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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!

Behind the Scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s Museum Dance Off Video

Dancing in front of the Double Ditch mural

Museum staff Kiri Stone, museum intern Anna Killian, and museum docent Stephen Deutsch dance behind Lindsay and me during our museum dance off.

This is why we (occasionally) dance in museums.

Once upon a time, a blog was formed by a museum professional as an inside joke about things that happen in museums. The blog denoted the humor, joys, and frustrations of museum life, and became well-known to many individuals working and interested in museums. “When you work at a museum” continues to educate people in so many amusing ways that museums and their staff are not stodgy or static, but are vibrant and alive.

Through that blog, the official Museum Dance Off became a thing. It started with just a handful of videos of museum workers dancing. This year, we joined the 4th annual Museum Dance Off, along with 40 other museums from across the world (that’s right—this is an international competition)!

We didn’t make it out of the first round, but we still love our video. If you haven’t viewed it yet, you can take a peek on YouTube here.

We had so much fun making our submission that I thought the readers of our blog might enjoy a taste of the behind-the-scenes action that led to our beloved film.

Filming opening scene

Taken by Geoff Woodcox, this photo shows Jessica Rockeman (on the left) filming me for the opening scenes in about October.

The song chosen for our video was Stereo Hearts by Gym Class Hero and Adam Levine. New Media Specialist Jessica Rockeman, our mastermind behind most of the Dance Off video, felt strongly that we needed a song that we (especially she) wouldn’t get sick of. This one fit the bill.

Many of us who work here have long been hoping that we might take part in it. I love dancing in all of its forms, and combining that passion with the idea of showcasing our awesome museum is just too exciting. Once I heard that we were going to try to submit for this year, I peppered Jess with questions as to where we were in the process. When she told me the song title, I exclaimed, “I love that song! I know it really well!”

“Great. You’re hired,” she proclaimed.

There is a difference between knowing a song and performing it, though. Every clip was filmed multiple times, and sometimes it took a few takes until I had the right words.

“It’s always easy until the camera is on you,” Jess quipped.

We used this video to highlight the galleries and spaces available at our museum. Staff from all of our divisions joined in—in fact, Lindsay and I, the two “lead vocalists,” are both archives staff, and many others who participated or helped were from other divisions. It became a starting point for future endeavors of this type and more, the type of project that both promoted our place of work in many different ways and also showed what fun our jobs are. Claudia Berg, our agency director, even has a cameo in the video. How awesome to see leadership supporting a fun project that showcases our facility!

SHSND Director Claudia Berg pointing at camera

Our agency director, Claudia Berg, takes part.

Jess made sure that we all wore black and white throughout the film. The reason for this, she said, is that the camera loves black and white. Since I was in so many scenes, I picked out one black and white number (a very comfortable dress that was easy to pull on) and changed into it when we were shooting. I was very concerned about maintaining continuity, to the point that I kept worrying about whether my shoes (which sometimes were boots rather than the shoes you see at the opening of the song) would show on camera, or whether people would notice that I wasn’t wearing my Fitbit Alta on my wrist, or that I was wearing an additional ring during the filming. Jess laughed at this.

“No one will notice,” she said.

It’s true. You have to look really closely to notice many of the things I was concerned about—including that my hair grew probably 1-2 inches from the beginning of the filming to the end. After all, we started in about September, grabbing time whenever we could. All of the outdoor scenes were shot in the fall. We ended the filming a week or two before our deadline in March. Thank goodness we started early!

Wendi pushing Sarah on cart

Wendi is pushing me through their collections area.

Oh. There is so much I can say about this video. I literally shed blood and sweat for this project (dancing around in the atrium got pretty warm that afternoon, and I cut my hands up at least once during the filming process). Probably tears, too, from laughing so hard. But it was SO MUCH FUN. From Wendi suggesting that she would push me through a collections area in the bottom of a cart to Becky letting us use the mosasaur puppet she crafted for use with children’s programs, we really took this little film to a level we could be proud of.

We didn’t win this year. (Congratulations, Herman Otto Muzeum of Miskolc, Hungary, for your success in the Museum Dance Off 4: A New Hope! You can watch their video here.) But we did come away with a great experience and ideas for the next dance off.

We’re fun. We’ve got it.

Next year will be our year!

Posing in Archaeology collections with bones

Here, we are in Archaeology’s collections and work area, with Meagan Schoenfelder (right) and Brooke Morgan (left) making this scene amazing. They were so into this portion. It was hilarious and remains one of my favorite shots.

Developing Curricula about Japanese American Internment

A colleague at the ND Heritage Center recently recommended author Ross Coen’s Fu Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America, describing the relatively obscure World War II story of unmanned paper balloons flown from Japan to North America using only high-level atmospheric currents-- the jet stream-- as propellants. The ultimate goal of these balloon flights was to ignite forest fires across Western America and Canada that would create terror and divert potential military personnel to homeland firefighting.

Before hearing of this book, I knew nothing of this action. As I read it, I became more fascinated with little-known stories related to people of Japanese descent and their involvement (or not) in wartime activity.

Little did I know that this book would soon lead me to another little-known story of World War II, namely Japanese American internment. As I was finishing Fu Go a few months ago, I received a call from Dennis Neumann, public information director at United Tribes Technical College (UTTC). Dennis requested that I become involved in a project being organized by the National Japanese American Historical Society to develop a high school curriculum related to Japanese internment in America during World War II.

Guard Tower

00996-00002 Fort Lincoln Entrance Gate

The National Japanese American Historical Society was forming a team to investigate national resources including historic places, stories, images, and other archival material in the visioning process for “Untold Stories: The Department of Justice Internment Teacher Education Project.” Few people realize that many Japanese American people were interned at a camp in Bismarck, North Dakota, during the war. This camp, called Fort Lincoln Internment Camp, was located on land that is now the site of UTTC’s campus, and some of those internment camp buildings remain.

Fort Lincoln Entrance Gate

00996-00002 Fort Lincoln Entrance Gate

The team of invited scholars, educators, and cultural interpreters from across the country came together for three days of presentations and discussion about this interesting topic. Their team of curriculum developers helped us consider how high school students across the country would find this story relevant. We discussed historical trauma, cultural suppression, and even bullying as we explored ways this topic might support cultural healing and recovery using public discourse. At the team meeting, I shared some of our State Archives resources including photographs, newspaper articles, and a diary kept by an internee at the internment camp. You can read “Internment Diary of Toyojiro Suzuki” (translated into English) at history.nd.gov/textbook/unit6_3_intro.html.

I also shared details of how content, activities, and resources related to our North Dakota Studies eighth grade and fourth grade curriculums are delivered online.

The outcome of this project will be a high school curriculum that may be available online. There was discussion relating to developing opportunities for teachers across the country to participate in workshops, visit the sites of the internment camps, and view documentaries relating survivors’ stories and the impacts to their families.

UTTC is interested in recognizing that the impacts of government policies relating to Native Americans such as removal, relocation, and the formation of reservations have many parallels to those of Japanese Americans interned at the same physical site during WWII. It’s a fascinating beginning to a project worth exploring further.

Guest Blogger: Erik Holland

Erik HollandAs curator of education, Erik works with staff and volunteers to create, produce, and coordinate engaging experiences that help visitors make sense of North Dakota’s heritage. This history for everyone can take the form of public programs, museum and historic site visits, and classroom curricula.