Kathryn Muhlstein and Nancy Carson
DescriptionFriends and colleagues Kathryn Muhlstein (37) and Nancy Carson (61) talk about dance, their children, and the organization Nancy co-founded, The Dance Cooperative.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Kathryn Muhlstein
- Nancy Carson
Recording LocationHarrelson Center
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00:03 My name is Kate muhlstein. I am 37 years old. Today is Monday. September 20th in Wilmington, North Carolina. And speaking with Nancy podrasky Carson and she is my friend and colleague.
00:17 And I miss you for Jesse Carson and I am 61, and today is Monday. September 20th, and we are in Wilmington, North Carolina. I'm interviewing. The beautiful Kate muhlstein, who is a friend and colleague.
00:35 So we know each other from the dance Cooperative which you are one of the founders of I came in several years later. But what was it like in the early days?
00:46 Little crazy. Actually, I was thinking about this on the drive over and thinking how different time is now from even twenty years ago, Erica Smith, and I really did all the research necessary to start the 501 c 3 and it's not anything like it is now or you can just sit in front of your computer and pull all this stuff up. We actually went to the library and sat for hours and hours, doing research. So it was pretty intense.
01:13 And it really started because there were six of us in the community who had nowhere to dance, you know, it was so hard being an adult. So, you know how this isn't in a world where the career, that path that we've chosen really is dependent on youth. You know, it really is. And so we are all in our thirties at the time.
01:33 And having trouble finding somewhere that would accept us as adults. We weren't dancing with kids who were 12 and 13. And so, our idea was to have a space that would be safe for everyone and would be inclusive and it would be the opportunity for people to come and dance and feel comfortable and happy. And that's really where the dance club would have started. Do it. A lot of intense work finding space which you know in Wilmington is just so hard to do. And again, we didn't want to be affiliated with anyone in particular. So we had to find someplace neutral for us to be a lot. It was a lot but it was an amazing journey and one that I'm so grateful for everyday.
02:10 What made y'all decide on a 501? C, 3 versus a for-profit business. We didn't, you know, is it's hard. We didn't want to be the studio. That people would come to an expect. This big end of the year, performance costumes and everything. We really wanted it to be an environment where people could come to, just specifically work on Technique. We wanted to have an opportunity to be able to scholarship students, who needed an opportunity to dance because sometimes it gets so expensive, you know, it's just so expensive for some parents. They just can't afford it. So this was a place where people could come and they would know that whether they could afford it or not. They would be able to come and take class and that was really, our incentive was to be open and inviting.
02:54 I have fully appreciated that over the course of the fifteen or so years that I have been dancing there. I moved here and I within two weeks with able to find the dance club operative, after a year-and-a-half is not dancing after getting my Bachelor's in Fine Arts at Sam, Houston State University and kind of just not knowing what to do with myself, not having the confidence to go audition for a big company is not you know feeling like I could step out and do my own thing. I know husband is who actually brought me in and found that it's too wet for me. So I don't want you to do something while you're looking for a job. Thank you. And so I came in and of course, Annie one of the other Founders walked right in and handed me a schedule. And said here, you're here for class come to all these classes and
03:47 It's been so nice because I've been able to volunteer time to make up for being able to take classes that I couldn't afford when I was making less money. And now as a full-time artist that's been definitely very helpful to to be accepted and know that I won't be turned away cuz I can't afford to be there. So it's interesting to me when you came to us. You were this young, you know, just out of college kind of sort of within a few years, single woman, you know, and so how does it feel now to be in the place that you are in life?
04:22 Oh, you mean married with an almost a year old and the board president of the dance. Cooperative life is definitely changed a lot. Wilmington has changed a lot dance. And Wilmington is changed a lot. I feel like it. Maybe it's just where I came from coming in and immediately finding you all at the dance Cooperative, but
04:47 And I feel like we, we were this just big Arts community and now I see more competitive dance, which is, you know, a lot of our friends that passed through with us and vice-versa. We all work together, it just a different environment.
