The Company
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (Founder/Chief Visioning Partner). After earning her B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Zollar received her M.F.A. in dance from Florida State University. In 1984 Zollar founded Urban Bush Women (UBW) as 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 effective involvement in cultural organizing and civic engagement, which evolved into UBW’s acclaimed Summer Leadership Institute. She serves as director of the Institute, founding artistic director, and visioning partner of UBW, and currently holds the position of the Nancy Smith Fichter Professor of Dance and Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor at Florida State University.
Awards: 2008 United States Artists Wynn fellowship, 2009 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial, 2013 Arthur L. Johnson Memorial award by Sphinx Organization, 2013 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, 2014 Meadows Prize from Southern Methodist University, 2015 Dance Magazine Award, 2016 Dance/USA Honor Award, 2016 Black Theater Alliance Award, 2017 Bessie Award for Lifetime Achievement in Dance, 2018 American Conference on Diversity Performing Arts Humanitarian Award, 2021 fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2021 Dance Teacher Award of Distinction, and the 2021 Martha Hill Dance Fund Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 2022 Dorothy and Lilian Gish Prize.
Chanon Judson (Co-Artistic Director) joined UBW in 2001. Additional credits: Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Prophecy Dance Company, Cotton Club Parade, Fela! Commercial credits: L’Oreal Live, "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and Michael Jackson’s 30th Anniversary Concert. Chanon was part of the APAP Leadership Fellows Program, and DirectorsLabChicago. She was an arts educator with Alvin Ailey Arts in Education, BAM, and is founder of Cumbe Center’s Dance Drum and Imagination Camp for Children and Family Arts Movement.
Mame Diarra (Samantha) Speis (Co-Artistic Director) is a movement improviser and the mother of Aminata and Aicha. She has worked with Gesel Mason, The Dance Exchange, Jumatatu Poe, Deborah Hay, Marjani Forte, and Liz Lerman. Speis was the recipient of the Alvin Ailey New Directions Choreography Lab and was awarded a Bessie for Outstanding Performer. Her work has been featured at the Kennedy Center, Long Island University, Joyce SoHo, Hollins University, Danspace Project, Dixon Place, Dance Place, and The Kelly Strayhorn Theater. She has been a guest artist and teacher throughout the U.S., South America, Senegal, and Europe.
Courtney J. Cook (Associate Artistic-Director/Performer) studied at Virginia Commonwealth University. She has performed with choreographers Maria Bauman and Marguerite Hemmings, and with ModArts Dance Collective and Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative, among others. In 2018, she received a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award: Outstanding Performer. She is currently collaborating with Tendayi Kuumba and Greg Purnell on FLUXX.
Kentoria Earle (Performer) was raised in Winter Haven, Florida, and is the proud daughter of Kent Earle and Victoria Wilson. She recently graduated from The Florida State University where she obtained her Master of Arts in Dance/Studio Related Studies. Since graduating she has had the opportunity to work with choreographers/artists such as Renegade Performance Group, Abigail Levine, and Urban Bush Women as an apprentice. Kentoria has spent her first few years post grad entering the field as a Brooklyn-based performing artist and collaborator. She is working to build an artistic process that looks at solo/improvisational practices as a way to tap into ancestry and lineage based movement exploration. Kentoria believes these practices support and open up spaces where artists can be fully present for what often results in holistic and sustainable approaches to our healing, individually and collectively.
Symara Johnson (Performer) a Portland Oregon native, currently residing in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has immersed herself in interdisciplinary and choreographic studies globally. She is a recipient of the Dai Ailian Foundation Scholarship based in Trinidad and Tobago. Symara is a graduate of the Beijing Dance Academy and SUNY Purchase’s Conservatory of Dance program. She currently is a CPR 2022 AIR. Johnson has presented work throughout NYC and Germany. She has danced works most notably by and for Kevin Wynn, Ogemdi Ude, Rena butler, Jasmine Hearn, Hannah Garner, Nattie Trogdon+Hollis Bartlett, Slowdanger, Marion Spencer, Joanna Kotze, Netta Yerushalmy, Christoph Winkler and more.
