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DANCE– Interview – Houston Ballet Dancer HARPER WATTERS

Harper Watters has a passion for being bold and unapologetically being himself, as evidenced not only in his onstage dancing as a Demi Soloist for the Houston Ballet but in is viral heel treadmill videos. Watters has 65K+ followers on Instagram and created the YouTube web series ’The Pre Show’ which highlights behind the scenes life of professional dancers. Watters has worked with photographers Mike Ruiz, Gerardo Vizmanos, and Ryan Pfluger for the NewYorker. He’s proud to standout and collaborates with people, brands, and artists, who aren’t afraid to either.
Harper Watters 1
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Twine
Harper has a viral video, This High-Heeled Dancer Will Literally Cast A Spell on You, that has reached nearly 5M views, shared by ELLE and Marie Claire.
His unique story; adopted, black, gay, and a soloist for the Houston Ballet is the ideal human interest story.
Harper Watters 2
When did you first turn to ballet and how has it benefited you?
I first turned to ballet when I was given the New York City Ballet VHS of The Nutcracker. Besides inspiring my one man self choreographed version of the ballet I put on in my living room that year, it made me want to explore classical ballet! Through my exploration I found myself taking movement classes at my private school, then joining my local competition dance studio. With each class it became more and more clear that I had to make dance my career. Dance has taught me discipline, responsibility, artistry, and patience. It’s allowed me to work with brilliant creatives and travel the world. It’s a very special thing to call yourself a classical ballet dancer. 
How would you advise a young dancer who wants to follow your footsteps?
Dance is evolving so quickly that it’s no longer enough to have immaculate technique and tricks. So besides telling dancers to be diligent in honing their skills, I emphasize the importance of knowing it’s ok to make mistakes and to be different. Directors and choreographers are much more interested in how you make steps your own, how you make them special. Showing how you can retain and apply corrections, and handle critique is incredibly vital for sustaining your position in a company. So it’s ok to fall out of a turn, not have the best feet, and if they’re looking at you so what! You have their attention, now show them your strengths and show them you.
What is the best advice you have received?
In 2015 I applied for the Princess Grace Award in the field of dance. For the submission process I had to film a variation. There was one rehearsal I had for it with my artistic director where I was half way through running the variation and I fell out of a turn and just stopped. He paused the music and looked at me. Instead of commenting about the turn, he said “you’re never going to get the perfect wave, it’s about how you ride the wave you’re given.” That was a real turning point (haha) in my career. I had to let go of the fact that it will never be perfect. Of course I can rehearse and strive for perfection, but I have to incorporate other things into my dancing so it’s not just steps. Having intent and purpose behind each step and transition, takes you from being a dancer to an artist.
When did you first decide to become a filmmaker?
Filmmaker, no. Social media and pop culture addict yes. There was never a moment where I decided to make a dance web series or set out to create heel videos, everything has always been a natural extension of things I love and love to do. Dancers are natural entertainers, and it’s just in my DNA to perform. I also love sharing who I am on and off the stage. So when I film video inspired by the Super Bowl, Beyonce, Rupauls drag race, they might appear high concept but in reality it’s just pure simple fun. 
Has the journey of becoming a dancer been helped by your decision  to document the journey?
My social media journey has definitely had a positive impact on my confidence and provided reassurance whenever I’m faced with doubts. It’s not easy putting yourself and aspects of your life out there for the world to judge, but it’s allowed me to interact with people who share my passions and can relate to my story. Knowing that my choices, attitude, and outlook inspire others translates into my dancing. I dance with no apologies and my social media is a reflection of that as well. 
Describe the highlights of your web series.
It’s always fun when people quote us and turn what was just an off the cuff moment into a catch phrase. We get videos and messages screaming Half Hour, or texting us you guys are LOIFE. All things that we say and do in the pre show that was just super random but is now a staple of the show! I’ve had people recreate and film their own pre show, arguing over who is who and why! Seeing how people connect to what we perceive is sometimes tedious work getting ready for a show, is brilliant. The whole web series is also a highlight. I’m very grateful to be able to go back and relive hilarious moments with my best friends. 
