All-female dance group empowers, educates with moving performance

The Urban Bush Women (pictured above) is a dance group that highlights important historical events pertaining to marginalized groups and individuals. This dance troupe performs various styles of dance based on the message they want to convey accompanied by song or spoken word piece (Courtesy of Jessica Villi).

Wadsworth Auditorium was filled with power and strength this past weekend when the Urban Bush Women took the stage on Saturday Nov. 2 as part of Geneseo Campus Activities Board’s Limelight and Accents series. Urban Bush Women is an all-female dance company that delivers moving and energetic performances designed to tell the untold and under-told stories of disenfranchised groups throughout history. 

The group was impactful from the start, kicking off the show with a solo dancer on stage and no music or background noise save for a voice offstage, reading names of black men and women throughout history who have influenced or enacted change. These names included Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr. and Trayvon Martin.

This piece flowed right into the next, with the same solo dancer on stage, only this time with the folk song “Give Your Hands to Struggle” playing through the speakers, with the lyrics honoring leaders from the Civil Rights era. As the dancer’s body moved across the stage replicating movements that indicated she was struggling with something, the audience was asked to feel the struggle right alongside her. 

The second piece, entitled “Girlfriends,” represented the tight bonds women share. What began with a separation between the dancers—one performer on stage right and a group of three performers on stage left—painting a picture of the solo dancer being excluded from the larger group eventually transformed into a unified piece, with the women slowly becoming more engaged with each other and ending the piece in a group hug.

In the third piece, more members of the company appeared on stage to perform “Women’s Resistance,” which blended the stories of many different women into common experiences and feelings that bind us all together. 

After a brief intermission, the company returned to perform their last and longest piece, “I Don’t Know, but I Been Told, If You Keep on Dancin’ You Never Grow Old.” Before dancers began the routine, one member introduced the piece and engaged the audience, using the title as a call and response. Once the audience was energized, the dancers took their places and launched into a high-energy performance. 

This piece included voiceover from the founder of Urban Bush Women, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, explaining where her inspiration for this dance came from. She choreographed the piece based on other forms of dance and the places where they’re typically performed. Places cited by Zollar include drill teams, cheerleading and street performances. 

Urban Bush Women is currently touring in celebration of its 35th anniversary, having been founded in 1984 by Zollar. Zollar was dedicated to exploring how dance could be used as a catalyst for societal change and has choreographed a number of dances for Urban Bush Women over the years to reflect the power dance has to communicate a message.

The company prides itself on telling stories from a woman-centered perspective, hoping to bring attention to issues involving inequality and discrimination throughout the country. According to the show’s program, “the company continues to weave contemporary dance, music and text with the history, culture and spiritual traditions of the African Diaspora.” 

Communication major junior Emilie Delannes-Molka thoroughly enjoyed the show, especially the piece that opened the night.

“My favorite was the first dance, I felt it was really powerful,” she said. “[The show] was super interesting. The dances had a lot of power and meaning that the dancers portrayed both through the silence of their pieces and through their musical numbers.”

Urban Bush Women concludes Limelight and Accent’s shows for this semester. The series returns in the spring with Gaelic Storm on Feb. 22.