Kate Dunlay was raised near Boston. Traditional music has been one of her strongest interests for many years. She began fiddling for contra and folk dancing in New Hampshire while at Dartmouth College, and also attended fiddle and dance clubs in Sweden during an exchange semester in Lund. After obtaining a BA in Environmental Studies, Kate lived in Vermont for several years, where she was a member of The Green Mountain Volunteers, a group performing traditional New England dance and music. Later she moved back to the Boston area and joined Mandala, an international folk dance troupe. She also studied Scottish and Irish dance and music specifically.

A grant from the NEA in 1984 provided a summer of fiddle workshops with Buddy MacMaster and stepdance lessons with Minnie MacMaster in Cape Breton. Inspired by this, Kate decided to pursue a more formal education in Folklore and Ethnomusicology. In 1988 she graduated from Indiana University with an M.A. degree, which has enabled her to pursue a part-time teaching career at various universities.

Kate moved to Ontario in 1988, and then Nova Scotia in 2000, with her husband David Greenberg. They are are co-authors of Traditional Celtic Violin Music of Cape Breton, the DunGreen Collection. Kate has also worked on many other projects with David, taking advantage of their shared interest in traditional and early music, especially the crossover music of 18th-century Scotland. Kate and David have two children, Sara and Owen, who are also musical. Kate has been influenced by her offspring, resulting in various circus-arts hobbies as well.

Kate's other interests include gardening, science fiction, and health.