Dorothy Lundstrum: Over a Century of Joy and Excellence
For generations, Lundstrum Performing Arts has been a haven of creativity and joy on the Northside. Using musical theater, the organization upholds a mission of inspiring dreams and seeing the dignity of all Minneapolis youth who cross its threshold. But nothing comes from nothing; Lundstrum Performing Arts’ roots trace back to 1927 and a determined young woman: Dorothy Lundstrum.
The Lundstrum School of Dancing, Charm and Fashion, as it was originally called, began when Dorothy, along with her sisters Lorraine and Marion, took over the Ascension School of Dance. For the next 70 years, Dorothy would teach dance classes to a wide range of ages from a variety of life paths.
Dorothy began dancing when she was eight years old. At age nine, she gave her first solo performance at the Minneapolis Women’s Club. From there, her career would take her to New York, California and Paris, as she studied under famous dancing masters in legendary theaters. Her own students included the Andrews Sisters, actress Arlene Dahl, and several Miss America contenders. Dorothy, however, always felt drawn back to the Northside and the young people who lived there. Teaching them would be the calling of her life.
While dancing was the focus of the school, Dorothy also worked with her students’ confidence and self-presentation. Charm and fashion weren’t just quaint, pretty words to Dorothy. You mattered, and you should dress and act like you did.
When Lundstrum’s Artistic Director Kerry Casserly Carter recalls Dorothy, she conjures up a figure of classic 1950’s grace and beauty. “Dorothy taught a tap dance to “Song of India”, played incredibly by her sister Marion. I loved the arm movements, the rhythm. It was memorizing,” Kerry remembers, “She had such solid taps in her silver shoes and wore beautiful dancewear. Her hair, makeup and perfume were perfect.”
“She has always held a special place in my heart because she provided a safe, caring—and fun—place."
-Former Dorothy Lundstrum student
But it was the spirit and mind inside each student that Dorothy always prized best. Lundstrum Performing Arts Executive Director Amy Casserly Ellis remembers at the end of each class, Dorothy would go over to her special pink closest and pull out a book. Her students would gather around the stool she taught from, and Dorothy would sit down and read to them. The books were always about the power of positivity and the importance of respecting one’s body. Dorothy wanted to engage and develop her students on every level.
One former student who studied with Dorothy in the 1960’s, remembers her as a spiritual mentor during difficult teen years. Dealing with low self-esteem and body issues, charm and dance classes with Dorothy gave this young woman space to become comfortable with herself in her own time through creativity and joy. She cherishes Dorothy recalling, “She has always held a special place in my heart because she provided a safe, caring—and fun—place during an otherwise troubled time in my life. She was a lady of grace.”
Graceful she was, even when her students could be a bit challenging. For Lundstrum Director of Dance Jane Casserly McMonagle, one teaching moment of Dorothy’s stands out in her mind. As a young dancer, Jane was feeling discouraged one day in class. When it came time to dance, Jane told Dorothy, “I can’t.” Dorothy turned to her in response, “There is no such word as can’t.” Dorothy was prepared to accept many things from her students, but giving up wasn’t one of them.
Over the decades, Dorothy’s loving impact rippled out through her students and community, even across generations. Jennifer Ray Bertheussen, a legacy student whose mother took classes with Dorothy, is thankful for the time she and her family spent under Dorothy’s guidance and glad Lundstrum is still going strong after all these years. “She made everyone feel as though they were a very unique gift that was extra special. She filled my soul for nearly 30 years. Being a part of Lundstrum Performing Arts makes me feel as though I am still with her,” Jennifer said, “How blessed I am to have experienced that which is Dorothy Lundstrum in my lifetime. The Casserly sisters are the epitome of Dorothy and all that she believed.”
"How blessed I am to have experienced that which is Dorothy Lundstrum in my lifetime."
-Jennifer Ray Bertheussen,
former Dorothy Student
Dorothy passed away in 1998. But like any soul as deeply loved as hers, she lingers in the hearts and lives of those who knew her. She lit a fire inside so many people in the community that its light still guides us here at Lundstrum today. Even those who never knew her are touched by the legacy of beauty and art she left for us to carry on.
February 28th, 2018 marks Dorothy’s 106th birthday. We hope you join us in celebrating and supporting Dorothy’s wonderful mission.
Happy Birthday, Dorothy! And take a bow, your marvelous work goes on.