Related Features


Your support helps us cover dance in New York City and beyond! Donate now.

DANCE NEWS: Urban Bush Women Founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar Named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow

DANCE NEWS: Urban Bush Women Founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar Named a 2021 MacArthur Fellow

Published on September 30, 2021
Photo Credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

On Tuesday, September 28th, 2021 the MacArthur Foundation announced a class of 25 fellows including Urban Bush Women (UBW) Founder and Chief Visioning Partner and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. She received the fellowship for “using the power of dance and artistic expression to celebrate the voices of Black women and promote civic engagement and community organizing” for over 37 years. Jawole’s dedication and contributions to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond continues to inspire the masses.

“Movement is the foundation of life. Dance takes this human imperative to an expressive imperative that supports our ability to make meaning and deepen our understanding of this world. Through this lens I work to build leadership, choreograph new works, and create strategies for community engagement and organizing. I am inspired by how, when, and under what circumstances people move. It is never ending. As I said in a 1989 work I choreographed for Urban Bush Women, I Don’t Know But I Been Told If You Keep On Dancing You Never Grow Old.”

— Jawole Willa Jo Zollar,
Reprinted from the MacArthur Foundation

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar posing at a barre/railing with one arm raised. Photo credit: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Jawole founded UBW in 1984 with a mission to bring the untold and under-told stories to light through dance, from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community. UBW continues to use dance as both the message and the medium to bring together diverse audiences through innovative choreography, community collaboration and artistic leadership development. With Jawole’s expansive vision, UBW has been named one of America’s Cultural Treasures by the Ford Foundation, and supported by philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

The UBW Company weaves contemporary dance, music, and text with the history, culture, and spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora under the artistic direction of Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis.

“I am of the many whose practice as an artist, educator, organizer, and woman is grounded by the mentorship of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar,” UBW Co-Artistic Director Chanon Judson states. “Her genius has long been felt, and her impact is tremendous, shaping arts-activism practices, organizational structures, collaborative art making methodologies, and building a body of innovative risk taking practitioners. I am thrilled to see her lauded for her continued work as a guiding light and field builder.”

“Jawole has created a space to challenge, to be challenged, and to be risk takers”, says UBW Co-Artistic Director Samantha Speis. “Jawole is a genius indeed. She has cultivated fertile ground for me to dive deep, to unearth, to swell and stretch into all parts of myself. Jawole establishing UBW in 1984 has made it possible for myself and others to be seen, lifted and celebrated. I am forever grateful.“

While “celebrating and inspiring the creative potential of individuals”, the MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached award to the Fellows as an investment in their potential.

“As we emerge from the shadows of the past two years, this class of 25 Fellows helps us reimagine what’s possible. They demonstrate that creativity has no boundaries. It happens in all fields of endeavor, among the relatively young and more seasoned, in Iowa and Puerto Rico.”

— Cecilia Conrad
Managing Director, MacArthur Fellows



The 2021 MacArthur Fellows span across multiple fields or industries as writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and others. See the full list of 2021 MacArthur Fellows HERE. See Jawole’s 2021 MacArthur Fellow profile page HERE.

The Dance Enthusiast Shares news from the dance world and creates conversation.
For more Dance News pieces, click here.
If you have important news to share, please send announcements or press release to!

The Dance Enthusiast - News, Reviews, Interviews and an Open Invitation for YOU to join the Dance Conversation.

Related Features

View More Features