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Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

Published April 15, 2015

Jawole Willa Jo ZollarLawton and Nancy Smith Fichter Professor

School of Dance


Jawole Willa Jo Zollar is the founder and artistic director of Urban Bush Women, a New York-based dance company that seeks to bring the untold and under-told stories to light through dance. She was born and raised in Kansas City, MO. She trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of the legendary Katherine Dunham, and received a B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and an M.F.A. in dance from Florida State University. In 1980, she moved to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds in Motion. She founded Urban Bush Women in 1984.

In addition to thirty works for UBW, Jawole has created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ballet Arizona, Philadanco, University of Maryland, University of Florida, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and others. Her many positions as a teacher and speaker include Worlds of Thought Resident Scholar at Mankato State University (1993-94), Regents Lecturer in the Departments of Dance and World Arts and Culture at UCLA (1995-96), Visiting Artist at Ohio State University (1996), and the Abramowitz Memorial Lecturer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1998). She was named Alumna of the Year by University of Missouri (1993) and Florida State University (1997), and awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Columbia College, Chicago (2002). She also received the Martin Luther King Distinguished Service Award from Florida State University, where she holds a tenured position as the Nancy Smith Fichter Professor in Dance. Zollar directs the Urban Bush Women Summer Institute, an intensive training program in dance and community engagement for artists with leadership potential interested in developing a community focus in their art-making.

Jawole was named as Florida State’s 2011-2012 Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor, the highest award granted to FSU faculty.


Bachelor of Arts in Dance, University of Missouri/Kansas City
Master of Fine Arts in Dance, Florida State University

Select Scholarly/Creative Works

  • Presented KC revisted. Plenary presentation at DanceUSA annual conference, DanceUSA, Kansas City, MO. (National), 2017
  • Give Your Hands to Struggle [Restaging of Original work Give Your Hands to Struggle on Ice]. [Origination of the work by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar]. [Artistic direction by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar]. Ice Skating Arena, Minneapolis, MN: Brown Body
  • Hair & Other Stories [Dance/Theater]. [Origination of the work by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar]. [Artistic direction by Samantha Speis & Chanon Judson]. Power Center, Ann Arbor, MI: University Musical Society
  • Scat! [Dance/Theater]. [Origination of the work by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar]. [Artistic direction by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar]. Shapeshifters Lab, Brooklyn NY: UBW, Inc.
  • 24 Decades of American Popular Music [Multidisciplinary]. [Origination of the work by Taylor Mac]. [Artistic direction by Taylor Mac]. St Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn, NY: Pomegranate Arts

Teaching Areas

  • Contemporary Dance and Repertory
  • GFS

Research Areas

  • Contemporary Dance and Repertory
  • Choreography
  • Directing