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Houston Ballet Soloist: Harper Watters on Dance.

March 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Ent., News, Weekly Columns

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( Dance is an artform of expression that can be a source of freedom. In such many that embrace dance find their home in the world. A place whereby they can be themselves and share that beauty with the world. Harper Watters, Soloist with the Houston Ballet, has made it his mission to be authentic to his craft while sharing his truest self with the world through dance. His work with the Houston Ballet would begin in 2009, and he has soared to new heights as a soloist. He is sitting down with to talk dance, ballet, overcoming challenges and his journey thus far to becoming a Houston Ballet Soloist.

TBM: For some of our readers that may have never heard of you and your work, and are not acclimated, outside of Misty Copeland, to ballet tell us a bit about where you’re from. Who is Harper Watters?

HW: I was born in Atlanta Ga. I was adopted at 2 weeks old and grew up in Dover New Hampshire. I was an only child, and both of my parents were English college professors. Education was very important to my upbringing; they made sure I had everything I needed regarding schooling. I was a constant mover as a child which led my parents to put me in dance class. Dance at that point was maybe once a day; I was put into a private school that offered dance after school. In about the 5th or 6th grade when we had to choose between sports, or after school teams, I was able to choose dance. It was something I connected to and I think it was the dance aspect, and it was where I found I had the most friends. Both of my parents are Caucasian so there weren’t any other people of color in my school…it’s New Hampshire, its New England. However, finding people that shared the same interests as me and supported me was really important, so I think that’s why I was really attracted to it. That was my first taste of dance.

I continued through my freshman year of high school, then the summer before my sophomore year I came out to my parents. It was relieving in a sense that if felt a big weight was lifted off my shoulders, but I was also really nervous to return to my private school. In hindsight I think I would have been fine and would have been supported with that group of people I was talking about. But I created a big scenario in my head that I was not going to be excepted and it would be torture. I knew of a performing arts high school in Boston, MA called The Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts and I made it my mission to get into that school. I just knew there were more people like me there, so I asked my parents to audition. I drove down there about three weeks before my private school was about to start. I auditioned, and I got in so it was a very quick turnaround. I decided not to return to my private school and did my sophomore year at Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts. I did two years there…my sophomore and junior year of high school. At the advice of my teachers at Walnut Hill I came to Houston in 2009 for a summer intensive. It was meant to be a 6 week summer intensive, and I had no idea that I would spend the rest of my time here in Houston.

I was offered a contract, at the end of the summer, with the 2nd company. I explain to people it’s like the minor leagues of ballet; its great transition to start learning rep, pieces and ballets and get a feel for what a company is like without actually being in a company. It was another point in my career with what I am going to do next; I decided to take that contact and not return to Walnut Hill for my senior year. I did two years in the 2nd company here in Houston from 2009-2011. I then joined the main company in 2011 as an apprentice; I was 18 yrs old. Year later, 2012, I was promoted to the corp which is the largest portion of the company; a lot of people spend a lot of time in the corp. In 2016 I was promoted out of the corp to a demi-soloist, and in December of 2017 I was just promoted to soloist. This is my path to how I got to Houston, and who I am as a dancer.

TBM: What drives your passion as a dancer

HW: I have personally been presented with a lot of challenges and hurdles in throughout my career. Do I take the risk of going to another place? Do I have the risk of moving from New Hampshire to Houston when I’m 16yrs old? Being inspired by other dancers made me realize my technique isn’t where it needed to be, and I do need to work harder. I’ve always had these moments where I have this internal flame of you need to push yourself right now; or you need to work harder. That has always been my motivator in my career. There have always been these mark points of now is the time to work. If you trust yourself and do it 110% you will reap the benefits. Looking back on my career I can see that. When I joined the main company there were these guys, older dancers, that I was seeing dance that were astounding and incredible. I knew that in order to do that I would have to push myself in how I danced, and how I approached my work. My motivation has always been these moments where it’s, ‘Okay Harper you need to start working really really hard.’

