Urban Bush Women was founded in 1984 by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. It is based in Brooklyn, New York, a non-profit dance company and the only professional African-American women’s dance company in existence. This company strives to bring forth untold stories of living as a black woman in America to light through dance. Through dance they address issues of social justice, affirming diversity, fostering community engagement and developing new audiences.
Urban Bush Women started has hair parties, a place where black women can come and do their hair together. Growing up I never had to learn how to do my hair differently than any of my friends, I honestly didn’t even know that caring for black hair was different than caring for my type of hair. These hair parties allowed women to share stories and come together as a community.
The company recognizes that everyone comes from different backgrounds and uses that as a force to drive the works they create. Trust is key to building the relationships necessary in order for each participant to get the most out of their experience at a hair party or dance class. The demand for leadership allow the group members to feel comfortable enough in a vulnerable group setting is vital- this helps foster creativity within the group. Having taken class with the dancers of the company I know how important it is for the leader to create a safe space.
Two years ago the company came to set a piece on the dance students for the departments annual Power Center show. The process of the audition and rehearsals were not only extremely physical, but emotionally liberating. The way Urban Bush Women carry out their classes is similar to the Batsheva Dance Company. All mirrors are covered, everyone is dancing facing in towards the center of the room, everyone in the room must be participating in the class. This allows the judgement of oneself to be left at the door. In class we would often find ourselves exhausting our bodies with physical moment, and with the instruction of the leader we would yell out something- whether that be a happy or sad thought. We are often left to let our movement subside and embrace the emotions that we are left with.
Here is the Urban Bush Women website: https://www.urbanbushwomen.org/
Here is Urban Bush Women “Hair and Other Stories”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idHpfjroH3g