Houston Ballet soloist Harper Watters has a good thing going on. Not only is he one of the company's rising young dancers, but he's also a ballet celebrity on social media, where he charts his life on Instagram and on his hugely popular YouTube series, "The Pre Show" (which he describes as "tons of ballet, banter, boys and lots of backstage shenanigans").
The Dover, New Hampshire, native, who seems just as comfortable in a pair of pink heels as he does onstage, trained at Walnut Hill School for the Arts and Portsmouth School of Ballet. While a member of Houston Ballet II, he landed an apprenticeship with the company after winning the Contemporary Dance Prize at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. He joined the main company that same year and was promoted to soloist in December 2017. Known for his big personality, elegantly long lines and sensual flow in contemporary work, Watters, 26, is ready to take on the next phase of his career. He recently spoke with Pointe about his new rank and his mission to help others feel proud of who they are.
What did your promotion to soloist mean to you?
It was a huge accomplishment. I felt like I was dancing at my best, and it's a way of letting me know that my director, Stanton Welch, was noticing that I was making the right choices, offstage and onstage. It's incredibly validating.
Was there a threshold moment in your career when you knew things might change?
In spring of 2016, I was dancing in all three pieces during our mixed rep. I was still in the corps and realized I was dancing with soloists and principals. I could either be extremely frustrated or focused. I chose to be focused and really pushed myself. I think Stanton was testing me.
What was huge for you this year?
Being a prince! It was during Nutcracker, right before my promotion. I was so nervous. You can't hide behind the role. I tend toward contemporary work because there seems to be more artistic choices, but I found that this was also true with the Nutcracker Prince. Stanton allowed me to be my own kind of prince—I learned so much about making a role my own.
Where do you want to grow artistically?
I want to face the wall of pure classical ballet. I hope there will be many classical roles on my horizon. I am 50 percent excited and 50 percent nervous. I'm learning Espada in Don Quixote. He's all about machismo, so that will be new. Being a soloist will open up many more possibilities.
How do you manage staying on top of your dance game and your tremendous Instagram following?
I am obsessed with social media. I never find it a struggle. I am always on the pulse of what's happening in pop culture and the ballet world. I want to inspire my followers.
All 147,000 of them?
Yes! And keep them. I also want to share my life as a ballet dancer. I wish I had that when I was growing up.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet
Watters rehearsing the role of Espada in Don Quixote
Does your celebrity status ever get in the way of your artistic goals?
No. Also, I don't consider myself a celebrity. I consider myself a dancer first and that is never compromised.
Describe your YouTube series, "The Pre Show."
"The Pre Show" highlights the Houston Ballet dancers as they prepare for shows, as shown through my eyes. Think Oprah and Beyoncé's love child, who joined one of the largest ballet companies in the U.S.
Does it help with stress before a performance?
Yes! I am loud and energetic, and when I get nervous I get mute. "The Pre Show" is really cathartic, and it helps me become grounded. So, yes, it's entertaining to share what you love, but it also really helps me get on my leg before the show.
Talk about your signature pink heels—how did they become a part of your persona?
The shoes were a gift from a fellow company dancer. The first time I put them on I filmed my first treadmill video. I had the best time ever—I had no idea it would go viral and that people would have such a positive response to it. It's the confidence and attitude they give me that I think people connect to.
You are obviously very comfortable as a gay man. Is part of your mission to encourage others to be themselves?
One hundred percent. Entering this world at a young age, I told myself I had to fit a certain mold. My dancing suffered because of it. The second I started bringing Harper to class, rehearsal and the shows, my dancing began to improve and so did my opportunities. There is extreme power in being yourself.