Bianca Leticia Medina (Performer) is a Boricua-Mexicana NYC-based Dance Artist. She began her career based in Los Angeles working as a full-time dancer, choreographer, and teaching artist touring globally with Contra-Tiempo Activist Dance Theater, Viver Brasil Dance Company, and choreographer/collaborator Marina Magalhães. A proud Chicago native, Medina holds a B.F.A. in Dance from the University of Iowa and has studied in-depth in Salvador, Bahia, and Brasil with internationally acclaimed choreographer, Vera Passos. Currently, Medina holds a Rehearsal Director & Co-Choreographer position in Magalhães’s Creative Capital Award-winning project, Body as a Crossroads, and is honored to begin her journey as a Company Member with critically acclaimed legacy, Urban Bush Women.
Roobi Gaskins (Performer) is an NYC-based artist, who specializes in dance, choreography, and garment construction. Although she has always had a passion for dance, she owes her movement genesis and training to 14 years of competitive figure skating, where she competed internationally as a member of the Puerto Rican national team. She began her formal dance training at Bard College where she received a BA in Dance. She was an apprentice with Urban Bush Women in 2019-20 and has also performed works with various artists including Abby Z and the New Utility, Brownbody, 7NMS, and Trisha Brown.
Mikaila Ware (Performer) (B.F.A. Florida State University) began her dance training at Fort Stewart, Georgia at the age of five. Now a NY-based movement artist, Mikaila has worked in the mediums of dance and film with choreographers such as Davalois Fearon, Kayla Farrish, André Zachery, and Johnnie Cruise Mercer. Mikaila’s performances have been featured in articles such as the NY Times, Dance Magazine, and Dance Enthusiast. Additionally, Mikaila completed the Accessibility Partnerships and Programs Fellowship at Lincoln Center and is an alumna of the Diversity in Arts Leadership program with the Arts and Business Council of New York.
Shirazette Tinnin (Music Coordinator) is a Fulbright Scholar recipient, music educator, touring artist, clinician, health coach, and writer. She has written several articles for Modern Drummer and Tom Tom Magazine that involve keeping the musician healthy. She has a rigorous schedule of touring with Allan Harris, Nicole Mitchell, her own project, Sonic WallPaper, along with many more artists.
Grace Galu Kalambay (Musician/Performer) is a vocalist, actor, guitarist and composer. She combines the sounds of her Irish and Congolese heritage and her LES upbringing in a soulful and gritty twist. Grace was featured in Buskerball, and recorded “Firelight” with Fearless Music. Her composition, “Ordinary Sentiment” was featured in the Ed Burns film, Purple Violets, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Grace devised The Mendelssohn Electric with Trusty Sidekick, and was cast as the lead in their production, The Gospel Electric, commissioned by the Park Avenue Armory. She is a core member of the band Soul Inscribed, and was twice selected as a cultural ambassador for the American Music Abroad program. She has been selected as a cultural ambassador for their next residency program (2022). Grace is also a recipient of the NEFA NTP grant. Soul Inscribed has recently been signed to the music label Tokyo Dawn and just released their EP "Tune UP." Grace is an artist-in-residence at HERE Arts Center and the composer for Cannabis! A Viper Vaudeville. Grace voiced Wisdom in Nia Witherspoon’s production, The Dark Girl Chronicles (2021 at The Shed).