05:03 But you know, I had difficulty getting pregnant and then had a difficult pregnancy. So it was really hard for me to be super involved in the coop and then have to step out and watch everything from the sidelines and be able to find the dance opportunities. I mean, I remember being 37 weeks pregnant at the Wilson Center is grand opening and choreographing something cuz I couldn't physically dance myself and going to do sit roll, and not being able to get from one side of my body to the other and just be like, I'll be fine. It's crazy how we go through these mementos life events, but I love the fact that we are such a strong community and and we have so many really wonderful relationships within the dance part of that, no matter what you're going through.
05:55 Don't, you always feel like there's a space for you? No matter what. Oh, absolutely. I think that's the best part of what we do. Cuz I know, you know, I've been injured, I'm old and, and I'm dancing and its really, pretty incredible. So, even even at this age and then just didn't know that there's a place that we can be supported and nurtured and encouraged. I think that's really what we what we've tried to do when we've done it. Well, that is definitely one of my absolute favorite things. You know, I meet people all over town and all over the place and people are like, what what are you doing? I said, oh, well, you know, I work with an operative and we do all these things and I always hear
06:36 I always wanted to take dance lessons and we I always say Come dance with us. We have a place for every age and ability. We don't turn anyone away and you will be 100%, welcome to do whatever level you want to get to. And I just think that's amazing. And it is just so welcome in which a lot of times Danskin, feel exclusive because it has for so long been so competitive. Not in the competition dance type of way. But in the way of, there's only so many jobs. Do you know that you're talking about that? Because one of the things that I found when I was growing up in the dance world or, you know, my college experience and, and actually, looking for a career was when I was dancing.
07:26 You were in one place. You are a. You are a ballet dancer or you were a modern dancer. You were a musical theater and you had to specialized. There was not a lot of crossover and I really think that it's, so it's amazing. Now, that dancers have to be trained in so many different areas of dance, but it's also crazy how hard it is to be a professional dancer in this world. You have to have a belly background. You have to have a modern back on, you have to know some contemporary some hip-hop, you know, it's just crazy how intense the training is now, but the other side of that is that it's really, really beautiful. I mean, if you watch TV and you watch dancers, are you watch dancers in a company?
08:06 I'm so grateful that were out of this.
08:09 5 ft 800 lb, you know, and everyone looking exactly the same as it's so beautiful to see. So many bodies and shapes and colors and, you know, background just on stage dancing. I for one am absolutely thankful for that. I
08:27 Became happy as it were and not in The Wheel of Time. And you know, when I was in college, I was at 120 lb of the big girl, which is insane. And so they didn't know what to do with me. They're like, well, you're strong. You can get cast in the man's role which has been super helpful as a choreographer because I understand how both sets of bodies move.
08:58 And I have just gotten a lot of strength, both physically, and in my knowledge about Dance by being able to experience both sides of it. Yeah.
09:14 Yeah, it's it's so beautiful to see all body types, all abilities, and to see dance like, on text talk and like, everybody is trying it now and have TV shows all over the place, you know, about dad. Still beautiful, amazing, beautiful. In college. When I was, when I declare my major, you know, I went to college of the gymnast. I was a competitive gymnast. I had planned on competing in college, but because of the back injury I was out and I was in bed for three months, but as I started to recuperate, I took a G Class because people were telling me how important it was for your core and your Center and you could really, you know, build your strength which I did. And I absolutely fell in love, but I had a gymnast body, you know, I was muscular and I could list and my legs were big and I was told from the moment that I walked into that studio, that the only thing I would ever be able to and I had a chance to know I had hips. I was I was not here straight up and down dancer. I was told from the day. I walked into the studio that my professional field would be dancing in Vegas.
10:14 And I better get used to holding 800-pound headdress on my head, cuz that was the only thing I was ever going to do. And, you know, it's really hard coming from that where you're never spend enough for tall enough for it to have the right hair color, that stuff still resonates in your head, you know, even at this age when I go to class, it's like, oh, I'm not good enough and I don't look like this and I don't look like that. So it's really amazing for me to have been through that and now to see how accepting we are in, and I am grateful for that everyday. I don't want anybody else to hear those voices in their head.
10:47 Yeah, yeah, I definitely even now everything that we've gone through.
