Located at 138 S. Oxford St in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, Urban Bush Women (UBW) was founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Having majored in dance, Zollar is an alumna of University of Missouri at Kansas City and Florida State University, where she is tenured professor of dance.
In 1980, she studied under the direction of Dianne McIntyre, the founder and director of Sounds in Motion Dance Company, a studio and dance company in the Harlem community of New York City. Inspired by the work of McIntyre and African-American pioneer of modern dance, Blondell Cummings, Zollar created Urban Bush Women, the first dance company comprised of only Black women dancers.
Its mission, according to the UBW website, is to “bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance. We do this from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond.”
In order to make this mission manifest, Urban Bush Women uses dance to educate, enlighten and empower those in the community. Honoring diversity, it collaborates with activists, artists, educators and everyday citizens as a means of communicating their mission. Urban Bush Women not only presents performances but also develops programs, such as BOLD (Builders, Organizers & Leaders through Dance), the Summer Leadership Institute and Choreographic Center Initiative. Their performances are expressions to engage the community on life and societal issues, such as birth, family, love, loss and death.
The productions of Urban Bush Women serve to support those often overlooked and underrepresented, significantly persons of color and women. The dance company is centered upon and promotes the following core values, described in their literature:
- VALIDATING THE INDIVIDUAL
Our individual histories are authentic in and of themselves. Collectively, our histories and identities create a rich and diverse palette from which to do our work. Each individual has a unique and powerful contribution to make.
- CATALYZING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
UBW’s work helps people make sense out of the world and prepare to take action in it. We offer bold and provocative viewpoints in our performance work. Our work encourages critical, creative and reflective thinking.
- BUILDING TRUST THROUGH PROCESS
The answers to many challenges and creative investigations can be found within a group of people who share a commitment to working together. Building work and strategies together enhances learning, organizational development and creative works. Trust is key to the building of these relationships. A transparent process of artistic and managerial leadership builds and nurtures trust. We acknowledge the need for Leadership to provide vision and give focus to the inherent creativity within a group. The Leadership is responsible for transparent and ethical processes that build trust.
- ENTERING COMMUNITY AND CO-CREATING STORIES
No two communities are alike. Each community is unique and has the answers it seeks to uncover. In our Entering, Building and Exiting (EBX) work, we are not doing the thinking for a community but helping to facilitate its thinking through listening and bringing to the table what we are hearing. We then interpret what we hear through the use of our artistic medium. Inspired by work like historian Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History, our work gives voice to untold and undertold stories and perspectives.
- CELEBRATING THE MOVEMENT AND CULTURE OF THE AFRICAN DIASPORA
UBW is committed to highlighting the power, beauty and strength of the African Diaspora. Dance from the African continent values the whole body in motion through a sophisticated use of polyrhythm, weight, pelvic and spinal articulation. The Urban Bush Women technique builds upon these principles.
Highly active in their Brooklyn borough, URB regularly performs in New York City including at Lincoln Center. However, it has toured throughout the United States as well as Canada and countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. It has performed at venues such as the National Black Arts Festival, outside Atlanta, Georgia; Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina and Jacob’s Pillow in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Its repertory includes thirty-three works, such as Batty Moves (1995), Body Talk (2010) and dark swan (2014), choreographed by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and collaborations with others in fine arts.
Urban Bush Women is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. These include being given a Bessie Award, a Black Theater Alliance Award, a Capezio Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Dance”, two Doris Duke Awards and the Dance Magazine Award. Zollar was the recipient of a “Bessie”, or New York Dance and Performance Award, for “Lifetime Achievement” due to her extensive and enduring contributions to the world of dance.
Recently, Urban Bush Women were the Artists-in-Residence for Brooklyn Information & Culture (BRIC). This partnering occurred in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the largest provider of free cultural programming in their borough. In its media statement, the BRIC shared, “We are honored to partner with the Brooklyn-based dance company that has ‘interpreted the Black experience with passion and focus for [over] thirty years (Village Voice). BRIC and UBW will offer activities year-round at BRIC House, including community dance classes, Hair Parties, workshops and the New York premier of Urban Bush Women’s newest full-length dance theater piece, Hair & Other Stories.”