Lucianna Padmore (Musician/Performer). A Bronx native, New York-based drummer, Lucianna Padmore has been praised by Modern Drummer magazine for “Deep grooves and serious fusion chops.” Lucianna’s versatile drumming is featured with artists in the jazz, hip-hop, funk, rock, pop, and fusion genres. An alumnus of LaGuardia High School for Music and the Performing Arts and the New School University, she has received awards from Jazz at Lincoln Center and BMI for her jazz improvisation. Lucianna’s live and studio projects include residencies in and around the tri-state area with the John Smith Trio, a member of HotJazz Jumpers, drummer for singer-songwriter Alyson Murray, Bertha Hope’s Nu Trio, and Quintet The Fiery String Sista. She also leads her own quartet and releases music as an independent artist, with the current release of the single, "Life Long Love Affair" featuring Saxophonist Gerald Albright. As an educator, she is active in drum instruction and jazz outreach in N.Y. tri-state area. Lucianna is featured in the book "Sticks and Skins," endorses Soul Tone cymbals, and plays Scorpion signature 3a drum sticks.
John D. Alexander (Lighting Designer). OFF-BROADWAY: Migration, Reflections on Jacob Lawrence (National Tour). DC AREA: Daphne's Dive, TRANS AM, Detroit 67, Children of Eden, This Bitter Earth, Topdog/Under Dog (Helen Hayes Nomination), Fabulation or the Re-Education of Undine, Marie and Rosetta, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Airness, Darius and Twig, Black Nativity, Disgraced, HERstory, Black Berry Winter, The Gospel at Colonus, Happiness (and Other Reasons to Die), King Lear, Broke-ology, American Moor, Anne and Emmett (National and European Tour). REGIONAL: SWEAT, Kill Move Paradise, Once, Paradise Blue, Skeleton Crew, Royale and The Snowy Day and Other Stories. TV: No Child (PBS). UPCOMING REGIONAL: Chad Deity, Mary’s Seacole and Sheepdog. UPCOMING WORLD PREMIERE: Crying on Television, Quamino’s Map, House of the Negro Insane, B.R.O.K.E.N. Code B.I.R.D. Switching and Hoola Hoopin Queen.
Nicholas Hussong (Projections Designer) is a creator of video, projections and film for live (and now digital) performance and events. Creative Producer at Dwight Street Book Club. Broadway: Skeleton Crew. Other regional credits include: Until the Flood (13 regional and international locations); Haint Blu, Hair & Other Stories (Urban Bush Women); These Paper Bullets, Drama Desk Nomination (Yale Rep, Atlantic Theater Company, Geffen Playhouse); Woman's Party (Clubbed Thumb); Grounded (Alley); Arden Theater, Playmakers Rep, Berkshires Theatre Group, Marc Jacobs, Nashville Symphony, Hartford Symphony, Tony Awards (CBS). He also designed in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, China, Canada and Vienna. Co-Creator of FEAST, an immersive dining experience with Listen & Breathe (Nantucket, Ireland and please, hopefully, someday, the U.S.). Adjunct Lecturer New School of Drama & USC. Yale MFA. UAW & USA829
Nina Angela Mercer (Writer) is an interdisciplinary artist and cultural worker. Her plays include Gutta Beautiful; Itagua Meji: A Road and a Prayer; Gypsy & The Bully Door and A Compulsion for Breathing. Her writing is published in "Black Renaissance Noire," "Continuum: The Journal of African Diaspora Drama, Theatre, and Performance," "Break Beat Poets Vol 2: Black Girl Magic" (Haymarket Press), "Are You Entertained? Black Popular Culture in the 21st Century" (Duke University Press), "Performance Research Journal," "Represent! New Plays for Multicultural Young People" (Bloomsbury Press), and A Gathering of the Tribes Online Magazine. Find more at
Talvin Wilks (Dramaturg) is a director, playwright and dramaturg based in New York City and Minneapolis. He has served as dramaturg for five collaborations with the Bebe Miller Company - Going to the Wall, Verge, Landing/Place (2006 Bessie Award for dramaturgy), Necessary Beauty, and A History. Other recent dance collaborations include work with Camille A. Brown (Mr. Tol E. RAncE, Black Girl: Linguistic Play, ink) Carmen de Lavallade (As I Remember It), Urban Bush Women (Hep Hep Sweet Sweet,Walking with ‘Trane, Scat!) and Darrell Jones (Hoo-Ha).