Through dance we communicated with dancers of every country. We respected and applauded every group. We became friends for life with a broader and clearer understanding and appreciation for all people and all nations. The world became our campus.
Mary Bee Jensen is an alumna, emeritus professor, and lifelong friend of the dance program at Brigham Young University. Jensen is perhaps best-known for founding the International Folk Dance Company at BYU, a group that has won the hearts of audiences around the world and brought international attention to the university.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology from Park College, Jensen moved back to her native Provo where she later earned her Master of Arts in Recreation Education at BYU. In 1953, Jensen was appointed a special instructor specializing in square dance. What began with a group of twelve square dancers became known in 1956 as the International Folk Dancers.
Jensen’s vision coupled with her tenacity fueled the program which, in 1964, was selected to represent the United States in Denmark. Without funding from the university, Jensen herself paid for the tour with a loan. While on the road, she worked on scheduling performances for the dance company to pay for the trip.
The tour to Denmark wasn’t the group’s only trip abroad. Jensen took the International Folk Dance company across the U.S. border 28 more times before retiring from BYU in 1985. Today, the folk dance program at BYU stands as a monument to her decades of hard work. As the largest program of its kind in the country, the International Folk Dance company has become iconic in the folk dance world.
Jensen herself stayed busy in the dancing world, co-founding the National Folk Dance Organization in 1986 and serving as its president. She has earned numerous recognitions both from the university and the international dance community. In many ways, she has lived up to her own motto: “the more you give, the more you receive in return.”