Founding Mother of the Dance Program
Article by Matthew Caron
Dance Concerts are always a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talent, skill and artistry of the students
in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Yet the Fall 2013 concert
will be extra special. The concert is being dedicated to the founder of the University’s Dance Program:
Professor Emeritus Florence Cobb. The concert is 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, and 2:00 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7.
Get your tickets here.
Florence Cobb received the SAGE Educator award in November 2013. (SAGE photograph)
Cobb was born in Muskogee, OK, 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 M.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.’ ”
The Minnesota State University Mankato Department of Theatre and Dance is proud to dedicate its 2013 Fall Dance Concert
in honor of Florence Cobb. Read The Free Press story about the concert.
Left: Florence Cobb in 1968; right, dancers work in the Centennial Student Union Ballroom.
Dancers from the concert join with Florence Cobb afterward.
Read more about it:
The Star Tribune article
About the 2013 SAGE awards