TBM: Who are your driving influence dancers

HW: Alvin Ailey was a huge inspiration for me. I never got to see him dance, but I saw the company he created. My dad taught at the University of New Hampshire, and Alvin Ailey’s tour came to the school. That was my first taste of a professional dance company. They are a more modern and contemporary dance but seeing dancers of color, and strong male dancers execute what they were doing was inspiring. Carlos Acosta, Albert Evans of NY City Ballet, Craig Hall of NY City Ballet, and Clifton Brown of Alvin Ailey these were people who looked like me and they were doing things that I wanted to do. They inspired me growing up. When I became older there were dancers like James Whiteside of American Ballet Theatre, Roberto Bolle, Stephen McCray and dancers who were not just great dancers, but they were people who were living their truth, and were unapologetically being themselves. That to me was indication or just a pass of go Harper you an be who you are, you can do what you want to do, and you can be successful at it.

Younger dancers I see through Instagram, and being aware of the ballet world, are motivating me as well. They are hungry and motivated they inspire me. And Misty Copeland, I can’t talk about inspiration without talking about her because she has really paved the way and changed the game of what it means to be a dancer of color in this generation. But I’d say yes, we have the same skin color and yes, we have the same the same profession but we couldn’t be more different. I urge people to not just lump dancers together by one identifying quality, and I urge them to get to know each artist that is on stage and off stage. We each have incredibly unique stories behind who we are that are much more than the color of our skin

TBM: What are some of the challenges your have had to face not just as a black person in ballet, but a black man in ballet?

HW: I am very lucky. Lauren Anderson was the first African – American ballerina to be a Principle here in Houston of a major ballet company in the United States. She really paved the way and was a huge reason as to why my parents were okay to let me come here. I feel like Houston Ballet was already open to that idea. I came here in 2009, and I’ve spent my whole career here, so I don’t have the proper knowledge to speak on other companies. What I would say is the openness was such that we were kind of had an advantage. But, in the more recent years because there has been a push for more diversity of ballet it’s almost as if people are only focused on the color of my skin rather than the talent that I have to offer. A lot of people will say “we need to see you up there doing Swan Lake, there needs to be an African-American Prince”.

Well, I’d like to do prince, but I want to do it because I can do it not because I’m black. I feel like that is a challenge now for dancers coming up, because you want to do the role and perform the role because you deserve to do it not because you are trying to fill a quota. That is something I’m trying to prove to people. I am worthy because I have worked my butt off; I am not getting opportunities because I look “different”. Past the color of my there is a stereotype in ballet that all men are gay, and that’s not the case at all. These are kind of the hurdles we deal with across the board.

TBM: About representation do you think we have come to a place whereby so many dancers that have come before you were denied the role because they were black, regardless of how good they were, and do you think there may be a push that the lack of representation needs to be fixed?

HW: 100 percent, the lack of representation has to be fixed, but where that comes from? We can’t say there needs to be a black prince or black Prima Ballerina, and then take a black dancer from the corp and say do it. Ballet is an elite art form you have to be able to execute it, there has to be a standard. Where that starts from is making sure that every young dancer who steps into the studio has the same advantage, training and attention; and that you are going to places not just that can afford the classes, but you are going to places where people want to dance. The only way to ensure that someone can dance it is if they have the training, and they are in it from the start. Here at Houston Ballet, fueled by Lauren Anderson, we go to these places and bring in students from underrepresented cities, bring them into our Houston Ballet studios and giving them movement classes.

A lot of dancers from that one class are coming in and taking semester or year around classes. That is where it starts so that people would not have to be like Lauren where she was told she couldn’t be in the corp because she stood out too much. She couldn’t be in a line of girls because she was a distraction, but she could dance circles around all of them. I just think that Misty is doing her job, and I can’t imagine the pressure she feels. It starts from the first class, and the training so that we avoid scenarios where people miss out on opportunities.

TBM: When someone says Harper Watters what do you want them to walk away knowing?

HW: I want them to know Harper. I want them to experience someone they’ve never met before. I want them to say we just got to know him, and we didn’t see him try to be someone else. I want them to be able to say that is Harper, and I do that by living my best life off stage, by being authentic to me drawing from my personal life and giving myself 100 percent of myself onstage so that people can see me. I want them to see hard work, dedication, a damn good show, I want them to enjoy themselves. But, at the end of the day there is a person behind that dancer, I want to see them again, and I want to know them more.

When I watch a performance and you can feel the emotion, and its authentic that is what makes it special to me. That is what I want people to experience, and I also want them to think that I look so freaking flawless. As a dancer when you are starting out you only think of the physical aspect, and only over time and through experience do you realize there is so much more to making it special and making it unique. That is what I want to give across.



Staff Writer; Christian Starr

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