Plenaries


Dance/USA is pleased to announce the plenary speakers for the Dance/USA 2017 Annual Conference.


Opening Plenary Keynote Speaker


Dawn J. Fraser

Thursday, June 8 | 10:30am – 12pm
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts| Helzberg Hall


Being an effective leader can often require responding to challenges and creating a new vision for the future. Storytelling, as a leadership practice, enables us to recognize the experiences which have shaped our lives, communicate our values, and create opportunity for engaging and meaningful dialogue. By understanding some of the key elements of a personal narrative, as well the scientific reasons why humans connect and resonate with well told stories, this presentation will aid you in recognizing how one’s story can respond to social and cultural norms, make sense of our history and create a vision for the future. In this interactive presentation, get ready to explore the meaning and significance of your experiences as a means to craft stories that inspire, persuade and engage in local communities and beyond.

Dawn J. Fraser is a performer, educator and national speaker from San Jose, California. She is the Creator and Host of Barbershop Stories, which features some of New York's bravest storytellers, comedians, and memoirists, as they tell live stories... while chopping off their hair. Dawn was featured as a speaker amongst some of the nation's top innovators and change makers at TED@NYC, and currently teaches storytelling to students through The Moth’s Community Program. Dawn is a nationally acclaimed speaker, and delivers speeches and workshops to students, entrepreneurs, and business owners to develop stories that engage and inspire. Her own stories about growing up as a twin and a first generation Trinidadian have been featured on storytelling shows including The Moth, Story Collider, The Soundtrack Series and RISK! She also works as a speech coach, training individuals to be their most impactful selves.

Dawn is one of the Co-Founders of the Oakland based nonprofit ‘Art in Action’ (currently a division of United Roots Oakland) and has worked on performance and cultural advocacy programs in countries including Brazil, Jamaica and Ghana. She has consulted major media organizations including Hot 97, 98.7 Kiss FM, and MTV Tempo to develop marketing and business development campaigns, and was a writer and performer with the Brooklyn based sketch comedy troupe American Candy. She is also the Founder of Envision Admissions which has worked with prospective college and graduate school candidates to utilize elements of storytelling and personal narratives as part of an application strategy.

Dawn received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from UCLA, and a Masters in Public Policy at Harvard University, where she was the recipient of the Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership due to her commitment to building community and serving as a role model for women aspiring to be leaders.

Learn more about Dawn here.

Opening Plenary Special Guest Speaker


Chairman Jane Chu

Thursday, June 8 | 10:30am – 12pm
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts| Helzberg Hall


Jane Chu is the eleventh chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. With a background in arts administration and philanthropy, Chairman Chu is also an accomplished artist and musician. She leads a dedicated and passionate group of people to support and fund the arts and creative activities in communities across the nation.

Chu was born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and raised in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. She studied music growing up, eventually receiving bachelor's degrees in piano performance and music education from Ouachita Baptist University, and master's degrees in music and piano pedagogy from Southern Methodist University. Additionally, Chu holds a master's degree in business administration from Rockhurst University and a PhD in philanthropic studies from Indiana University.

In addition to awarding more than $240 million in grants during her tenure to-date, Chu has issued new research reports on arts participation and the impact of the arts and cultural industries on the nation's gross domestic product; has made hundreds of trips to communities across the nation to see first-hand how the arts are impacting people and places; and launched the Tell Us Your Story project that demonstrates the importance of the arts in our lives.

As part of the NEA’s 50th Anniversary, Chairman Chu launched her signature leadership initiative, Creativity Connects, to investigate the current state of the arts in our nation, and explore how the arts connect with other industries. The initiative includes, a pilot grant program that awards grants to arts organizations for projects involving partnerships with non-arts organizations; a “bright spots” interactive, digital graphic that shows the mashup of arts with other non-arts sectors; and the report, Creativity Connects: Trends and Conditions Affecting US Artists, about the current infrastructure of the arts and working conditions for artists.

"We have an opportunity to start a new dialogue on the ways in which the arts—and the ways the NEA supports the arts—are an essential component of our everyday lives," says Chu. "Although many may not realize it, the arts actively intersect with areas such as the economy, human development, and community vitality. The arts and artists who are funded and supported by the NEA are an integral part of the solution to the challenges we face in all parts of our society."

Chu has a deep understanding of and commitment to the arts. From 2006 to 2014, Chu served as the president and CEO of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City, MO, overseeing a $413-million campaign to build the center. She was a fund executive at the Kauffman Fund for Kansas City from 2004 to 2006, and vice president of external relations for Union Station Kansas City from 2002 to 2004. Previously, she was vice president of community investment for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation from 1997 to 2002.

Closing Plenary


Jawole Willa Jo Zollar

Saturday, June 10 | 12pm – 1pm
Kansas City Ballet – Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity | Frost Studio Theater


From Kansas City, Missouri, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar trained with Joseph Stevenson, a student of the legendary Katherine Dunham. After earning her B.A. in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, she received her M.F.A. in dance from Florida State University. In 1980 Zollar moved to New York City to study with Dianne McIntyre at Sounds in Motion.

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. In addition to 34 works for UBW, she has created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, University of Maryland, Virginia Commonwealth University and others; and with collaborators including Compagnie JantBi from Senegal and Nora Chipaumire. In 2006 Zollar received a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) for her work as choreographer/creator of Walking With Pearl…Southern Diaries . Featured in the PBS documentary, Free to Dance, which chronicles the African American influence on modern dance, Zollar was designated a Master of Choreography by the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in 2005. Her company has toured five continents and has performed at venues including Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and The Kennedy Center. UBW was selected as one of three U.S. dance companies to inaugurate a cultural diplomacy program for the U.S. Department of State in 2010. In 2011 Zollar choreographed visible with Chipaumire, a theatrical dance piece that explores immigration and migration. In 2012 Zollar was a featured artist in the film Restaging Shelter, produced and directed by Bruce Berryhill and Martha Curtis, and currently available to PBS stations.

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, founder/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. A former board member of Dance/USA, Zollar received a 2008 United States Artists Wynn fellowship and a 2009 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial. Still dancing, she recently toured in a soldout national tour presented by 651 ARTS as a leading influential dancer/choreographer on a program that included her early mentor Dianne McIntyre, her collaborator Germaine Acogny, Carmen de Lavallade and Bebe Miller. As an artist whose work is geared towards building equity and diversity in the arts Zollar was awarded the 2013 Arthur L. Johnson Memorial award by Sphinx Music at their inaugural conference on diversity in the arts. In 2013, Zollar received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and recently received honorary degrees from Tufts University and Rutgers University.