Urban Bush Women founder and Artistic Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar has been named as one of five honorees to receive a 2015 Dance Magazine Award, which was presented to her by School of Dance alumna, Millicent Johnnie, December 7, 2015 at 7:30 pm at The Ailey Citigroup Theater in New York. To view a short video highlighting the evening’s event, please visit Dance Media’s website.
Zollar has consistently proven to be among FSU’s most talented and hard working faculty members. In 1984 she founded the dance ensemble Urban Bush Women to explore the use of cultural expression for social change. She was designated a Master of Choreography by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2005, invited to the White House in 2009, and featured in the PBS documentary “Free to Dance,” which chronicles African American influence on modern dance. Zollar also won both the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and the Arthur L. Johnson Memorial Award in 2013, and was named the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor for 2011-2012, the highest honor given to an FSU faculty member. She was named Alumna of the Year by FSU and received the Martin Luther King Distinguished Service Award from the university in 2015.
During the 2015 Dance Magazine Awards Ceremony, Urban Bush Women performed an excerpt from Walking with ‘Trane in tribute to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. She later had the opportunity to speak thanking those who have been involved throughout her career.
Thank you to Florida State University for their recognition that a dance major is an important degree and for the support I have been given for my work with Urban Bush Women. Because this dream is only realized because of hard work, dedication and sacrifice of all of those artists and administrators – past, present and future. Thank you to my family and friends who have held me up in hard times, celebrated with me in good times and remind that I am connected to a big circle of love.
This is a great up cycle for me, and Urban Bush Women and I know that if we continue to grow, innovate and take risks that may not be deemed by some as successful – we will as we have been for 31 years experience up and down cycles. Receiving this award and with the loving support of my family and friends will remind me during the down cycle that – this too shall pass and to stay focused on the vision. Thank you!
– Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, 2015 Dance Magazine Awards Ceremony
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar doesn’t simply create choreography. She creates family, giving her dancers the kind of strengthening, nourishing roots that foster the confidence to make their own mark in the world.
If you want to go fast, go alone,” says Zollar, citing a beloved African proverb. “If you want to go far, go together.
Celebrating her troupe’s 30th anniversary last season, Zollar wrote on Urban Bush Women’s website, “I wanted a company that brought forth the vulnerability, sassiness and bodaciousness of the women I experienced growing up in Kansas City.” Her critically acclaimed work subverts notions of who can dance, how dancers’ bodies should look and how women should behave—especially black women. For talented artists like Christal Brown, Paloma McGregor, Nora Chipaumire, Maria Bauman, Samantha Speis and Marjani Forté-Saunders, she has forged inroads into a profession still largely governed by white standards.
Zollar first trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of Katherine Dunham. She traces her influences to icons like black vaudevillian Cholly Atkins, Dianne McIntyre and Daniel Nagrin whose evening-length solo, Peloponnesian War, she remembers, sent the crowd at an anti–Vietnam War rally into raptures. She perceived, she recalls, “something he was able to do that was very different from any of the speeches.”
From Walking with Pearl…Southern Diaries—evocative of time, place and the human heart—to the audacious Batty Moves and the new Walking with ’Trane (created with Speis), Zollar’s work liberally draws from ballet and modern dance, as well as such styles as club dancing, double dutch and Rastafarian ritual. Her dancers’ bodies carry urgent letters to the world, stories bursting to be told. Healing stories, motivating stories, transformational stories. Urban Bush Women, as former member Christal Brown puts it, are medicine women.
Ours is a time that requires us to assert that black lives matter. We live, as well, in a time of joy when American Ballet Theatre admits its first black ballerina to the rank of principal. We also see, in the many Zollar alumnae now claiming their own generative ground, seeds of artistry and activism to carry the legacy forward and make a difference. —Eva Yaa Asantewaa