Harper Watters, is a ballet dancer with a pointe of difference. The Houston Ballet demi-soloist inspirited and ignited a je ne sais quoi amongst the Ballet community and supporters when he posted a video of himself and fellow Houston Ballet dancer Rhys Kosakowski dancing in pink heels. The unapologetic authenticity and talent of Harper will inspire you to buy your own pair of heels and dance to your own beat.
“Mark my word, the face of BALLET will be a lot more colorful in the coming years.”
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How would you describe your youth, did you have a role model growing up?
If I had to describe my youth in 3 words I’d say attentive, sassy, and …..I know that wasn’t the question, but hey, I’m a gay adopted classical ballet dancer of color, I’m not really supposed to follow the rules. While a lot of my childhood was spent twirling in my room in t-shirt bikinis and binge watching episodes of The Real World when my parents weren’t home, it was also spent glued to my computer screen learning about and watching everything there was to do with dance. The music, the styles, the way it made me feel, I was just so naturally drawn to it. My role models were the people I could see similarities and traits that I possessed myself. People doing the things that I wanted to be doing, that looked like me. I envied and admired the work of Clifton Brown, Craig Hall, and the late Albert Evans. All strong male dancers of color who were thriving in the world of dance and were doing so while being unapologetically themselves. They didn’t realize it, but through their dancing they were saying “you can do it to”.
Who was the first boy you kissed?
The summer before my sophomore year, I made the decision to leave my New England private school and attend an arts school in Boston. The first boy I kissed was another ballet major. The decision to switch schools was less to do with my desire to become a dancer but more to do with the simple fact that I wanted an environment to fit in. I had just come out of the closet to my family, and while in hindsight I’m certain my peers would have accepted me, the uncertainty at the time forced me to leave. I never knew a career in dance was possible, so it’s crazy to think that mine began because I came out. While I don’t think that any LGBTQ youth should ever feel unsafe or unwelcome in an environment simply for being who they are, I am grateful that my coming out experience nudged me towards a new environment to discover myself…..and towards the cute junior boy in my dorm.
What advice would you give your adolescent self?
First, Crocs were never a good idea and second, don’t ever underestimate the extreme power of being you. Use what makes you different and stand out as a way of getting peoples’ attention. When you have it, say what you want them to hear and show them what you want them to see. Some people figure this out later in life after they strap on a pair of pink patent leather pumps. They can only be seen though if you chose to show it.
How did you become involved with ballet?
Ballet was meant to be my ticket into becoming a modern dancer. I dreamt of joining Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater because thats where I saw the most dancers who physically looked like me, and ballet was required for the audition. That same performing arts highschool that gave me that dreamy kiss on the bottom bunk in Clark Dormitory, was the same school to push me to attend the Houston Ballet Summer Intensive. It was there that I got my first taste of real disciplined company training. I came to Houston in 2009 intending to only stay for the 6 week summer program, and as I write this now it’s nearing the end of 2017 and I’m a demi soloist with the company.
Beyonce, Rihanna or Nikki. Who would you want to feature in a video clip with?
Without a doubt Beyonce. My heels are named Kelly and Michelle and “love on top” is already selected as the first dance song at my wedding. (just need to find a man)! BUT I’ll definitely rock some Fenty beauty foundation in the video! 😉
“I dance with confidence and no apologies.”
How important do you think it is for LGBTQ athletes to be visible and what advice would you give to college and professional athletes who want to come out but are worried it might affect their future?
What’s difficult about answering this question is that, just like in dance and the arts, athletes don’t want to make their job about their sexuality. I’ve read many statements basically saying that making it an issue, is why there is an issue, but the simple fact is that homophobia is alive and well, everywhere. So until there is a time when slurs aren’t being hurled and homophobia ends, it’s vital to have visible out athletes and artists succeeding at the highest level. Their efforts are showing the next generation where their perseverance and hard work can get them, regardless of their sexual orientation. Rather than give advice I would present the scenario of stepping onto the court, field, stage. etc but take away the pressure and weight of hiding who you are. All of that energy to cover up, not be, and protect, could be infused into your performance. Just imagine the new frontiers of success you could accomplish.
