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Home » News » Dance Professor Jawole Willa Jo Zollar to Receive Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award

Dance Professor Jawole Willa Jo Zollar to Receive Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award

Published February 8, 2024

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A woman smiling, wearing a black shirt.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor and Nancy Smith Fichter Professor of Dance.

The American Dance Festival (ADF) will present the 2024 Samuel H. Scripps/American Dance Festival Award for lifetime achievement to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, dancer, choreographer, and founder and former longtime artistic director of Urban Bush Women. Dean of Florida State University College of Fine Arts and ADF board member Dr. James Frazier will present the $50,000 award in Durham, NC, to Ms. Zollar on Wednesday, July 17, after the performance of Zollar’s SCAT! by Urban Bush Women.

“Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the founder of Urban Bush Women, the all-female troupe of beauty and strength, has led the way in transforming and diversifying the field of dance. Her masterful and innovative storytelling that focuses on the importance of cultural identity, equity, and community engagement as well as her careful lifting up and nurturing of women choreographers of color, has had a profound impact on this art form. Her life-long dedication has moved us all forward. I am beyond thrilled that we will honor her this season,” said Jodee Nimerichter, ADF’s Executive Director.

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar grew up in Kansas City, MO, and earned her B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and her M.F.A. in dance from Florida State University. In 1980, Zollar moved to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds in Motion, and in 1984, she founded Urban Bush Women, inspired by her desire to create a company that shared values around making work and wanting to look at the folklore, the religious traditions, and the culture of African Americans and the African diaspora. The company became a performance ensemble dedicated to exploring the use of cultural expression as a catalyst for social change. Zollar developed a unique approach to enable artists to strengthen their involvement in cultural organizing and civic engagement, which evolved into the company’s acclaimed Summer Leadership Institute.

In addition to creating over 34 works for Urban Bush Women, Zollar has created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, and many universities across the United States. Her collaborations include Compagnie Jant-Bi from Senegal and Nora Chipaumire. She has recently worked as choreographer for Taylor Mac’s 24-Decade History of American Popular Music and Daniel Fish’s Most Happy in Concert. Zollar directed and choreographed a new Jake Heggie opera, Intelligence, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera in 2023.

The company has toured five continents and was selected as one of three U.S. dance companies to inaugurate a cultural diplomacy program for the U.S. Department of State in 2010. She serves as director of the UBW Summer Leadership Institute, founding and visioning partner of Urban Bush Women, and the Nancy Smith Fichter Professor of Dance and Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University.

Zollar has been a United States Artists Wynn fellow and a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial fellow. She holds honorary degrees from Columbia College Chicago, Tufts University, Rutgers University, and Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.

Zollar has received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, the Dance Magazine Award, the Dance/USA Honor Award, the “Bessie” Lifetime Achievement in Dance Award for her work in the field, the Dance Teacher Award of Distinction, and the Martha Hill Dance Fund Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2020, The Ford Foundation declared Urban Bush Women one of America’s Cultural Treasures. Zollar has recently been awarded a 2021 John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellow, the 2022 APAP Honors Award of Merit for Achievement in the Performing Arts, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.