you may wish you could just sneak out of the theater. Leaving a show before the curtains come down is easy, when all you have to do is shut off a computer screen. Thanks to digital dance shows, you can leave early – guilt free. And, since watching companies and dance genres you haven’t seen before is low risk via digital platforms, you can easily diversify your dance viewings.

At the moment, digital dance is all many of us have… So, viva virtual dance shows!

We’ve seen tons of digital dance shows this year, including École des Sables Dancing at Dusk, Ballet Trockadero ChopEniana, Ballet Hispánico Noche Unidos, and Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella at Royal Albert Hall. Which Livestream and on-demand dance performances have you watched? Let us know in the comments section!

Opening Your Own Dance Studio

Starting up your own dance studio might seem daunting, but Owning a studio is a commercial venture that requires capital, business savvy and almost obsessive attention to detail.

Here is a recently published article written by Dayna Farrington about a dance teacher who did just that.

Dance teacher achieves dream of opening her own dance studio

A young dance teacher is celebrating lockdown restrictions being finally lifted so that she can achieve her dream of opening her own studio in Wolverhampton.


Tracy King and Hayley Morris have opened Synergie Dance and Fitness Studios in Wolverhampton

Hayley Morris, 26, from Sedgley, has opened the Synergie Dance Training Academy in Commercial Road and her former teacher, Tracy King, has also moved her business, Tracy King’s School of Dance, previously based in Sedgley, into the building.

Already the two dance studios have more than 110 pupils on their books…

Hayley, a BA Honours dance graduate, said: “The opening was to have been in November but then lockdown hit and I am just delighted that we are now finally welcoming people to the two dance studios and other dance and fitness classes.

“It has been a life-long dream of mine to open a studio and then I finally stumbled on these premises and thought they would be ideal.

“I have opened the Academy to teach pupils for both examination and performance on stage.

“Tracy, my former dance teacher from when I was six-years-old, has moved her school into the building.

“She concentrates mainly on ballet, tap and modern dance while I deal with the more acrobatic.”

Hayley currently works as a part-time sales assistance with a company in Wolverhampton, but eventually hopes to become a full-time teacher as pupil numbers grow.

She said: “Tracy and I have sort of joined forces and we are both delighted to be finally working from the Academy.

“I am fully qualified through the National Association of Teachers in Dance and recently gained recognition from the International Dance Teachers Association in freestyle dance.

“I also had the privilege of taking part in the televised Olympic handover ceremony held in Birmingham two years ago.

“Through the opening of the Dance & Fitness Academy, I feel that I will be giving something back to the local community.”

Main article and photo By Dayna Farrington, Wolverhampton …. First Published: in the expressandstar.com, 20th April 2021

Pro Dancer News

Dincwear Dancewear Pro Dancer News Week Ending 7/02/21

The team at Dincwear Dancewear have captured all the latest dance news in this weeks “Pro Dancer News“.

Dincwear Strictly Pro Dancers

General Sightings

  • There was an advert in “The Dancing Times” that the Stuttgart Ballet is looking for 2 full-time teachers starting on the 13th September 2021. Applications have to be submitted by March the 15th.
  • Taira Foo was spotted filming “Sick” – a dance piece about one man’s struggle through depression.
  • Strictly star Janette Manrara was spotted on both the BBC1’s “Good Morning Show” and, later that day, the “Jeremy Vine Show“.
  • It was announced that James Wilson will be choreographing “Theatreland” for Curtis Productions, which will take place this April at the Trafford Centre in Manchester.
  • We spotted pro dancers Kate Thompson, Kelechi Nwanokwu & Gracie Gledhill performing on “The Masked Singer“. The choreography was by Beth Honan.

Future Dance News

  • Audition Alert – Phoenix Dance Company in Leeds are recruiting professional dancers with at least 2 years experience. The application deadline is Friday the 26th of February. For information: visit the Phoenix Dance Theatre website.

Online Dance Classes

  • MTS will hold its February Half Term Intensive Week from Wednesday the 17th – Friday the 19th of February. This will feature 3 days of workshops with professionals from the world of stage and screen. For information: contact Annie Guy on [email protected]
  • Devon Young is holding a Commercial Dance Class via Zoom on Saturday the 13th February from 5.00 – 6.30. The cost is £5. Contact Devon on [email protected]
  • Tring Park announced it’s Senior Intensive Ballet Weekend on the 20th & 21st of February from 9.45 – 1.35. The workshops are designed for students aged 13 -18 and the teachers are, Antony Dowson, Sarah Mcllroy, Daisy Hulbert & Clare Wilders. Contact Janet Devenish for further details.
  • Charlotte Tonkinson, the dancer with The Royal Ballet, has a half-term workshop on Saturday the 13th of February – a dance-based Pilates Ballet Class plus a Q&A about company life. This is designed for students aged10 -14 and costs £26.
  • AYAW Studios have an online masterclass with Brian Friedman on Monday the 15th of February at 7.00 for £20. For information, contact Craig Wharmby at AYAW Studios.
  • There is an open Jazz Class with Ryan-Lee Seager on Saturday the 27th of February from 10.30 – 12.00 for £7.
  • Bethany Kingsley-Garner, the Principle dancer with The Scottish Ballet, brings a half-term dance workshop learning the role of the ballerina in “The Nutcracker“. Designed for 9 – 13-year-olds, the course is on Friday the 19th of February from 4.30 – 5.30. Book online at, [email protected]

Film & Videos

  • Harrison Dowzell and Cameron Flynn of The New Adventures Dance Company have released a short dance film titled “Unskilled”.
  • Northern Ballet has launched a new digital Season Of Dance, including “What Used To, No Longer Is” – an original dance film by Olivier Award-winning Mthuthuzeli November. In addition, the company will premiere two more original films: “Northern Lights” and “Have Your Cake” by Kenneth Tindall.
  • We spotted Kieran Daly-Ward & Mukeni Nel in the new video of Priya Ragu’s: “Chicken Lemon Rice“.

That is it for this week and with the amazing roll-out of the vaccine, it does look like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This post has been shared by the Dincwear Dancewear Team.