One of six children, she was born Willa Jo Zollar in Kansas City, Missouri, to parents Alfred Zollar Jr. and Dorothy Delores Zollar. From age seven to seventeen, Zollar received her dance education from Joseph Stevenson, former student of Katherine Dunham. Zollar also had early training in Afro-Cuban and other native dance forms which later helped to shape her teaching aesthetic. After high school graduation she went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in dance from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and from there also received her Master of Fine Arts from Florida State University, where she is currently[vague] a tenured dance professor. In 1980, Zollar moved to New York City, where she studied under Dianne McIntyre, artistic director for Sounds in Motion Dance Company. In 1984, she left the company and established her own, called the Urban Bush Women, which became the first major dance company consisting of all-female African-American dancers.
Zollar's choreographic style is influenced by the dance traditions of black Americans--modern dance, African dance, and social dance. Her movement synthesizes influences from modern dance (a combination of Dunham, Graham, Cunningham, and Limón techniques), Afro-Cuban, Haitian, and Congolese dance. She emphasizes the use of weight and fluidity as opposed to creating clean shapes. From her Afro-Cuban dance training she employs a strong sense of dynamic timing, rhythmic patterns, and continuous flow of movement. She derives many of her movement ideas from African-American culture--allowing the "church testifying, emotional energy shap[e] the form, and the rawness of that form, like you have in jazz," she says.
In her choreography, Zollar creates avant-garde dance-theater productions that speak from the black female perspective. Her pieces are collaborative performances between dancers, vocalists, artists, actors, composers and musicians, including vocalizations, a cappella singing, storytelling, and social commentary. Through these mediums, Zollar pushes towards social awareness and change. Zollar also explores African-American folk traditions and the reality of the black woman's experience, tackling uncomfortable and controversial social topics such as abortion, racism, sexism, and homelessness, in a hard-edged and straightforward way. Many dance critics say that Zollar's company makes a point to show the reality of African-American culture, revealing how black Americans express themselves when not in the presence of whites.