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Jawole Willa Jo Zollar
Born: 1950
Occupation: choreographer, dancer
One of six children, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Steeped in sacred and secular aspects of African-American culture, she grew up doing musical revues. Her first dance teacher was Joseph Stevenson, a student of American dance pioneer Katherine Dunham. With a B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri (Kansas City) and an M.F.A. from Florida State University, she came to New York City in 1980 to study Dianne McIntyre, artistic director of Sounds in Motion. After four years, she left McIntyre's studio to establish Urban Bush Women.

Through live music, a cappella vocalizations, and movement, Urban Bush Women explores the religious traditions and folklore of the African diaspora. In an article entitled "Urban Bush Women: Dances for the Homeless," writer Ntozake Shange describes Zollar's work: "The ensemble that Jawole Willa Jo Zollar has assembled and sustained takes women's bodies, racist myths, sexist stereotypes, post-modern conventions and the 'science' of hip-hop and catapults them over the rainbow, so they come tumbling out of the grin of the man in the moon" (Shange 1991).

Influenced by the writings of Toni Morrison, Ishmael Reed, and Alice Walker, Zollar creates "a sense of community on stage," often in collaboration with other artists, such as folklorist and vocalist Tiye Giraud, choreographer Pat Hill-Smith, and percussionists David Pleasant and Edwina Lee Tyler. Some of her best-known works are "Song of Lawino" (1988), "I Don't Know, But I've Been Told, If You Keep on Dancin' You'll Never Grow Old" (1989), and "Praise House" (1990).

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar has received two Inter-Arts grants and three Choreographer's Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her company has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.

-- Jacqui Malone

Shange, Ntozake. "Urban Bush Women: Dances for the Voiceless." NEW YORK TIMES, September 8, 1991, p. 20.
Sims, Lowery Stokes. "Heat and Other Climatic Manifestations: Urban Bush Women, Thought Music and Craig Harris with Dirty Tones Band." HIGH PERFORMANCE 45 (Spring 1989): 2225.

Source Citation: "Jawole Willa Jo Zollar." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.