Kerry Casserly-Carter Preserves a Broadway Legacy

Edina’s Kerry Casserly-Carter brings lights of Broadway to North Minneapolis.
Kerry Casserly-Carter returned to Edina, and North Minneapolis, to help preserve the legacy of childhood mentor Dorothy Lundstrum.

“I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” Kerry Casserly-Carter says. “After growing up in North Minneapolis and living in [New York’s] Hell’s Kitchen, [living in] Edina is so peaceful.” But North Minneapolis will always claim a large chunk of Casserly-Carter’s heart. The greatest expression of her commitment to the neighborhood is her role as the artistic director of the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts. Casserly-Carter and her four sisters, Janie, Susan, Amy and Laurie, inherited the school from their mother’s mentor, Dorothy Lundstrum, who had opened it as “The School of Dance, Charm and Fashion” in North Minneapolis in 1927. The bequest took them by surprise. “It was a destiny we didn’t think about or plan for,” executive director Amy recalls. “We took it very seriously when [Dorothy] died and named us in her will.” “It was a calling,” says Casserly-Carter, who spent years dancing on Broadway, working with big names like Bob Fosse, Tommy Tune, Michael Bennett and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Kerry and her sisters gave up successful careers in fields like Broadway theatre, dance and opera; all came back to North Minneapolis to preserve the legacy of their childhood mentor Lundstrum. They took over at its original studio at the Ascension School  in Minneapolis. In 2007 they moved into a large, airy former DHL truck garage on North Second Street. The facilities are evolving like a dream come true: two theaters, a dance studio, costume shop, laundry room, green room and a vintage music library. Elements like Dorothy Lundstrum’s original dance floor and piano contribute a deep sense of heart. The school is open to all ages and offers ballet, tap, jazz, acting and voice lessons, as well as incorporating knowledge on set design, costume and tech. Kids from all backgrounds are welcome; some need help as basic as food and shelter. “We never turn anyone away. This is a safe place for kids to come, study, be cared for and loved,” Casserly-Carter says. “We do everything we can do to keep things positive and family-friendly.” Most of the school’s enrollment is by word of mouth. “I encourage Edina high school students who are interested in theater to come here and see that there is a place to embrace passion while learning skills and technique.” “There is complete excitement behind their eyes when they finally get it,” ballet teacher Janie Casserly says. “It’s something that they didn’t have before.” Even if the kids don’t choose a career in theater, Lundstrum imparts key life skills like manners, grace and confidence. “We try to reach out to boys. Our boys’ crew is heavy on my heart, there is a real need for role models,” Casserly-Carter says. Casserly-Carter has 2 step-children , but often says she has 500 children at the center. There she also met her husband, Paul Carter, who was a student in her tap dancing class. “[Paul] has a real heart for the mission. He fell in love with it and then me, in that order!” Casserly-Carter recalls.  “Socially, culturally and academically, [Lundstrum is] bringing kids together from different races and backgrounds,” Paul Carter says. “Friendships are developed and forged at an early age; societal stereotypes are erased before they can take hold.” “Every once in a while I meet an amazing innate talent,” Casserly-Carter says. “I remember my time in New York when someone saw that in me, and it’s wonderful to give that back.” Casserly-Carter believes in “passing it on with passion” and often writes college recommendations for former students. The center has engendered countless success stories and enthusiastic testimonials. One former student, Ashley Akpaka, is now in the dance program at the University of Minnesota. “My goal is to be a professional dancer and performer,” she says. “I feel so blessed to have had the training and mentoring opportunities given to me by the Lundstrum teachers.” In the meantime, “Edina is peaceful and calming to me,” Casserly-Carter says. “North Minneapolis can be a challenge and I see a lot of heartbreak. But I also see a lot of heartwarming stories. I’m so grateful I have a haven where I can come home and take a deep breath.” Lundstrum’s annual fundraiser gala, which includes a revue of Broadway musical numbers performed by the students, is Saturday, May 18. Tickets are $100 per person, $1500 per table. The school stages full musicals every summer that are open to the public.