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Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Personal Profile Story of stephenswodadancer

I got a wonderful opportunity to be interviewed by a Missouri University student a few weeks ago. He wanted to write a story on me and what I do! So with his permission I am posting the final story here for you all to read! We would both love to hear your feedback after you read it if you would like to give it :) So with out further ado here is my personal profile by Brice Sander...

With a stud in her tongue and dark locks belonging on a Woodstock rock star, you would never guess Stephens College senior Sarah spends her free time playing with dolls.
That’s because Sarah, 20, lives in two worlds: the real world and the viral world. By day, she is your average college student with a flair for music and dance. By night, she’s “stephenswodadancer” (a combination of her college and the acronym for her hometown dance studio, White Oak Dance Academy), YouTube’s guru on all things American Girl, the Mattel owned doll line.
Sarah, a Blue Springs, Mo. native, has become one of the modern era’s instant celebrities. Her YouTube channel is a haven for girls of all ages yearning for anything and everything American Girl, with 4,061 subscribers checking her page daily for updates.
“I didn’t think it would ever amount to something that I could make a living doing … but, now, I don’t know where it will take me,” Sarah said. “I just started it for fun.”

Sarah, a dance major at Stephens, joined YouTube in June 2007 to watch friends’ dance competition videos and check out other peoples’ choreography for inspiration. The idea of making American Girl doll themed videos never crossed her mind until she stumbled upon one girl’s YouTube page.
“I wound up finding [user] unodosginger’s American Girl videos and watched them for hours and I thought ‘This is so cool.’ I wound up talking to some girls on YouTube and thought that I could make videos of my own,” Sarah said.
On September 20, 2008, Sarah posted “My American Girl Dolls,” her first American Girl video, a minute and half clip showcasing her doll catalog, which at the time included only 10 dolls. Today, she owns 25.
Sarah’s collection grew over time, starting with one doll at age 10 with consequent additions for nearly every gift-giving occasion since then. Starting as just playthings, the dolls soon became a passion.
“The historical dolls have a story and I enjoyed reading their books when I was younger … the characters were good role models for girls and they still are,” Sarah said, explaining her love for the dolls.
After her “My American Girl Dolls” video was posted, girls flooded Sarah’s inbox with comments asking about her dolls and begging her to post a second video.
As interest grew in Sarah’s collection and her creativity in doll styling, she made the decision to create how-to videos on different hairstyles, American Girl crafts and care and maintenance of the dolls.
“I think the how-to videos are the thing people most enjoy … people were asking me how I did the dolls’ hair [in the first video] so I made a couple just to see and girls just wanted more,” Sarah said.
“Stephenswodadancer” has now become a branding opportunity for Sarah. YouTube has put her in contention for partnership, an agreement between the site and its users to get paid for videos through advertising support, and various people have approached her about creating professional American Girl doll DVD tutorials, Gipson said. Aside from her YouTube account, Sarah has launched a blog where her fans can get updates on her life and a “doll hospital,” a business where girls can send in their dolls for repairs and interact in online doll discussions.

Unveiling Secrets and Expanding
Until college, Sarah kept her doll collection a secret, only telling close friends and family.
“People in high school weren’t mature enough to realize that it’s not just for little kids,” Sarah said.
Once she got to Stephens, Sarah decided her hobby was nothing to be ashamed of, sharing her collection with friends like Becca Nelson, a fellow dance major at Stephens.
“At first I was taken aback, but at least it’s not Barbie dolls, that would be creepier … now I’m pretty fascinated. I think I even want my own doll for Christmas,” Nelson said.
Sarah’s video library has since evolved from simple how-to videos to full-length stop-motion movies and music videos. A longtime artist, Sarah saw the opportunity to take her creativity to the next level. Teaching herself how to use Windows Movie Maker, Sarah created 18 stop-motion videos and 101 how-to videos over the past year.
“They’re fun but frustrating. You work for three hours taking hundreds of pictures and then you put it together and have 10 seconds of material,” Sarah said. “But, in the end, it’s worth it.”
Her favorite stop-motion, a music video to Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back,” is the icebreaker Sarah uses to let new friends into the world of “stephenswodadancer.”
“She pulled out her laptop and showed us the ‘Baby Got Back’ video and it was pretty awesome. It’s impressive how long it takes her to make each of the stop-motion videos,” Nelson said.

Beyond Dolls: A Family Affair
Sarah’s father, Ted, is one of her biggest supporters, appearing in a sampling of her videos on how-to build recreations of American Girl’s line of doll furniture for a fraction of the average $120 price tag.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to recreate American Girl furnishings in the interest of saving money and helping out other girls and their fathers,” Ted said.
But, don’t think all Sarah does is play with dolls. Dancing has long captivated her life, Ted said. Sarah currently spends 20 hours a week dancing. As part of her degree plan, she’s in charge of her own musical numbers for an end of the year dance recital at Stephens College.
Sarah’s other passion is music. Professing herself a “hippie lover” in a number of her videos, Sarah has become an avid collector of classic rock, Broadway musical and Beatles’ albums. Sarah and her father frequent antique shops, where she has picked up a couple of her dolls and a variety of classic albums.
“We find treasures we would never have even thought of, like an original recording of ‘West Side Story’ … it’s a great bonding experience,” Ted said.

Embracing Stardom
The one thing still surprising Sarah about being “stephenswodadancer” is the title of role model – a title her father, Ted, dubs “cool” - that comes along with it.
“It’s really cool to see the response girls have to the videos … one girl made me a video where she wrote a paragraph long video description about how inspiring I was. I never thought I’d be a role model for anyone,” Sarah said.
Sarah’s YouTube inbox is flooded with hundreds of comments every day. Comments like “We all love you…you make the most amazing videos ever!” by user “DumbTwinsXOXO” and “You are my idol!” from “cinguhowa” are commonplace on her YouTube site. A set of sisters even created a fan page for her, an honor Sarah calls “flattering.”
Sarah will stop making videos one day, but she doesn’t see that day being in the near future. Sarah is constantly looking out for inspiration and motivation.
“The stories that I get everyday from a mom who will message me about how her daughter and her love watching my videos keeps me going,” Sarah said.
One such post, from user “cordieblythe,” reads as follows:
“Dear Sarah,
I am over 30 and have been collecting dolls all my life. My 8-year-old daughter and I love to watch your YouTube videos together. Abi especially likes the stop motion and role-playing videos. I enjoy the how-to’s and have learned a lot from you. We only wish you lived a little closer so you babysit her. Abi hopes to make a movie of her own using pictures like you do … Happy Halloween! Cathy & Abi in Kansas.”

What’s Next
While she’ll graduate with a degree in dance from Stephens, her original goal of becoming a dance teacher has been replaced by another aspiration.
“Working at the American Girl store at the Mall of America would be amazing … I’m really good with little girls so working there is right up my alley. That would be awesome,” Sarah said.

Sarah’s personal shopper dream job at the Mall of America’s American Girl store would finally unite her two worlds – her real life and her YouTube life – and bring her American Girl experience full circle.

-Brice Sander