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Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota’s natural and cultural history. We encourage dialogue, questions, and comments!

Sarah Walker's blog

Behind the Scenes of Our Second Dance-Off Video!

Sarah and Lindsay dancing through Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today

It’s time for the international museum dance-off! Electronic Records Archivist Lindsay Schott and Reference Specialist Sarah Walker dance through the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Faithful readers of this blog may recall my post from last year, about our first entry into the Museum Dance off hosted annually by the blog "When You Work At A Museum."

Well—it’s back!

This, the fifth year, is a bittersweet year for the competition. It marks the “last dance”—a final hurrah for the author of the “When You Work at A Museum” blog to host the international dance-off she created. It is silly, yes, but that’s what makes it fun—and it has allowed museum communities to show off their talents, and how awesome their staff, patrons, and collections are.

Last year, we were pretty ramped up for our music video take on “Stereo Hearts,” by Gym Class Heroes and Adam Levine. Our entry is here, if you’ve forgotten it.

This year, our dance-off mastermind director, New Media Specialist Jessica Rockeman, decided to take a different tack—a one-take wonder (more or less). The idea was this—we’d basically dance our way from one end of the building through to the other. No cuts, or as few as possible, would occur.

Sarah and Lindsay at end of hallway waiting to dance

The beginning of the video, filled with drama and electricity. Actually, we decided on this opening pose just before we shot the scene.

Lindsay and I were once again ready and willing. A song, date, time, and place were picked. I set up some simple choreography for everyone to do together at the end. Other staff from our multiple divisions showed up to help us. And a movie was born.

Okay, it wasn’t quite as simple as that. But it did take less time, this time around.

Jess and I did several walk-throughs of the building, scouting out how we would move with the camera and each other. This was conducted sans camera, so any staff walking along saw Jess holding a phone and walking backwards, her head swiveling back and forth constantly, with me essentially skipping in front of her and stopping occasionally at different spots to dance around. Then Lindsay came with, and we repeated it all again. And again. And again.

Our goal was to cover as much ground as possible, and include as many people as we could. We started in the far end of our staff area and plotted to make our way up into the State Archives, through our three permanent galleries and ended in our grand and beautiful atrium. However, no matter what we tried, we ended up just flat-out running from one end to the other.

The following conversation is mostly true, but is slightly dramatized.

“Jess,” I gasped, “We can’t just run! We need to be able to dance!”

“Yes,” Lindsay wheezed, “we’re running the whole thing!”

“True,” Jess replied, panting. “And I’m running backwards. But we need to move from here to there. Shall we try again?”

Sarah and Lindsay ready to go through door

This was our cheat. This door actually opens up into more museum, but we cut and opened in the State Archives Division—we got to take a little breather, but not for long. We probably had a minute and a half rather than half a minute, this way!

So I’ll let you in on a secret. We cheated—just a little bit! We snipped some of the employee area, and we used one cut to skip some dead hallway. Technically, we walked through one door and appeared in a different section of the building than we should have. We raced through a few other areas, and we somehow made it in time to do the dance at the end in the atrium. Our one-take, no-cut video became a one-take, one-cut video. But this way, we were able to survive the song, still dance (it is a dance-off, after all), and achieve it mostly without running. (Please note, this video or blog does not endorse running in the galleries! We have strict no-running policies. But when you work at a historical society, and you are shooting a dance-off video with caution and alacrity, it may at times appear that you are slightly bending the rules. I guess we can just call it a perk of being in this specialized field.)

Sarah and Lindsay dancing through hallway with person dancing behind window

We hope everyone caught the staff cameos, especially in the first few scenes! Here is one of our museum preparators, Andrew Kerr, rocking out in the Paleo lab

Really, that was it. Lots of run-throughs and crossing of fingers for extra staff, and then the grand number that you can view on our YouTube page. It was all very different from last year’s, but it had its ups and downs. In fact, Lindsay and I felt there were several pros and cons with the video.

Sarah and Lindsay dancing through hallway with girl dancing behind window

More cameos - Archaeology Collections Assistants Meagan Schoenfelder and Brooke Morgan returned to add their flair in the Archaeology lab


  • We spent a lot less time filming this video and felt less pressure.
  • We enjoyed the making of a one-cut/one-take wonder!
  • We covered a lot of ground and showcased a lot of our workplace.
  • I love dancing in the atrium. We should have more reasons to do this on a regular basis.
  • We got to dance with a friendly dinosaur.
  • Actually, we had a good group of staff come along for the ride. Also, we had an awesome group number at the end.
  • We laughed. A lot.

Sarah and Lindsay dancing in hallway

The collision happened fairly early on, and only once—pretty good, considering how many times we had made this run by then!


