A Dancer’s Journey – From Summer Intensive to Professional

Meet our newest guest blogger, Houston Ballet’s Harper Watters, who will be posting regularly about his journey from summer intensive student to professional dancer:

Growing up in a small town in New Hampshire where dance was as common as a winter without snow, I never would have believed anyone if they told me in just a few years I would be dancing my first season as an apprentice with Houston Ballet. I went from being a freshman in high school, who chose dance for “athletic credits”, to representing one of the best Ballet Schools in the world at the Prix de Lausanne ballet competition.

Through my upcoming blog entries I will share my story on becoming a professional dancer.  Though every dancer’s journey is unique and filled with their own personal highs and lows, it seems that at one point every dancer has been forced to take risks and challenged to trust their gut instinct. It is these moments that I want to share. They will serve as a “behind the scenes look” into the life leading up to and maintaining a career in dance.


Part 1: It’s Overwhelming When Dreams Become Reality

I’d like to believe that my stellar tap performance among thirty tapping four-year-olds or even my winning jazz solo for the title of “Teen Mr. Starquest” could serve as career starting moments, but deep down I know that attending the Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts marks the true moment my dance career started. At the time, my previous dance training consisted of 3 classes a week at a competition dance studio where I was the only boy, and the concept of a double tour and a dance belt didn’t exist. Struggling to find my niche at school, I was drawn to the studio more for the opportunity of friendship and less for the dance training offered.

Harper at his first dance school

Harper's first dance school - Photo: © Harper Watters

However, my priorities quickly changed as I began to be introduced to the dance vocabulary. After two years I wanted more out of dance, so I auditioned and was accepted into Walnut Hill the summer before my sophomore year.  The decision to leave and go to boarding school was met with feelings of apprehension from my parents. The idea of my leaving home at age 15 and academics playing a slightly lesser role was hard for my parents to accept, but I knew it was a risk worth taking. I look back at my time spent at Walnut Hill and think how lucky I was to attend such an amazing place. Not only was I able to take the necessary dance classes I needed as a male dancer and expand my knowledge about dance, I was able to be surrounded by similar people my age who had the same passion and drive as I did.

Walnut Hill Performance

A performance while at Walnut Hill - Photo: © Harper Watters

I credit those friends and my teachers for helping me realize a career in dance was achievable. In my first year I placed in the lowest level of ballet but the highest level of modern. I wasn’t upset or defeated, instead I took it is a sign that I was supposed to become that type of dancer. Up until then, the dancers of Alvin Ailey were a huge source of inspiration and I remember only wanting to take ballet to help me get into Ailey. It wasn’t until I returned the following year from a summer at Washington Ballet and was placed in the highest level of Ballet at Walnut Hill that my priorities began to change. I was beginning to see a change in my dancing and my capabilities of the classical ballet.

Harper Watters at a Walnut Hill performance

Harper performing at Walnut Hill - Photo: © Harper Watters

Coincidentally, that summer I was introduced to YouTube and was able to watch videos of Angel Corella, Ethan Stiefel, Malakhov, and Carlos Acosta. What these men could do and the versatility they possessed in their movement inspired me immensely. Next year I spent much more time trying to figure out and attempt what I saw these male dancers doing than on any homework or academic assignment. I had come to figure out that Carlos Acosta, at the time a principal with Royal Ballet and ABT, had danced with Houston Ballet. A male dancer who attended Walnut Hill was also currently dancing in Houston Ballet’s main company. At the advice of my teachers, I attended Houston Ballet’s summer program. The 6-week program was a huge eye-opener. I had never experienced such intense training and amazing dancing opportunities. I guess the stars aligned because at the end of the program I was offered a spot with their second company.

Walnut Hill Corsaire

Harper performing in Le Corsaire at Walnut Hill - Photo: © Harper Watters

When I made the choice to leave my senior year of high school and move to Houston, there was no turning back. All doubt was put to rest, and I had chosen to pursue a career in dance. Little did I know, I was about to enter the 2 most grueling, yet rewarding, years I have ever experienced.

To be continued…

Harper and friends at Walnut Hill

Harper and friends at Walnut Hill - Photo: © Harper Watters

Harper Watters was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in Dover, New Hampshire where he began his dance training at the Portsmouth School of Ballet. To further his education, he auditioned and was accepted on scholarship to attend the Walnut Hill School for the Arts. He has attended both Washington Ballet and Houston Ballet Summer Intensives on full scholarship. Harper joined Houston Ballet II in 2009 and was awarded the contemporary dance prize at the 2011 Prix de Lausanne. He is now an apprentice with Houston Ballet.

Follow Harper on Twitter: @Harper_Watters


  • April 30, 2012

    Romy Macias


    What an inspiring journey! I can’t wait for the rest.
    Congratulations on your career success.
    I look forward to reading your posts,

  • [...] You can follow him on Twitter here and read his journey on becoming a dancer as he guest blogs on The Ballet Bag. Next week, I will share my personal journey on becoming a dancer on this blog. I did, however, [...]