Harper Watters

The combination of a gym treadmill and a pair of towering pink heels made Houston Ballet’s Harper Watters something of a social media sensation, giving him a platform to discuss race, sexuality and dance.

Dance Gazette | Why Dance Matters | Issue 4 - June 2022

What sparked your interest in dance?

I’d always loved to dance and been a performer in my house. There was an understanding from my parents that this kid had to have attention! There was a New York City Ballet special on PBS, and I became hooked seeing Albert Evans dancing Ulysses Dove’s Red Angels – I had never seen anything like it. Then I got a gift for Christmas of NYCB in The Nutcracker – and beyond the costumes and amazing dancing, it was the snow scene that was captivating to me. One of the snowflakes was Black – she was really good, and I spent the whole time watching her. She gave me permission to say: I could be up there too.

Was it easy to make the decision to pursue a career in dance?

In retrospect, I didn’t know what it meant to be a dancer. My path to pursuing dance and being here at Houston Ballet has always been a search for community. The dance studio has always been a place where I could turn the volume up to 10 on who I am. It’s equal parts wanting to be the best dancer I can be, but also searching for a place where my identity and who I am can be at maximum.

Harper Watters and Charles-Louis Yoshiyama in Come In. Photo: Amitava Sarkar (Houston Ballet)

How did a pair of very high, pink heels and a gym treadmill launch your social media career?

There was a group of openly gay boys in the company at the time – it felt like a golden age, but we were probably so obnoxious! One of the boys was leaving the company and walked into the gym one night with two pairs of giant pink heels. We wondered what would happen if we wore them on the treadmill, and one thing led to another. It was very impromptu – we filmed it, I posted it and turned my phone off. When I reopened my phone there were a lot of likes and comments. It was a wake-up call to the power of social media. I thought, now that I have people watching I want to bring them into my world as a classical dancer.

How have you carried that forward?

One thing I’ve learned through my social media career is that visibility is currency. Not necessarily monetary, but the power to show people that they can do it. What I try to do with my social media is to lean into what makes me happy, and if that inspires other people to take that first step then I feel I’m accomplishing something. The series [about previous dancers of colour for Black History Month in the US] I did on social media is my way of acknowledging the dancers who were doing it first – I feel I owe that to them.

Artwork: Bex Glendining

Why does dance matter to you?

I feel I would have answered this differently a few years ago. But right now, dance is about a legacy for me. It’s so important to be confident, unapologetic, authentic, fabulous in what you do. I’m not just doing it for myself but for so many others. Dance matters because I want to continue that legacy. And it’s also really fun to do!

Why Dance Matters

Why Dance Matters is a new podcast from the RAD – a series of conversations with extraordinary people from the world of dance and beyond. We hope these insightful personal conversations – hosted by David Jays, editor of Dance Gazette – will delight and inspire you.

The third season of Why Dance Matters also includes Carlos Acosta, opera star Joyce DiDonato and RAD President Dame Darcey Bussell. Please do listen and subscribe.

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REST OF Issue 4 - June 2022

Big Picture post

Life in colour

Zi Ling has won the RAD’s portrait competition for its new London home.


Where dance happens

The RAD’s new global headquarters will let the Academy spread its wings. Sarah Crompton meets the people who made it happen.

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Maxine Doyle

The queen of immersive dance theatre shares music to lose yourself in.


Meet the boss

Tim Arthur has worked in theatre, publishing and finance – now he’s the RAD’s Chief Executive. Learn about his love of the arts – and unexpected dancing past.

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Saburo Teshigawara

The seasoned Japanese choreographer has advice from an acclaimed career.


Welcome to Battersea

Take Veronica Horwell’s unique audio tour through Battersea’s rich history – a place of pets, parks and power, and home to the RAD.

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Kim Wide

The RAD in London is developing a Good Neighbours programme with its local community. Kim Wide of Take A Part, an organisation committed to co-creation, explains why this work is crucial.


Here, queer and dancing

From folk dance and New York ballrooms to Strictly Come Dancing: Emily Garside explores the history and power of queer dance.

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A royal opening

The RAD’s new home was formally opened by HRH the Duchess of Cornwall.


Taking care

Dance is a demanding career – especially when you also have caring responsibilities. Georgina Lawton hears about the challenges of balancing them both.


Long way from home

As Bronislava Nijinska’s masterwork, Les Noces, approaches its centenary, Lynn Garafola traces its evolution and shattering effect.

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Technique and beyond

The first in a series in which Gerard Charles, the RAD’s Artistic Director, explores our endlessly fascinating relationship with dance.