Mary-Jean Cowell performed with the Katherine Litz Company and in her own work, produced at Clark Center and Dance Theatre Workshop. Since then, she has choreographed more than 50 works which have been presented in New York, Hawaii, Tokyo, and more recently in St. Louis and other midwest venues. In Tokyo, Cowell taught and choreographed for the Kobo Abe Repertory Company. Her work often evades genre distinctions: for instance, she appeared in the St. Louis production of performance artist Ping Chong's Angels of Swedenborg, and she scripted, choreographed, danced, and acted in "Komachi" and "Research," and "For Robert: On Orders."
One of her research interests is Michio Ito, a Japanese born dancer who contributed to the development of modern dance in the United States . Her articles on Ito have appeared in the Dance Research Journal and Dance Chronicle. In 2009 she was the resident scholar for Utah Repertory Dance Company's summer session focused on Michio Ito's technique and repertoire. Her most recent presentations on Ito's work and life were lectures and technique classes during a guest residency at DeSales University in November, 1913, and a panel, "Michio Ito's Enduring Legacy," for the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) national conference in 2012. In November, 2014 she co-presented, "Developing Collaborative Dialogue in and across Disciplines" for the NDEO conference. Another interest, developing new integrated learning methods of dance pedagogy, has been shared in workshops given at previous NDEO conferences. Cowell served twelve years as a board member of the national American College Dance Association, the last six as Regional Director for Central Region. She is a past board member of the Society of Dance History Scholars and the Missouri Dance Education Organization (now Missouri Dance Organization).
Cowell’s awards include an exchange fellowship to the University of Strasbourg, a Council of Students of Arts and Sciences Award for Outstanding Teaching and Dedication to Students, a Japan Foundation grant, and a Missouri Creative Artist Project grant. She has secured two National College Choreography Initiative grants to bring dance artists David Dorfman and Alonzo King to teach master classes and set choreography on WU students. She was project director for these NCCI grants and Festival Coordinator for the 2005 Central Region American College Dance Festival hosted by the WU Dance Program.