HOUSTON, Texas -- When Houston Ballet star Harper Watters first received a pair of pink six-inch platform heels from a friend in his company, it was meant to be a funny gift.
"We were in the gym, and so we were just like, could you imagine if we just ran on the treadmill with these? How funny would that be?" Harper said.
He and a friend strapped them on and recorded a 52-second video, performing ballet routines on the treadmill. The video quickly went viral on Instagram, racking up over one million views. For Harper, it was a moment of realization.
"I consciously continued to create content that was authentic to me and would reach other people," he said. "I would use these heeled videos to bring people into my world and then I would share my world as a black, queer dancer."
He began sharing his life as a dancer on his YouTube Series, The Pre-Show, which takes viewers backstage and gives them a glimpse inside the world of professional ballet.
"It was this real peek behind the curtain that was really beautiful and I'm really, really grateful for those moments," he said.
For Harper, dance has always provided an outlet for him to be his authentic self.
"I'm currently the highest-ranked black dancer in this company," he said. "I feel like I'm able to say that because I advocated for myself. I had to take pride in who I was as a person. I had to take pride in who I am as a dancer. I had to take pride in who I am as a black person. By doing that, by taking care of my dancing, by taking care of my identity, by taking care of my gender, my dancing became better."
Earlier this year, Watters made history with his principal role in the three-act ballet Sylvia.
"I'm just so fortunate and I'm grateful for this, for the opportunity to lead a ballet as a black person, as a queer person - because that just doesn't happen," he said.