Lula Washington discovered her passion late in life. While studying nursing in junior college, Washington saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It inspired her to dance.
Washington applied to the UCLA Dance Department and was denied because she was 22 and a mom with little dance training. She appealed and promised to work her hardest to succeed. A dean believed her and admitted Washington to UCLA. She earned a master’s degree and became a dance star.
Washington established the Black Dance Association at UCLA and performed with local dance companies. While a student, she danced in the Academy Awards and with singers Cher and Al Green. She performed in the films "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Funny Lady" with Barbra Streisand.
In 1980, Washington and husband, Erwin (’73, M.F.A. ’79), founded The Lula Washington Contemporary Dance Foundation to provide "a creative outlet for young Southern California dance artists." Thousands of inner city youth studied dance with Washington. Dozens went on to major dance companies and Broadway shows. Many performed with Washington’s dance company across the U.S. and abroad.
Washington’s "Reflections In Black" educational concert has been seen by 35,000 students at Royce Hall via UCLA Design For Sharing. Their partnership received UCLA’s $25,000 Ann C. Rosenfeld Distinguished Community Partnership Prize in 2007.
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.
She worked with James Cameron to choreograph movement for his Oscar-winning film "Avatar." She also choreographed "The Little Mermaid" movie. The UCLA Research Library has accepted Lula Washington’s papers into its archival collection of dance pioneers.
Washington is a member of the UCLA Black Alumni Network. Her husband, Erwin, and daughter, Tamica, are UCLA alumni. Both help lead Washington’s company.