Celebrity Mentorship: Lula Washington

Lula Washington discovered her passion late in life. While studying nursing in junior college, Lula saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It inspired her to dance.

Lula applied to UCLA’s Dance Department and was denied because she was 22 and a newlywed mom with limited dance training. Lula appealed and a retiring dean admitted Lula based on her determination to succeed. Lula earned a master’s degree in dance at UCLA where she developed her own unique choreographic style. Lula went on to become one of UCLA’s stellar dance graduates – one of the few to maintain a successful dance company in Los Angeles for many decades. .

Washington established the Black Dance Association at UCLA while she was still a student and she performed with local dance companies and choreographers including Donald McKayle, Lester Wilson and Margalite Oved. While a student, Lula danced in the Academy Awards telecast. She also danced with singers Cher and Al Green. She danced in the films “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club’s Band” and “Funny Lady” with Barbra Streisand; and in the TV movie “Cindy” – the black Cinderella story.

In 1980, Washington and husband, Erwin (’73, MFA ’79), founded The Lula Washington Dance Theatre, which has toured around the world consistently for four decades. The dance company owns a dance studio in South Los Angeles where it maintains a dance school which offers affordable dance training for inner city youth. It’s goal is to provide “a creative outlet for young Southern California dance artists.” Thousands of young inner city children have studied dance under Lula. Some have gone on to dance with stars like Madonna; Cher; George Harrison of the Beatles; Mary J. Blige; Alvin Ailey and on Broadway. Lula’s dance company has toured to prestigious theaters around the U.S. and abroad in Russia, China, Israel, Germany, Brazil and other countries.

Lula performed her “Reflections In Black” educational concerts at Royce Hall via UCLA Design For Sharing for more than a decade. This program has reached 35,000 students and received UCLA’s $25,000 Ann C. Rosenfeld Distinguished Community Partnership Prize.

Washington has received the L.A. Women’s Theater Festival Integrity Award, KCET Celebrating the Women of Our Century Award, National Dance Association’s Heritage Award, and the Minerva Award from former First Lady Maria Shriver.

Washington was hand-picked by film director James Cameron to choreograph his mega hit film “Avatar.” She also choreographed “The Little Mermaid” movie for Disney and “Mission to Mars” for NASA. The UCLA Research Library has accepted Lula Washington’s papers into its archival collection of dance pioneers. And former California First Lady Maria Shriver awarded Lula the prestigious Minerva Award for the impact of her dance company on families and children in California. Washington is a member of the UCLA Black Alumni Network.

Lula Washington served as a mentor for dance group Outspoken.


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