What are your favorites?
In the Pre Show: 2 in 1 Daniel delivers probably one of my favorite lines, that I refuse to write down so you’ll have to watch that episode! What follows after, has me crying laughing every time.
I edit all the videos myself and I’m very a much a control freak when it comes to them, so for The Pre Show: Hijacked when the boys took the camera and talked about why they like me on camera while I was onstage dancing, that was really heartwarming to edit.
The Pre Show: New York City was sort of how I transitioned into vlogging. There are no strict rules on the format of the pre show, but at the time it never really traveled out of the dressing room. It was also really major for us to wrk with Principal of ABT and legendary photographer Mike Ruiz at the same time.
They’re like children though you can’t have favorites. They all have moments in them that make me laugh overtime I watch them!
How much courage did it take to get started?
I was at a point where I was posting myself running in heels on a treadmill on my instagram so these videos weren’t that much more a stretch to post. I had this gut feeling that people would like it and find it relatable. I was more anxious and excited. 
Give us a timeline of each episode’s genesis and provide a set of lessons learned.
Nothing I post is scripted or has a plot. Everything is derived simply from what I’m doing in my life. The Pre Show is simply us getting ready before a show. The conversations and banter stem from pop culture, current events, stress, and the fact that we work with these people 44 weeks out of the year! The result of these episodes and what I’ve personally gained from doing this, is that I can be 100% and the only type of effect it has on my profession is a positive one. The Pre Show has strengthened my relations with new dancers, I’ve learned more about my colleagues, and I’ve shown to young dancers that you can have fun, do what makes you happy, and still be a fabulous dancer!
How has the community responded overall?
Everyone has an opinion, and I’ve been fortunate that the positive ones I receive have outweighed the negative ones. I like to push buttons though, it means I’m having an impact. I’ve always been someone that if I have your attention I’m going to keep it. It’s difficult for me to wrap my head around the idea that pink heels or a flamboyant attitude can be so offensive to some, but I’m grateful for the outpour of support from publications  and the teachers and parents who write me sending their love. We need more than ever to uplift one another so the next generation of dancers have a healthy environment where they feel they can flourish. The more the community supports dancers like me the better it is for the ones who will take my place. 
How do you find time, given your professional dancing career?
You make time for what you love and enjoy to do. I can’t wait to get home, sit on the couch with my dog and edit. Filming is the easy part, I take the camera with me wherever I am. The fun part is bringing it to life. It’s important to find things to balance out the stress of work, and while yes this is very much related to my job, the process of editing is actually quite therapeutic. I film them when were in performance months where we have minimal rehearsals during the day because we go late in the evenings for shows. I’ll usually edit them at night, upload it while I’m sleeping, then put the finishing touches in the morning before our late start class. It might sound crazy, but I enjoy every minute of it.
What do you consider the perfect conditions to foster artistic growth at every stage of one’s career?
A supportive environment where individuals are allowed to make mistakes, be who they are, and their differences are embraced. Discipline is emphasized and encouragement is constant. Beyonce is always playing. 
What have you learned to be the greatest obstacles and what is the best way to overcome them?
My biggest obstacle has always been myself. Still is today. Overcoming myself means outdoing what I’ve already done, working harder than I did yesterday. Never doubting my capabilities and trusting in the path that got me to where I am. I’m in control of what I want I want to accomplish.
What inspires you the most?
My surroundings. I’ve always been an observant person and always tend to seek more of what gave me a feeling of satisfaction. TV shows, music, food, a dance tape, watching my friends dance! Whenever I find something that excites me I always make it a goal of mine to get more of it. There’s a reason we connect to certain things. I try to identify what makes me drawn to it and see how I can emulate it in my own my way. 
What’s next?
I want to expand on projects that I’ve started myself. Be in the pages of major publications working with photographers who have no idea what a tendu is. Get cameras to follow and highlight the real stories of classical dancers, without the overly dramatized plot lines and dark filters. Merge different worlds, pushing the boundaries of what people think a classical ballet dancer is and does. Maybe I need my own tv show to make that all happen?
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June 22, 2017 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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