Doll creator and ballet dancer Tiffany Koepke is a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin Tiffany began her ballet training at The Milwaukee Ballet. She received the Schlomer Lichner scholarship for most outstanding and promising dancer and at age fourteen, she was the first student to dance the lead role as Marie in the Milwaukee Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” As a student, Tiffany attended summer programs at both the Boston Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre. Tiffany also danced in Edinburgh, Scotland at the widely renowned Fringe Festival. She later moved to California and joined the San Diego Ballet Company. Throughout her career her notable roles have included Giselle, Cinderella, Swan Lake, Dewdrop and Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, and the title role in Snow White. Tiffany was featured in the award-winning film “The Making of The Nutcracker” a behind the scenes movie about The Ballet Studio’s annual staging of their Nutcracker production.
Mark Erickson is Tiffany’s business partner and a fellow ballet dancer. His time has been divided between dance and acting since arriving in California from British Columbia, Canada. Some of his dance credits include lead roles in Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and a finalist in the International Ballet Competition. He has taught Master Classes in Canada for the Canadian School of Ballet, for Lines Dance Company in San Francisco and at countless summer ballet programs throughout the United States. Some of Mark’s work in television and film include, a supporting role opposite Mel Gibson in The River, with Rod Steiger in American Gothic, a guest appearance on Amazing Stories, In Living Color, and he costarred in Star Trek-Deep Space Nine. After completing an eight-year run in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, in both the Los Angeles and San Francisco productions, Mark produced the award-winning documentary film, “The Making of a Nutcracker.
Recently, Tiffany discussed the company that she and Mark founded and her hopes about the future of the dolls.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in dancing and why did you focus on ballet?
Tiffany Koepke (TK): My mother had always loved ballet and took me to see my first performance at the age of three. I was in awe of the gorgeous costumes and the delicacy of movement. I was instantly intrigued and I took ballet class immediately after at The Milwaukee Ballet School. By the age of fourteen, I knew I wanted to be a professional ballerina. There was something about the music, the classical melody that touched my soul and I was meant to dance. It has been my life every day since.
MM: What drew you towards designing a doll line, especially one that helps children learn about ballet?
TK: Children love the fantasy aspect when playing. The creativity and exploration is what brings imagination to life. We wanted kids to truly be exposed to the ethereal world of ballet. There are many classical stories to be told of fairies and princesses. My Ballerina Dolls are engineer-jointed to pose in various correct, classical positions therefore a great learning tool. There is exploration and interpretation in playing with these unique dolls. Today kids are so consumed with video games, computers, and electronics therefore we wanted to bring the magic back to playtime. It’s the best of all worlds. Poseable. Playable. Educational!
MM: What is it about these dolls that makes them so special?
TK: These 21-inch dolls are extraordinary in detail. Silky, long hair and a twinkle in their eyes. We strive to bring quality and intricacy to the costuming. I design the tutus after real ballet tutus with tulle, sequins, and crystals. Our ballerina dolls are engineer jointed with 22 points of articulation which makes them unique in their flexibility. They can truly move like humans! In addition, there are fully illustrated story books depending on which ballet to bring the characters to life. It was important to us to introduce these traditional tales that many children were not yet exposed to.
MM: How did you get these toys produced and sold and what has people’s response been like so far?
TK: We found our manufacturer at an International Toy Fair in Hong Kong. They are a doll company overseas that happens to be a good match for us. We designed and established our dolls to our liking and the factory crafted to our needs. We have a great relationship with our clients, The Wooden Soldier and The Toy Shoppe Catalog. Both high end, specialty retailers. And, of course, off our website MyBallerinaDolls.com.The response has been overwhelmingly positive and exuberant. We have quickly become international with sales as well.
MM: You were on “The Toy Box,” so how did you get that opportunity and what was the experience like?
TK: Disney contacted us from the New York International Toy Fair to be on ABC’s brand-new show, “The Toybox”. The experience was exciting, terrifying, and rewarding all at the same time. First, we had to pitch our product to three mentors n the toy industry. We made it through that round with flying colors. Second, we had to get past four kid judges in hopes they would want to play with our dolls. We were pleased to win our episode and make it on the finale. It was an opportunity not many get and we learned and grew from the process.
MM: How many dolls to you have in the line now and which characters would you like to create in the future?
TK: We started with the Nutcracker series with the three lead characters, Nutcracker/ Prince Nicholas, Clara Marie, and Snow Queen. Presently, we are working to bring Swan Lake with the characters Odette (White swan) and Odile (black swan). Also, we are introducing these characters in a mini version. These dolls stand at 11.5 inches and have exact replication to our larges.
MM: You’re also working on a book and doll set, so can you tell us a bit about that?
TK: Each character from the various ballets will have their own story told from the perspective they experienced. After all, there are many sides to every story! Therefore, in the future we will have a whole series of books!
MM: How tough is it to create these very highly detailed dolls, and was one particularly challenging to design?
TK: Before production started we envisioned our dolls to be both ethereal and youthful. As a ballerina, attention to detail is not only important but critical. It was necessary to create something special. The Nutcracker doll was one of the more challenging of all so far. In the story, The Nutcracker transforms into Prince Nicholas. We needed to reveal this magic in real life. Therefore, we designed a helmet and had a mold made. It took many tries to get it right but we are happy with the outcome. I’m sure there will be challenges down the road but without adversity there would be less of a triumph!
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
TK: Our overall goals are to introduce all the classical ballets and character dolls from those stories to children everywhere. My dream is for kids to experience the world which ballet provides and a glimpse of what my life has given me throughout my career.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
TK: Just want to thank you for this opportunity to share a glimpse of our journey in the creation of My Ballerina Dolls. I hope this warms the hearts of many and that we continue to attract new fans and followers along the way!
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To learn more, visit the official website of “My Ballerina Dolls.” Also, all readers of the Kidskintha Blog are welcome to use discount code “Kins15” to receive a 15% discount along with free shipping on any of the three dolls Clara-Marie, Nutcracker-Prince Nicholas, and Snow Queen.
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Meagan J. Meehan is a published author, poet, cartoonist, and produced playwright. She pens columns for the Great South Bay Magazine, Blasting News, and Entertainment Vine. She is also a stop-motion animator and an award-winning abstract artist. Meagan holds a BA in English Literature and a MA in Communication. She is also an animal advocate and a fledging toy and game designer.
Meagan is a contributing editor to Kidskintha writing on Toys, Games, Entertainment, and other topics that are happy and fun!