10:56 Have been just dealing with the voice in the head, you know, like I'm not the shape, but I was ten years ago even about the shape that I was before. I had Penelope and
11:10 I have such a greater appreciation for my body for what it has done and yet the dance or voice inside of you. Okay? Well, it's not doing what it wanted to do or you're never going to be able to do that again and you're not, but that's okay. Maybe I will, I don't know. I just, you know, yeah. Beautiful thing about the human body in the brain. It will always adjust, you know, is a lie. Just and maybe don't do it the same way, but maybe, you know, I find now in my, in my, The Waiting part of my career, but the bottom of my queen of the ending of my career, let's put it that way. I'm going into this place where, who knows how long I'll be able to do this, you know, and we'll see what happens, but I've learned to not rely on the technique as much and more on the performance quality and I think that you just you just learned you have to adjust and you can't beat yourself up.
12:10 But the things that you can't do anymore.
12:18 I was just reading on one of my professors in a cuz we're all connected on Facebook. Now posted this quote, by Mikhail Baryshnikov about, you know, not being so bogged. Down course. I'm Loosely translating. What? This was not being so bogged down in the technique because it's about the performance and the Artistry. And that's something that I think.
12:45 Is so noticeable. In an older dancer is that they know their bodies so much better. That their leg might not be as high there. Leap might not be as far across the floor as it once was, but you can't take your eyes off of him and try to answer because they just know their body will. He's a perfect example of that. I mean, holy cow. He was like 72 or something like that. I know and I can't take my eyes off of him. He's gorgeous. Nobody's ever been able to visit very true. But just, you know, they're probably comes with maturity and how you move and and the direction you take your body and how you think it's really that it comes into play. So it's not know what I have to do this absolutely correctly. And oh man, I didn't get my leg high enough for turned out enough and it didn't you go away from that? And I think there's a beauty in them.
13:43 Sounds interesting to watch dancers go through life. Yeah.
13:49 You touched on it briefly, but I've always been really curious about your Dance Experience when you came into the the G world. I would like to hear more about that. I'm telling you to save my life. It really did. And, you know, back then I had this severe back injury and it was never, because back that you have to remember, this was this was in the 70s, you know, and women we're just getting to a point where they were being accepted as athletes or dancers or whatever. So I went to a doctor and he told him, I told him I was having all of these back issues and he told me to bend over and, you know, but just bend over and of course cuz it was coming from my pelvis and not from my back. I've been down and put practically my elbows on the floor, but I had to physically pull myself back up and he said, if you can do that, there's nothing wrong with you. It's all in your head and he sent me home.
14:41 Told that was, that was what it was like, you know, so I really rolled out of bed every day and pulled myself up and got myself to class after I could. And just the whole thing about Graham. There's something about it. That's so powerful and strong and really, really intense. And I love that cuz coming from being in the gym, everyday for 6 hours, you know, and then going to nothing for a little while. And then feeling that sense of space in the, in the studio was really, it was like life-altering for me, just life-altering and the community itself really help me out, that always brings me in, you know, if there's a sense of community and people love each other and care about each other. That's what draws me in kind of like, turning the wheel that we're doing now. And I watched you in that space in the turning, the wheel space where again, everyone is accepted and everyone is, you know, working to whatever capacity they can and just seeing you.
15:41 In that and with your daughter amazing, you know, it's that Community that's so important as what we're striving for. Yeah, that's interesting. Mentioning bringing Penelope into it. You know, I wasn't given a choice, whether I was going to be a dancer or not. My mother wanted to be a dancer and she was not allowed to take class until she was fifteen. She is the oldest of five children and money was tight and that was not an option. And by the time she was fifteen. She was too old as it was told to her, which that's what I know is not true. One of my, another one of my professors Was Eighteen when she started and she is phenomenal.
16:27 You know, I know it's because she's grown up in and around the studio. I mean, I came back to dance 10 weeks after having her to go back into rehearsals and stuff. So maybe she's been around the dance and
16:46 I didn't want to push her into that. I wanted to give her the opportunity to choose what she wants to do. And yes, she definitely wants to go musical, theater Route, which all four, it's something. I wish I had that eight more. I have zero musical understanding, but I mean, we just did national dance day on Saturday, and it was so fun. But, you know, like she didn't know whether or not she was going to be jumping in, and I was like, you know, you might come in and dance with us, you might not. And then for us to throw at her, this just really loose structured improv. And at almost 6 years old to
17:28 Just going so Gravely or less you have raised a Fearless young man for her to understand what she could. I mean,
17:40 Make Movement by something you smell is, is a very like odd concept to understand to begin with. And then she made of it, what she could make. I'm constantly just mine blown. It's about what she does, what she comes up with.