  • The camera moved a bit more than we could help. You know, what with the running backwards and forwards, and all.
  • We wanted to post more staff in our employee staff area than we were able to do.
  • We did several practice rounds before shooting the actual one-take/one cut wonder, and many of us were out of steam by the end, with several choosing to enjoy cooling off in the sub-zero temps we had outside on that day.
  • Lindsay and I almost took each other out at the beginning of the video and were gasping by the end.

Sarah and Lindsay dancing down Corridor of History

We were almost done at the point this scene was shot! The finale was soon to follow.

It was fun to do this video again, and to try something different. We greatly enjoyed it! From the dancing dinosaur to the cameos of staff from beginning to end, we have a video we are pleased to share. Watch it in all of its glory, here and now!

We need your help to get out of the first round, this year! On Tuesday, May 1, at 7 a.m. CST, through Wednesday, May 2, at 6:59 a.m. CST, you can vote as many times as you want for our video. All you have to do is go to www.whenyouworkatamuseum.com and find our submission. The link will be shared again via our social media pages.

Share our video. Share our passion. Enjoy our work. And don’t forget to vote!

Group dancing, including a t. rex

We made it! Jess decided early on that we needed a dinosaur in the filmed footage, and paleontologist Becky Barnes kindly helped us out—you can see her in the midst of our group in this picture. Because, who wouldn’t want to dance with a dinosaur?

Group dancing, including a t. rex

This was our final group shot, where we did our moves together and then cut loose.

These Are A Few of My Favorite Things: Audiovisual History

Images from 00032

Images from 00032, a photo collection that correlates with oral histories in our manuscript collection 10157. The images in this collection encompass a broad view of North Dakota.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us have one (or several) favorite components of our job, or at least have favorite collections or objects that we work with. Patrons and visitors ask us this sort of question frequently, so most of us have probably put some thought into the question. For example, my fellow blogger and coworker Lindsay loves MSS 10190, the Will Family collection.

There are multiple collections and even specific items within them that I truly enjoy and use frequently. But sometimes you work with a collection enough that it becomes part of you. For me, this is MSS 10157, the North Dakota Oral History Project. I often call it “my” collection, though it was created in the 1970s as part of the bicentennial, before I was born. It is a collection that I have been working with for quite some time now, and I am continuously both impressed and proud of it, for all of the history it contains and the use and memories it provides.

You might wonder what makes this collection stand out from any of the growing number of oral history collections we maintain. We do have a few, and I’ll be honest with you—I feel a little bit of love for all of them. They are all fantastic collections, and each time I “discover” a new one, I get drawn into the stories I hear within.

However, whereas many of our other collections are more focused, MSS 10157 is to my mind more of an immense snapshot of what North Dakota was at the time of the interviews and earlier. It is our second-largest oral history interview collection, numbering around 1100 cassettes, typically containing interviews with one or two people to a tape. The scope of these interviews covers the lives of the participants—sometimes their genealogy, sometimes stories about particular contemporaries or events, sometimes just their story of settlement. We have an interview with Ole Abelseth, who was a survivor of the Titanic’s sinking. We have an interview with Harry Roberts at Dickinson, whose father served as foreman of the HT Ranch in the late 1800s. Judge William L. Gipp at Fort Yates discussed his grandfather William Zahn’s service with Custer, as well as his Sioux culture. Nellie Hanson, of Grafton, was a female homesteader and served as a county superintendent of schools for a number of years. We have multitudes of men and women talking about their social activities, their towns, their memories. They cover topics from war to basket socials, and they are fascinating. There are also thousands of photos included, donated by some of the interviewees, or taken of the interview subjects at that time. These images also document a great and vast history.

Ole Abelseth Interview

Harry Roberts Interview

William L. Gipp Interview

Nellie Hanson Interview

My main role in working with this collection has been to digitize files, and, as we have begun moving into a new database system, to work with the item-level descriptions of each file. My other role in this, because I work at the reference desk, is to provide copies to the public. This is also one of my favorite parts of oral histories. These files can be easily located in the index on our website by family members who have never heard of these people or their stories. They can also be found by family who remember the interview taking place. Either way, they are able to listen to them for the first time or once again, to hear the stories, and imagine what it was like to live in North Dakota in a far more difficult time.

There are many cool objects in our collections, and we all work with different items, so it’s good to ask…you might find that little tidbit you never knew existed.

Image 1: J. R. Eide and his bride (name unknown) appear outside the church just after their wedding. While the women in the photo appear fairly solemn, the men are prepared to provide music and fun for the wedding celebration. SHSND 00032-BE-02-00002
Image 2: Members of the Monango Juvenile Band pose for a group portrait while holding their instruments and wearing their band uniforms. SHSND 00032-DI-03-00007
Image 3: Gunder Rust's snowmobile near Alkabo, N.D. SHSND 00032-DV-13-00013
Image 4: Image of interviewee James Driver Sr. SHSND 0032-IR-04-00001