BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, July 5, 2019 — Urban Bush Women (UBW), the world-renowned dance company, announced that Chanon Judson-Johnson and Samantha Speis are the new Co-Artistic Directors of the UBW Company. In this capacity, they will lead the company’s touring arm while maintaining their roles as Performers and Directors of the UBW BOLD (Builders, Organizers and Leaders through Dance) program. UBW Founder, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, will continue in her role as Chief Visioning Partner, providing overall direction for the organization and its programs including the Summer Leadership Institute and the Choreographic Center Initiative.

The announcement was made at UBW Homecoming 2019, a two-day, event-filled celebration for UBW’s 35th Anniversary. Zollar, who founded the company on June 30, 1984, stated “The 35th anniversary season is looking at past, present and future with the theme Legacy, Lineage and Liberation. Moving toward intentional leadership development, it is my pleasure to announce—as we move to the future—that Chanon Judson-Johnson and Samantha Speis will assume the roles of Co-Artistic Directors of the UBW Company and I will continue as Chief Visioning Officer and Artistic Director of the organization.”

Speis, who joined UBW in 2008, added, “Something I saw when I first experienced the company and now that I am inside the company is this notion of spirals that are connected to a center and the center is a point of entry that allows people to create different paths and spheres for themselves. That is unique and special about the work of UBW—having the ability to create my journey and be whole inside of that. It has been the root of how UBW has been able to sustain longevity in the field and how we have been able to push beyond boundaries to be front runners in the field. Having that root and strong values is what keeps the legacy of UBW active and not just something that was the past. It’s the past, the present and the future. I feel much gratitude to be able to share, learn and grow inside of that and for being able to put truth inside of this active legacy.”

Judson-Johnson, who joined the company in 2001, stated, “This transition comes with great planning and intention. Jawole has been sowing leadership in Sam and I long before this season of change. When it was decided to begin the shift in leadership, we were further equipped with mentorship, and the opportunity to grow our capacity as directors, and space to implement vision. I step into this moment as a Legacy Bearer - feet seeped in 35 years of learning and cultivating, head continually spiraling [a nod to Samantha Speis] towards liberation.  I am humbled, grateful and ready!”

 Reflecting back on her early days with UBW, Judson-Johnson noted, “When I got into UBW, my dad said ‘Very good, very good! You did what I told you to do. You found someplace that will nurture the artist!’ We All found this space, this ‘oasis,’ as UBW Board of Directors Chair Tammy Bormann calls it, where we can be nurtured. I celebrate our Homecoming Celebration as an opportunity for us to nurture the nurturer and to give back to the organization that has offered so much to us.”

UBW also announced the addition of three new company members Jasmine Hearn, Elaisa van der Kust and Mikaila Ware, and new understudy Melissa Cobblah-Gutierrez.

UBW Homecoming 2019 was also the launch of the UBW Homecoming Campaign: Legacy + Lineage + Liberation. The campaign is UBW’s first comprehensive individual giving campaign designed to build donor support for the pillars of UBW programming: Summer Leadership Institute, BOLD (Builders, Organizers and Leaders through Dance) and the Choreographic Center Initiative. Campaign funds will also build UBW’s infrastructure, administrative support and begin an endowment to help sustain the organization for decades to come. 


Urban Bush Women galvanizes artists, activists, audiences, and communities through performances, artist development, education, and community engagement. With the ground-breaking performance ensemble at its core, ongoing initiatives like the Summer Leadership Institute (SLI), BOLD (Builders, Organizers & Leaders through Dance) and the Choreographic Center Initiative, UBW continues to affect the overall ecology of the arts by promoting artistic legacies, projecting the voices of the under-heard and people of color, bringing attention to and addressing issues of equity in the dance field and throughout the United States, and by providing platforms and serving as a conduit for culturally and socially relevant experimental art-makers.

Founded in 1984 by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Urban Bush Women (UBW) seeks 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 in order to create a more equitable balance of power in the dance world and beyond.

As UBW celebrates its 35th anniversary, we continue to use dance as both the message and the medium to bring together diverse audiences through innovative choreography, community collaboration, and artistic leadership development.

More information can be found at

ABOUT JAWOLE WILLA JO ZOLLAR (Founder/Visioning Partner of UBW)

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar (Founding Artistic Director and 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.

ABOUT CHANON JUDSON (Co-Artistic Director of UBW)

Chanon Judson joined  the critically acclaimed Urban Bush Women in 2001. She has had the privilege of serving the company as rehearsal director, Director for UB2 – Urban Bush Women’s performing apprentice ensemble, and now furthers her work with UBW as Co-Artistic Director and Co-Director of BOLD (Builders Organizers and Leaders through Dance). Chanon and Samantha are choreographic directors for UBW's new evening length work, “Hair and Other Stories,” in collaboration with Raelle Myrick-Hodges.

Chanon is a recipient of the APAP Leadership Fellowship Cohort II and Director’s Lab Chicago Fellowship 2018.  Additional credits include Taylor Mac’s 24-Hour Spectacular, A 24-Decade History of Popular Music , Cotton Club Parade (Warren Carlyle), Prophecy Dance Company (Kwame Ross), and the Tony Award winning musical Fela! (Bill T. Jones).  Her commercial credits include Victoria’s Secret Live, L’Oreal Live, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Apple Watch and the Michael Jackson 30th Anniversary Concert.

Judson is avid arts educator and has served as faculty with Urban Assembly of Music and Arts High School, Ailey Camp Kansas City MO (Site Director), Alvin Ailey Arts in Education, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts.  Additionally, Chanon is the proud founder of Cumbe Center for Diasporic Arts’ Dance Drum and Imagination Camp for Children and Family Arts Movement LLC, offering creative movement and art making for children.  

ABOUT SAMANTHA SPEIS (Co-Artistic Director of UBW)

Speis is a movement improviser based in New York City and the mother of Aminata and Aicha. She has worked with Gesel Mason, The Dance Exchange, Jumatatu Poe, Deborah Hay (as part of Some Sweet Day curated by Ralph Lemon at the MoMA), Marjani Forte, and Liz Lerman. Speis was the 2012 recipient of the Alvin Ailey New Directions Choreography Lab and recently was awarded a Bessie for Outstanding Performer. Her work has been featured at the Kennedy Center (Millennium Stage), Long Island University, BAAD, Joyce SoHo, Hollins University, Danspace Project, Dixon Place, Dance Place, and The Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Speis’ solo, The Way it Was, and Now, was commissioned by the Jerome Foundation to be performed at Danspace Project for the Parallels Platform Series, and was later invited to the Kaay Fecc Dance Festival in Dakar, Senegal. She has developed a movement and teaching practice that explores pelvic mobility as the root of powerful locomotion and as a point of connection to the stories, experiences and lineages that reside in each of us. She has been a guest artist and taught workshops throughout the United States, South America, Senegal, and Europe. Recent projects include Walking with ‘Trane co-choreographed with Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and her collaboration with Chanon Judson and Raelle Myrick-Hodges of Hair and Other Stories.