18:02 You know, that's that's one of the joys and one of the beauties of being a mother because you give them the tools, my daughter. You know, she, she has danced in an in and out throughout and she's 30. 31. Now, you know, I've exposed my son is 29, no, do that for her. There was a desire to do it, but you never wanted to do the same thing that I was doing. You know what I mean? So, she got in the swimming and gymnastics and not, you know, soccer and all of those other things and Zack fell in love with the Arts, and he's a musician. So, poor thing, we all struggle after a lawyer or something, but it's my fault and your child has embraced the whole thing about the Arts and I think it's amazing and beautiful. And and she may not, you know, continue in that vein, but it's giving her the sense of self. And you could see that when she moves she is.
19:02 Confident and aware of people and her surroundings and just this idea that she can be as creative as she wants to and I think and in education we've lost so much of that creativity is all about testing and you know, sitting in your seat for hours and all of that. And we forget that these are kids that need to move. Yeah, that's one of the things I love about turning the wheel as we try to educate Educators about how the importance of movement you said poor thing about Zack being an artist when I went to college and I said, you know what, I'm paying for this myself. I'm going to get what degree I want to get and I'm going to be a dancer and my dad told me what what other degree are you going to get in my response to him? Spunky seventeen-year-old? That I was like, well, when you pay for it, I'll get whatever degree you want me to guess.
19:54 I have zero qualms about Penelope or fears, even about her being an artist, just saying that it doesn't mean you're going to be poor. It doesn't go for a while until you find yourself, you know, but we are strong and resilient and I think knowing that you can do whatever you whatever you have to do. I mean, even at my age right now, I work a second job because what I do doesn't support, you know, my lifestyle store support, what I what I need, you know, it's not like I have this big lifestyle and all of those things, but, you know, I think that's one of the things that we we are. So
20:35 So focused on creating that we're going to find a way to make it happen. And I think all creative people will do that too. And it just do that after I think it really makes you stronger. Yeah, and I just I think about the fact that my parents always told me that I was going to be struggling the whole time and it kind of manifested itself. And
20:56 I thought that I needed to have another job.
20:59 And I did that, and I was in banking for almost 10 years and not happy, but it had to do with the pathway that I chose to go through and being preyed upon by, you know, being a young kid, trying to just be happy and
21:25 Since having Penelope and seeing all of the
21:30 Opportunities that she has in front of her because she's just this new human being. I was given. This opportunity is like, I'm going to be a mom. I'm going to take this first year to figure out what I really want to do, and I didn't really figure out what I wanted to do with my life until I was 35. Yes. Sometimes it happens and I am now a full-time artist. I'm not making a ton of money, but it's because I'm choosing to have you, no free time to actually enjoy my family, right? And you know, it'll come it will. We're building it. I'm learning how to bring the money and so, and arts. Doesn't have to be. I know what they'll have to be destitute. It doesn't have to be starving, doesn't. Yeah, so, you know, I teach at UNCW and I've been there for 23 years now and it has been an absolute joy for me, you know, I don't get paid.
22:30 The whole lot to do it. I'm part-time there. No benefits, but it doesn't matter because I'm doing something I get. I tell people everyday, I get up everyday and I go to work, like, it's a new exciting Adventure every day. You know, how many people can say that? How many people can say that they absolutely love what they do when they're doing it? Because they loved it, not because of the money.
22:50 So, you know, there's a definite trade-off there. I wouldn't change it for the world. Not for the world. It's been. It's been amazing.
22:59 Absolutely, I started.
23:04 Ate my professional dance life at 14 teaching little bittys. And after going to college is like I'm only going to work with adults and now I find myself almost strictly working with the edges, but I think I never wanted to work with kids either. But once I had kids and I saw the struggles that they go through, you know, like I never had exposure to little kids ever until I had picked up this baby in my arms, but you watch them. You watch them grow and you realize how difficult the struggle is for them. And then you get them in the studio at three or four years old and you understand a little more if I have by being a mom, you know, you want to stand so much more what they're doing and how difficult that can be and how, you know, you have to give them a little leeway to figure out who they are and they're at that point to where they're going through the, you know, the idea of their way from their mom or they're wasting their dad or their way from their important purse.
