National ad campaigns, magazine covers, LGBTQ advocate, famed ballet soloist, Harper Watters can do it all—in heels.
When Harper Watters (theharperwatters.com) moved from his native New Hampshire to a Massachusetts boarding school at 14, then two years later to Houston to attend a summer program at Houston Ballet (houstonballet.org), he might not have guessed where he would be today: 28 years old, eight seasons of Houston Ballet under his belt (three as soloist) and star of a few viral videos, a MAC cosmetics campaign and Ralph Lauren’s Pride Campaign. “I definitely think I’ve always been a confident, flashy, flamboyant person,” says Watters. “But from when I was born until the age of 16, [the only] people who really saw that were the posters in my bedroom.” Now, his audience is a bit larger: over 2,000 ballet patrons at each of his Houston Ballet performances and 213,000 Instagram followers. His journey from ballet dancer to social media influencer started with behind-the-scenes dance videos of himself and other members of the company, but reached stardom with a viral “workout” video in which he and former Houston Ballet dancer Rhys Kosakowski gracefully walk, run and dance on treadmills in bubblegum-pink stilettos. “The beauty of a viral video is when you don’t try to make it viral, it just happens,” he notes. “I never thought that it would turn into something.” But it’s all in a day’s work for Watters, who continues to embrace social media as a way to connect with his fans and to empower a new generation of dancers. “When I came to Houston, I met a woman named Lauren Anderson who is still here. She was the first African American principal of a major ballet company—and I didn’t know who she was,” he recalls. “That doesn’t mean that the work she was doing wasn’t making waves; it’s just that we didn’t have [the platform we have now].” He continues: “That’s why I do what I do. When the next dancers come in, hopefully the landscape they see when they come to the ballet is a lot more colorful.” When Watters isn’t at Houston Ballet, where he works five days a week, he’s taking in all that Houston has to offer. “Houston is so diverse and accepting—and we have some really good food,” he quips, rattling off neighborhood favorites like Sweetgreen, Shake Shack, One Fifth and Anvil. He’s religious about Pilates; loves The Menil, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston and the River Oaks Theatre; and as you might expect, he spends plenty of time perfecting his in-demand Insta feed. Here, we follow Watters on a rare day off.
“I try to wake up around 7:30 in the morning. I have a white Maltese, Roxy, and she typically wakes me up and we go on a walk. ... If I run out of coffee, I will run to Catalina Coffee. It is owned by the husband of another dancer in the company, so we try to frequent that place.”
“I’m really known for doing things spur of the moment on my social media. If I get an idea, I want to edit the video and concept right then and there. Even though I know I should just be relaxing in the morning, I’ll check Instagram, maybe go on YouTube.”
“I love going to The Menil, Hermann Park and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston—just trying to stay stimulated culturally and get out of the house.”
“I’m really, really bad at cooking, and I really do not like cooking. There’s tons of places that we like to go. Chris Shepherd is an avid supporter of the ballet. We’ll treat ourselves to a dinner [at one of his restaurants] on the weekends.”
Photography by: clocks photo by Audrey Schtecinjo/Stocksy; coffee photo by Tyler Nix; food photo by Julie Soefer; Harper Watters portrait by Shaider Divina; Harper Watters ballet photo by Erin Brethauer; CAMH photo by Sean Fleming