Stoner—aka "the little girl from the Missy Elliott video"—was a fixture in many of Missy's immediate post-Y2K clips. There was a language to videos like "Work It" and "Gossip Folks," and a little dancing white girl was as much a part of that speech as the eye-popping visuals, the futuristic yet timeless production, and the abrupt double-feature shift to an entirely different track, à la "One Minute Man"/"Whatcha Gon' Do" and "Get Ur Freak On"/"Lick Shots."
"WTF (Where They From)" might not tease another song off of Missy's long-fabled seventh studio album, Block Party, but the Dave Meyers-directed video does have a little dancing white girl of its very own. The brunette pigtails are swapped for long blonde hair tucked under a snapback, the B-girl moves for some twitchy animation. But the dancer's combined eight seconds of screen time read pure "Alyson Stoner" to me.
So, was this girl's casting a deliberate throwback to Alyson Stoner?
Apparently not—at least that's what "WTF" creative director and longtime Missy choreographer Nadine "Hi-Hat" Ruffin told me.
"I wouldn't say that [this little girl's casting was an intentional reference to Alyson Stoner]," Nadine "Hi-Hat" Ruffin said in an email sent Friday. "It could have been a little boy, this girl is just talented. But everyone will think that it's a throwback to Alyson Stoner."
Then continue to think it's a throwback to Alyson Stoner I shall.
Through Hi-Hat, I learned that the dancer's name is Phoenix Lil'Mini.
There's a good chance you've seen her before: Along with appearances on So You Think You Can Dance and Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris, Phoenix showed up briefly in Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" and opened Greg Lauren's spring 2016 runway show at New York Fashion Week. There's also a Facebook video of her dancing to Nicki Minaj's Truffle Butter" that's garnered more than 14 million views.
"But I really don't even know what that means," Phoenix said of the track's title during a phone interview on Friday. Since Phoenix and her mom are probably reading this now, I'll let Urban Dictionary take it from here. (I'm sorry.)
Phoenix, aka Sarah, is 10 years old and from Sacramento, Calif. She's got other interests outside of dance: writing, art, soccer, basketball, skateboarding, "building robots out of trash," and civil rights activism ("I don't think it's fair when people are not treated equally"). But dancing, especially battling, is her "bread and butter."
Sarah and her mom told me that they're not entirely sure how she ended up getting cast in the video for the Pharrell Williams-produced track. But from what they've heard, Missy Elliott saw one of Sarah's videos online and asked a mutual connection, dancer Comfort Fedoke, to contact her. However it happened, Sarah said she feels "absolutely blessed" to have been able to dance in Missy's video, something that only a handful of other people can say that they've done.
"It's an insane honor to have been a part of such a special moment in music culture," Stoner told me in an email. "It will continue to be sacred to me."
Stoner, who's currently shooting a film called Mr. Invincible and prepping the release of an as-yet-untitled 2016 single, said that she loved Missy's new video from "the first shot."
"Missy's forever one-of-a-kind in style, integrity, and mind," she said. "I love the culture, the direction, and most of all, that she's back."
As for her spiritual successor, Stoner thought that Sarah/Phoenix Lil'Mini did a "perfect" job, saying that it's "time to pass the torch."
She also offered some words of wisdom as someone who was once in the young dancer's position some 13 years ago: "Live your love for dance and enjoy every minute, Sarah. We're rooting for you."
Bad at filling out bios seeks same.