Carolyn Carlson was born in California. Her parents are from Finnish descent. After studying ballet, she met Alwin Nicolaïs. She became a member of his troupe in New York and as its emblem, perfumed with this company at home and on tours during seven years. In 1968 she received the prize as a best dancer at the International Dance Festival in Paris.
In 1971 in Paris Carolyn Carlson joined the company of Anne Beranger where she created her first choreography to present it at Festival d'Avignon of 1972. In 1974 Rolf Libermann invited her to the Paris Opera as a choreographer and in 1975 he offered her to run the Group of Theatrical Researches of the Paris Opera. The collaboration with the Paris Opera during the period of 1974-1980 had given an impressive series of 25 works that are being performed throughout the world. They included:«Density 21,5», The Architects: this, that and other, Slow, heavy and blue, Trio.
In 1974 Carolyn Carlson organized the Masterclasses at the Rotonde of the Paris Opera and taught in Paris, Anger, Vienna, at Teatro Piccolo in Milano, in Bolsano, Turin, at Ballet Bejart in Lausanne. In 1980-1985 she choreographed in Venice, at La Fenice: (Undici Onde, Underwood and a mystic solo Blue Lady). From 1985 to 1991 she came again to Paris where she worked fruitfully at the Theatre de la Ville: Dark, Still Waters. In 1991-1992 Carolyn Carlson lived and worked in Finland (Elokuu, Siskuu), then for two following years (1994-1995) she headed the Culberg Ballet in Stockholm (Sub Rosa). Among her multiple choreographies several she created for herself: Blue Lady (1984), which has been danced in 40 countries; Vue d'ici(1995). In 1994 together with Pierre Barnier she founded Atelier de Paris-Carolyn Carlson. This is a ballet company and a centre of masterclasses at the same time. In 2000 produced Spiritual Warriors.
She got a number of prizes, including the prize for Achievements in Music, and the title of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres and Chevalier of Legion d'Honneur.
The Prize Benois de la Danse for choreography was awarded to Carolyn Carlson for Signes, which she staged at the Paris Opera in 1998.