You’ve received incredible support for your signature pink heels. Apart from unparalleled entertainment why do you think people have reacted so positively to the videos?
Because for a second they think I’m Naomi Campbell. No, I think, and more so hope, that people are responding well to it because along with the sheer fabulosity and ridiculousness of it all, there is carefree humor and authenticity to it. The videos are a fantastic trailer for who I am as HarperI. Just the tip of the iceberg of my crazy ballet and Beyonce world. I can’t pinpoint an exact reason, but I would be interested to see how many people actually chose to learn more about the individuals they see in viral videos.
You embrace your feminine side which is so important in sporting envionments where men in particular have the pressure to carry themselves in the ‘traditional’ hyper masculine sense. Where do you summon the courage from to be authentic and true to yourself?
Quite simply I summon the courage to be authentic because my dancing becomes better. I want my dancing to convey authentic emotions and for the audience to believe every intention. The only way to achieve that is to be vulnerable. Ballet requires physicality, artistry, and a high level of technique. There’s no faking it. My dancing changed the minute I was honest with who I was and embraced myself fully. Feminine qualities and all. I dance with confidence and no apologies. It’s special to be able to call yourself a classical ballet dancer, and even more special to happy with who you are.
You recently debuted as the Prince in Houston’s Ballet, The Nutcracker. BRAVO. This must of been a dream for you. As cliche as it sounds, can you tell us about the importance of dreams and believing in yourself?
I KNOW!! This Queen is becoming a Prince!! It’s very exciting to be able to perform this role not only as a stepping stone in my career as a classical dancer but just as a fabulous human being as well. I’ve always been drawn to the more “dancey” roles that required more physical skills and less human emotion. It’s just a simple fact that the relationships in ballet are always male to female. So roles like being a Prince definitely intimidated me. This role is the culmination of a lot of handwork, diligence, and acceptance for who I am. I’ve overcome my fears and I’m honestly just so excited to become Harper the prince.
Have you thought about designing a line of heels?
I’ve actually never thought about heels! Definitely a dance apparel collection and items to go along with my YouTube web series ‘The Pre Show’ but it’s a fantastic idea to add a pair of pumps into the mix!
“Use what makes you different and stand out as a way of getting peoples’ attention.”
What have you learnt about yourself this year?
I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself, and hold myself to really high standards. This year I started realizing that doing this almost set me up for failure when things didn’t happen how I exactly envisioned. I would start to say “it’s just not going to happen” the second something didn’t go as planned. Whether in dance or outside of dance, I need to be in environment where I feel comfortable and I’m allowed to make mistakes. The second I started going with the flow more, letting things happen naturally, and trusting the process, everything started becoming better.
Are there any young athletes or creative that excite you for the future?
TONS! Eric Ford (@ranger_up) on instagram and Alana Campbell (@alan_soup) are both from Houston. We recently collaborated and I was blown away by their eye and creativity. I’m really trying to make an effort in finding and supporting local creatives. ALSO @naazirmuhammad @erica_lall. Both up and coming african american ballet dancers who will for sure be staple names in the ballet world! So often we hear “there needs to be more dancers of color onstage” which is true, but that doesn’t happen over night. Over the past few years Ballet Academy’s have made great efforts to extend their reach in facilitating great training and these 2 dancers are products of this. Mark my word, the face of BALLET will be a lot more colorful in the coming years. Plus these 2 are just so fierce!
Goals for 2018?
I’d love to become promoted and keep rising through the ranks at Houston Ballet. Since being promoted last year, I’ve worked with even more renowned choreographers and I feel like my dancing is evolving and becoming better, so I’d love to keep that going. I want to keep building my little dance social media empire. Merging other worlds with the ballet world. A ballet Wendy Williams show. Shonda Rimes picking up my web series “The Pre Show”. Meeting Beyonce and her knowing my name. There’s SO much and it will all happen 😉
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
“If you took the time to read this, please take the time to wash your hands.”