Creating Contemporary American Identities Through Movement: Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

Urban Bush WomenContemporary choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar continues the theme of dancemakers who use their art to express their American identities and as a means of communicating about social and political issues. Zollar choreographed her dances titled Walking with Pearl to honor the artistic legacy of Pearl Primus and to show how that legacy is connected to her own artistry.






Africa Diaries (2004) refers to the trips to Africa that Primus took, beginning in 1948, to conduct the anthropological research.


Southern Diaries (2005) refers to the trip which Primus made during the summer of 1944 to live and work with poor migrant workers in the rural South. In Southern Diaries, Zollar incorporates reconstructions of Strange Fruit and Hard Time Blues with her own choreography, creating a theatrical continuum between two generations of modern dance artists.

Classroom Activities

Read: Read John Perpener’s article on Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

Expand: How does the search for identity—as well as social and political protest—continue to be a concern among artists today?

Watch: View Zollar’s Walking with Pearl. Remind students that in observing dance, they should be looking for ways the choreographer creates meaning through gestures, images, and connections to literature, other dances, and every day life. Use the Movement Analysis Worksheet.

Write: Allow students to free-write (3 minutes) their responses to the dance, especially writing descriptions of the dance. Afterward, ask writers to harvest verbs from their responses. Read the verbs aloud as a list. Ask students to use these verbs to write a poem or descriptive paragraph about Walking With Pearl. Ask students to share their writings in small groups.

Urban Bush Women

  • Identify differences and similarities among the works by Martha Graham, Pearl Primus, and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.
  • Zollar’s work makes deliberate use of Primus’s words and dances. Discuss the impact of this borrowing. Think of additional artists who refer to other artists’ works in making new work.
  • How have conditions facing African-American women changed from Primus’s time to Zollar’s time? What are some of the things that have remained the same?

Move: Research a dance form practiced by members of their family and/or community and learn steps from the dance. This material will become the basis for creating your own dance.

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