For 80 years, the iconic Dorothy Lundstrum taught those things to hundreds of Northside youngsters. Co-founder (with her sisters Lorraine and Marion) of a school in Ascension Church’s clubhouse in the 1920s, Dorothy – who started work at age 15 – ran the enterprise almost up until her 1998 death.
She would likely be pleased to know that her dream, spirit and music library live on at the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts, 1617 2nd St. N. That’s where the five Casserly sisters – Amy, Kerry, Susan, Janie, and Laurie – daughters of Dorothy’s close friend, Lois Melcher Casserly, carry on Lundstrum’s work and mission. After her death, they bought her school. In 2008, they moved it to a new building on Second Street, bringing Lundstrum’s original wood dance studio floor with them.
This summer (as in previous summers), they’re continuing her tradition of teaching Northside and other youth, with two musical theater camps for kids, “Annie Jr.”, for ages 8-12, with performances July 16, 17, and 18; and “Bye Bye Birdie,” ages 12-19, with performances August 6 and 7. The “Cabaret and Musical Theater Performance Workshop” for adults will have an Aug. 19 performance.
Other summer youth offerings include two classes of “Sing and Dance,” for ages 3-5 and ages 5-8; “Act, Tap Sing,” for ages 8-12; and other classes in acting, hiphop, dance, drumming. Adults can learn ballet, Broadway dance, “Dorothy’s Tap” – with vintage music from Lundstrum’s music collection played live on piano – and tap dance.
The Lundstrum Center’s focus is Broadway musical theater, said Executive Director Amy Casserly Ellis; it offers music, voice, theater and dance classes for kids and adults. During the school year, classes start after school and run into the evening. Last year they taught 575 students.
They plan to soon kick off a capital campaign to upgrade their auditorium, which they jokingly refer to as a “Spanky and Our Gang” kind of space.
What’s the plan for a renovated auditorium space? “We think we might build a retro-1930s theater,” Ellis said. Dana Harrison, director of operations, added, “We’re still waiting for that big check to come in.”
Ellis said that the owners and board of directors agreed that they wanted to stay on the North Side. In the summer, she added, most of the students are from North Minneapolis, but during the school year, the North Side numbers have been waning. Last year about 60 percent came from North and 40 from other areas, but it will likely be closer to 50-50 next school year.
“What’s happened is the foreclosures. A lot of kids have had to leave our program because they’ve moved. We are the arts magnet school for Nellie Stone Johnson, Patchwork Quilt, Ascension and Hall schools. Many of the kids we lost went to Nellie Stone Johnson.”
Ellis said that the teachers and staff enjoy having a diverse student body. “They come from different ethnic groups, different economic groups, and they are making lifelong friendships here.”
The Lundstrum staff includes four full time people and three part-time employees, and about 12 professional teachers who work as independent contractors.
Ellis said their year includes an annual May gala. “We bring in Broadway talent. We have strong ties with many performers, and they work with our kids. The students also do public performances at the end of our 12-week semesters.”
All five of the sisters have lengthy performance resumes:
Amy performed with Michael Jackson at Lincoln Center and Gregory and Maurice Hines at the Perry Street Theater. She appeared in Oklahoma at the Ordway and in many regional theater shows.
Kerry has performed in five shows on Broadway: Pippin, A Chorus Line, Annie, My One and Only, and Annie Warbucks.
Susan is a Minnesota Opera Studio Artist who has experience in opera and operetta, nightclub, pop, folks and musical comedy; as a club singer, she traveled extensively in the U.S. and Canada.
Janie, a performer as well as professional model, appeared in the national tour of A Chorus Line and international tour of Music in the Mirror in Seoul, Korea. She performed in 42nd Street and A Chorus Line at the Chanhassen Dinner Theater, My Fair Lady and Merry Widow with the Minnesota Opera Company and Ordway Music Theater.
Laurie, an actress, model and dancer (and wife of former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman), has danced with the Minnesota Dance Theater, the Boston Ballet, the City Ballet, and Harkness Repertory Theater companies in New York.
Ellis (Amy) said all of them were Dorothy Lundstrum’s students. The Lundstrum Center, which is a non-profit organization with an 11-member board, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and she said they have tried to stay true to her original mission. “She was an amazing person, way ahead of her time. She took her students back and forth to New York. She knew Liberace and Donald O’Connor; O’Connor danced at her studio. She did so many things back then that are just starting to come into curriculums today: reflexology, beauty, diet, pilates. She taught blind students. Every time we think we’ve got something new, we find out that Dorothy already did it.”
For information on the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts, all 612-521-2600 or go to the website, www.lundstrumcenter.org.