You might not be familiar with the name Harper Watters, but you've probably seen one of his viral videos. Maybe the one where the professional ballet dancer struts, pops, and does splits on the treadmill to the sounds of "Fergalicious" — all while wearing a pair of sky-high pink heels? Two years ago, that exact Instagram video became an internet sensation, garnering over 1.4 million views and tons of reposts.
Watters has gone on to post more treadmill routines, in addition to clips in which he pirouettes sans exercise equipment. The star soloist at the Houston Ballet has built an online reputation centred on self-expression and fearlessness. That's what landed him a gig as the face for MAC's Love Me Lipstick collection.
Along with five other individuals who MAC has deemed "powerfully expressive" — a list that includes Halima Aden and Rina Sawayama — Watters appears in the lipstick campaign wearing a shade of candy apple-red lipstick, called Shamelessly Vain. He also takes a stroll on a treadmill to none other than "Lovefool" by The Cardigans.
Watters admits that he came about his signature move spontaneously. It all began when he and his friends randomly put on heels after a workout in the gym. "We were like, 'Could you imagine if we put on these heels and just got on a treadmill,'" he tells Refinery29. They did exactly that, creating the first of many videos. Watters makes it seem easy to pose on a moving stage, but he admits it's a tough task. "It's a lot of prayer, good health insurance, and music that really helps to do it," he says with a chuckle, revealing that there definitely has been some falling. "The power of editing gives me a lot of grace."
Although dancing in heels can be tricky — you should probably leave it to the professionals — Watters finds power in wearing stilettos on and off the treadmill. "When I wear the heels, a lot of people see the shoe but there's a certain swagger, a certain attitude that you have to have when you put on heels. The same comes when you put on red lip or you use a gorgeous highlight," he says. "I really feel like Naomi Campbell when I wear makeup. When you know that you have a stunning lip on, it's indescribable but you just carry yourself a little different. It's like a superhero cape."
Watters first learned to put on makeup for his dance recitals and studio performances. Over time, he perfected his stage makeup skills by watching YouTube tutorials and copying the techniques of drag queens. "RuPaul's Drag Race was really inspirational for me to start accepting my feminine side and exploring my identity, other sides of who I am, and who I can be," he says. "It really made me feel like, 'It's cool to put on a heel, makeup, or any type of outfit."
Don't be mistaken by Watters' undeniable confidence, his journey to self-love has been a work in progress — especially with the pressures within the dance community. "I'm actually in my tenth season with the Houston Ballet, and it's my job to stare at myself in the mirror every day and perfect things," he reflects. "I doubted myself a lot, and I thought I had to be like other successful dancers. I compared myself to them."
Eventually, he harnessed the confidence we all see today on his Instagram feed and in the MAC campaign. "It was when I truly accepted who I was, what I had to offer, and what I had to say that my dancing became better." Watters feeds that self-love by taking his ballet classes every day — which he finds meditative — wearing heels whenever he pleases, and making time for guilty pleasures, like the Real Housewives.
He urges everyone to find the thing that gives them power. In his words, "Whether it's makeup, heels, or doing what you really truly love, celebrate that and own it because once you do that, the sky's the limit for what you can achieve."
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