24:04 I'm in the studio with you. They figure out what their identity as a side from their family, which is amazing to what really is, and what I love about, what we do at the Dance Co-op for that age group, instead of, you know, saying they have to learn ballet. They have to learn top. They have to learn this. That and the other is that we teach it as creative movement. We introduced basic terminology and skills, but in a way that is artistically free so that we set them up. If they choose to be the answer is in the long run to fall in love with dance as an art first before it being a rigid structure. Absolutely.
24:47 And that's so important to give them that that's that bass. We're not forcing them or pigeonholing them into any particular dance form. Cuz who knows, you know, what three or four, what the heck? Do you know if you know, but yeah, so I think I mean, what do you eat for? The how are you supposed to know? What you want to do for the rest, your life ever ever forever always always changing, you know, always and and I think that's, that's part of the beauty of of being an artist. As that. We give ourselves the freedom to make those choices, you know, when the freedom to try something new. I mean, we're always trying something new, you know, whatever choreography we're doing or you know, if we're training something for a new show. I mean, I know nothing about Opera nothing, you know, and then had this amazing experience to choreographer offer Wilmington and I'm learning every day. I know if you probably feel the same way. I mean, we are learning when we when we typically do a dance performance.
25:44 You walk onstage, you do your thing, you got, you know, and then you leave and then we get to offer. Wilmington is like, you have to listen to the music, and you have to know their musical cues, and you have to be ready for when they go. And people throw a place that you and all these things that happen and you just it is so be so much more intense or the night before they show. They say, can you fill in this little spot in between? Can we do it? But it's like even within our, our chosen field, we're still learning. And I think we give ourselves the freedom to do that, which is really, really important. Yeah. I'm so thankful for our partnership to and all the different facets as, you know, a mentor, as a someone who choreographs on me and my body, somebody who's dance for me.
26:37 You elevate anything that you touch and I'm so thankful to have known you and the dance world so much. I know, I just started to cry and I want you to know how much I appreciate you too. Because you, you know, you come in and I know I have no structure. You know what I mean? I usually create in the studio and that can be awful for some people and and, you know, sometimes it's it's intimidating or I'll say, let's change this or let's do this. And you come in with this completely open mind about about is the process, you know, and I think that's really important. I love that so much and I'm so grateful that you are here and a part of this community because you just
27:24 You came with this energy when we needed you. You know, we were, we had been around for five or six years or whatever and I at the dance cover live in that and I really feel like we always need new blood, you know, and you did that for us and you took the reins and you jumped in and there was no looking back and and also have been this presents this beautiful beam of light that came in to us and you still do that every day and night and I love that so much and I'm so grateful that you're here. Thank you, and then I can call you up and say, hey, let's do this. Okay, that open-minded. It served me. So well yesterday. I know right mind, just everything flew right out the window. This is the beauty of what we do is like, you know, some weeks and nothing happens and then a weekend like this comes up and we're doing that in the dance they stuff and we have showings at the Cameron Art Museum and you know, and it seems sometimes.
28:24 All apart and we just keep going like for me yesterday, everything, nothing worked the way it was supposed to but you know, that's how you learn. You keep going. And you keep moving forward. So yeah.
28:36 You have this wonderful opportunity that has presented itself to you with being able to work at the University that has a film program. So grateful. So you have found these really amazing Partners to work with and
28:54 I'm not quite sure. Chicken, or egg, how it happened. But you and these filmmakers. I have made just some brilliant and two new work sad, as I am trying to create work for dance. Elora's thinking about what I would like to do next. Which, you know, of course has so many dance mix together, but I keep finding this barrier of not knowing how to integrate the two. And I'm
29:24 Curious about how you explore that process cuz I just feel like that I can't push through for myself to challenge, you know, and I think over the years I've learned to give up.
29:42 A lot of what my idea is and to learn to collaborate with other people to
29:50 I love collaborating. I love it so much. I never used to really love it. But now I love it. And I think that it's listening to, you know, whoever you're working with and out. So much of it is being at the right place at the right time to cut these people just fall into I think I never expect and then again it boils down to be opening up to being open to what the world has to offer you, you know.
