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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

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Dance Program 'Founding Mother' Florence Cobb dies

Florence Cobb started University's dance program in 1960s.

2016-06-27
Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Theatre and Dance News Release, 6-27-2016

The Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Theatre & Dance is mourning the loss of Florence Cobb (at left in photo), responsible for starting the Dance Program at Minnesota State Mankato in the late 1960s. She died Friday, June 24, 2016, at age 95. Her obituary can be read here on The Free Press website.

In lieu of flowers, donations are being requested by the family to go toward a scholarship fund in memory of Cobb's legacy to the Dance Program; Department of Theater and Dance, Earley Center for Performing Arts, PA 201; Minnesota State University, Mankato; Mankato, MN 56001.

Paul J. Hustoles, chair of theatre & dance, said Cobb attended a great many dance concerts since her retirement in 1990 and has always been very supportive of the program.

As Dance Program Director Julie Kerr-Berry said, when the Dance Program first started, it was a couple of dance courses offered in what was then the Department of Physical Education. Cobb pursued her passion to make dance accessible to all students on campus. With this momentum, she also started the dance minor. Her retirement was why Kerr-Berry came to Mankato. When Cobb retired from Minnesota State Mankato, she continued to teach and even perform up to her early '90s in the Metro area.

Here is more about Cobb's legacy written by Matthew Caron in 2013:

Florence Cobb was born in Muskogee, Okla., on March 19, 1921. Her grandmother and great-grandmother were both slaves in the South, and her mother was a teacher. She grew up in a predominately white neighborhood in Oklahoma, yet had to attended a segregated school in a neighborhood three miles away. In a 1994 article in the Wells Mirror, Cobb talks about her encounters with discrimination on that long walk.

“I walked, and I got beaten up,” she said. “I had to pass a high school, and I was verbally molested by the kids.”

Yet the racial discrimination she endured did not discourage her love of learning. She headed off to college at the age of 16 to follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a teacher. She earned her B.S. at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., in 1941. She attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and Tennessee State University, eventually earning her master's degree in health and physical education in 1961. She taught physical education at schools in Florida, Ohio and Tennessee before coming to Minnesota State Mankato (then called Mankato State College) in 1968.

When she arrived in Mankato, she observed that students in rural Minnesota had very little exposure to the diversity of culture compared to urban areas. She sought to change that.

“We went whole hog, with concerts, theatre, dance and music,” Cobb said.

Under her guidance, dance as an art and an academic endeavor flourished. She brought in many guest artists, and led workshops and taught classes that were open to the College’s students as well as local high school students and community members. Additionally, she advised and choreographed for the college’s already established dance group, Orchesis. She also led a dance trip to Europe in 1971. The attending students travelled by Volkswagen bus, staying in camping parks and learning about indigenous folk dances.

Her work promoting the art of dance culminated in the implementation of the dance education minor, under the auspices of the physical education department, in 1976. In a press release that same year, Cobb stated, “The new program is supportive of the trend toward greater consumption of the arts in our society and will provide an opportunity for students to develop their creative potential.”

Cobb taught at the University for 22 years before retiring in 1990. Most recently, Cobb received a special citation at the 2013 SAGE awards in October of that year honoring her contribution to the Minnesota dance community.

A Star Tribune article covering the event read, “Wearing biker-ready black leather pants and boots, the octogenarian [Cobb] accepted her award with a few wise words: ‘I’ve shared time and space and energy with all of you. And that’s all it’s about on this earth.’ ” 

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