30:19 The whole film thing it just kind of happened. You know, I met Jean who I worked with a couple years ago or Brad who I worked with a couple years ago when I met through a friend of a friend and
30:31 You know, it's just like all of these things just fall into place. So I really can't give you a definite answer on that. I really can't is just like, I think it really boils down to being open.
30:41 To the world around you until the end to things you're here and people you meet and talkin. I think that really is where a lot of it comes from just talking to people in finding out what their interest or I mean people are so fascinating, aren't they? They're so fascinating and you never know when you meet someone that they might have it back on and dance or feeling or whatever. Or, you know, maybe they are an artist who wants to work. I mean, hopefully, the amazing Elizabeth will preach who I met at the University and who is an amazing pianist. She's going to create music for us too. So it's really just about exploring those options. But, you know, you always have such really cool creative ideas when you come in the dance, floors. I'm always amazed at what you think of him and for you it. What's how is that process?
31:31 Coincidentally, it is. Usually someone else's idea that I facilitate for them. You know. Luckily. I have the absolute pleasure getting to work with Harris, your husband. Yes. I started working with there at the long, who unfortunately is now in Louisiana, and I don't get the pleasure of working with him anymore. But the weather comes up with most of the ideas that we have and then I facilitate for him, like he is a dancer at heart with with, you know, what I've given him. So he has ideas and then I am the paint and brush for him. I guess I love that this collaboration is
32:29 Jumping in the hard part about collaborating with your partner. Is that you don't sometimes? Get to turn the conversations off. Is that you don't have to worry about waking them up in the middle of the night because you can just say, hey, what about this thing? For? Sure. I have solutely and it's been nice to always have a little bit of Penelope mixed in since she's been around 2, cuz he's going to give you lots of ideas for things that I can see that happening. Well, you saw the movie that Sue made with her. We but I want to see it. I want to see it. I mean she knew that was coming in to babysit her and she's like, oh, okay.
33:19 Sue walks in the door and she said for making a movie and had all of it plans, I mean, it's great. She is our greatest creation. I think it's well, you know, what's really interesting? And I think about this to, my son has created music for me, four pieces. He's done to and the one that we did for the mermaid project. He actually took an atomic bomb and has lengthened it out. And the style that you hear are the sounds of this bomb exploding. It just is so drawn out that you would never know. That's what it is, though. I love that our families are supportive and they work with us. And you know what? They've continued to to be behind us cuz it's hard being. The daughter son spouse of someone in the Arts cuz your brain doesn't shut down.
34:19 It's really beautiful thing. Yeah, there's always joy and an artist house. I feel because there's at least four for my house in my experience. That sounds like for yours to that always has fun.
34:32 Yeah, there's always the opportunity for creation and adaptation and, and laughing and dancing. And music is always right my children, like, like your daughter are the best thing I've ever done. You know, it doesn't matter. What else I do. I created to amazing human beings and I'm so grateful for them everyday and that just having that you know, when seeing them kind of is a creation cuz they are you know, we get this baby and like we said we don't know what to do with them. But we do it and we raise them and you know, they they become amazing human being and it has its
35:15 It makes me so proud of who they are and what they're doing. And, you know, that they are truly accepting of everyone in the world and they bring this joy and light. And I'm, I'm so happy to have that, you know, as my as my legacy, I guess. I don't know.
35:35 Word. I was thinking and I was like, it was that cheesy? It is? But you know what? We can use it anyway, as we get to be cheap, to be proud of me. I'm so grateful for you. I am so grateful for you and all of the opportunities that you bring to me and then get me to buy lunch, myself, and I'm so grateful for the creation that you made of the dance Cooperative with the other Founders. So that I found my home here and I am so happy every single day that you are part of it. And you are a nurturing, this community, and bring you such really fascinating work. And again, that beam of light, that we all needed to keep us going. So it's, it's mutual admiration. Believe me. I love you Kate. I'm so glad you're here. I love you so much to Nancy all yours to another 20 years.
36:35 Ray hope. It continues. And thank you so much for being a part of it and my friend. And you noticed someone that is always always there. I appreciate that so much.