Kiira Harper: Black Girl Magic Personified
First and foremost, if you’re reading this I’ve already made the assumption that you’re connected to dance in some way. You’re a dancer yourself, you have a loved one that dances, or maybe the photo attached to this article blew you away and here you are. Either way, welcome!
And now that you’re here, I’d like you to think about a dance performance that changed your life. Before you utter the words, “I don’t have one”, really think about it for a moment. Was it seeing Michael Jackson moonwalk for the first time? Was it witnessing Paula Adbul bridge the gap between Jazz/Funk and hardcore Ballet technique? Was it as recent as seeing Beyonce take over the Billboard Music Awards to perform Run the World?
Whatever the moment may be, I can almost guarantee you that you’ve been moved at one point or another by the culminating product of music and movement. For those of you that can remember that moment, try to think about what you felt. When that feeling comes back to you, try to understand what it feels like having that moment happen on repeat every day.
That’s what the life of a professional dancer is like- being inspired beyond words. Being so moved by the feeling of dance that you’re willing to survive the hundreds of no’s to find your one “yes”.
Now with that small bit of insight, let’s take a look at some staggering truths. On average, a major city like LA or New York will observe an influx of hundreds if not thousands of doe-eyed young men and women per week, all aspiring to do the same thing. Dance!
“If you wan’t some sense of stability you have to create that for yourself”
– Kiira Harper
They’ve each listened to their gut, consulted with spiritual council, and have decided that today is the day that they must take that courageous leap of faith.
And of that group, a very limited number of them will be given the opportunity to stand before a panel of judges, whether it be for a casting call or an agency audition, and fight for work. For those lucky enough to survive the audition, that is when the work truly begins. They must now maintain work, stay competitive, and continue to prove that they deserve to dance alongside some of the greatest in their industry.
For those who are currently working toward their dreams of finding success in the world of dance, there’s no need to lament on how hard things get and how competitive the environment is. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. This article has nothing to do with random facts and statistics, and has everything to do with being inspired.
As the concept for this piece began to come together, I knew who I could turn to for inspiration. And on a very early Sunday morning just a few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to put that inspiration down on paper thanks to the sensational Kiira Harper.
For those of you that don’t know Kiira Harper, she would describe herself as someone who is passionate, puts her family first, and works hard. More than that, Kiira is the embodiment of black girl magic.
“I’m a black woman in America.”
– Kiira Harper
For those of you who don’t immediately recognize her name, you have more than likely seen Kiira perform at one point or another over the last three years. On any given day you can find her dancing behind some of today’s biggest names in music, including Drake, Trey Songz, and the queen herself, Beyonce.
In fact, Kiira’s career seemed to catapult in January of 2016 after earning a coveted spot amongst Queen Bey’s team of dancers in the controversial music video, “Formation”, and the accompanying Super Bowl performance. Since then, her star has continued to ascend within the commercial dance community with appearances on SNL, the Late Late Show with James Corden, and one of the biggest moments in modern day pop culture, “Beychella”.
At 29 years old, Kiira Harper is at the top of her game. The question on my mind, however, was how has she managed to maintain her momentum despite the adversity that comes along with a professional dance career?
Kiira’s energy was effervescent during our early morning FaceTime interview. She’d been up for a bit prior to our call in preparation for a Sunday morning church service. And as she prepared for her day, I had a series of questions I needed answers to. First, how was someone who’s attained her level of success initially introduced to dance?
“I’ve been dancing a total of 22 years. I started when I was 7, but I never grew up saying that I wanted to dance. I grew up in California- I was born in LA. I was a kid that played sports. I was a very good soccer player until about 7. I moved to NY and continued playing until it came to the Fall. It was just too cold came and I didn’t like playing in that type of weather.”
The LA native’s parents presented her with a choice- it was either she continued to play sports, or she would have to find another physical activity. “My dad talked to my neighbor who had a daughter, and she was in dance class so my parents signed me up.”
Little did Kiira know the happenstance way in which she was first introduced to dance would lead to 20+ year journey that would allow her to live a life that thousands of young dancers long to experience. That journey, however, was not a simple one.
“I was terrible,” Kiira joked. “Dance never came natural to me, but from the moment I started taking classes dance was a part of my life. I loved being around other black people who looked like me.”
Her hard work and dedication to her craft paid off as she matured, and by the end of her college career she had already auditioned for SYTYCD and earned a coveted ticket to Vegas.
– Kiira Harper
Kiira, who attended Hampton University during her undergrad years, was initially determined to pursue a career in Forensic Science. However, as she matriculated through college she couldn’t shake an impending sense of unfulfillment.
“I just kept feeling this sense of unhappiness. That’s when I realized I wanted to dance more. I tried to secretly transfer to VCU behind my parents back to join the dance program. But then they found out and I got in really big trouble.
And while her dreams of transferring didn’t pan out so well, Kiira learned that there was more than one way to develop herself as a dancer while in school.
“I started auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance, all the while battling the idea that I needed to find the right major and live this ‘real life’. I spent so much time trying to fit this mold. Go to college, get a job, have a family – but I wanted to dance.”
It wasn’t until Kiira auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance and made it to Vegas that it clicked for her that dance was her true calling. Almost as if her journey were designed by that of a higher power, she maintained her faith through the no’s only to find that she was on the verge of her big break.
“I’d auditioned for an agency, made it to end, but didn’t get a call back. I happened to audition for SYTYCD, made it to Vegas, and literally went through one of the hardest weeks there only to be cut in Top 40.”
But in what appeared to be one of her biggest moments of adversity there came a sudden light at the end of the tunnel for Kiira. After returning to her hotel room in tears after being cut from SYTYCD she received the phone call every commercial dancer waits with bated breath to hear. The agency that she auditioned for, Clear Talent Group Agency, wanted to sign her. And with that, a new chapter began.
“You keep going! That’s just it!”
– Kiira Harper
After being signed to one of the biggest agencies in the commercial dance industry, the work truly began. Kiira was now thrust into a world where she would be required to audition, book gigs, stay employed, and do so with a smile. I was curious to know how someone working under those conditions could maintain their sanity, much less their inner drive?
It was ultimately the words of her mentor, professional dancer and choreographer, Luam, that she would play in her head whenever she felt her back against the wall. “No one can take from you what is already yours.” She’d initially crossed paths with Luam while training in NY, and after making it a point to take as many classes with her as she could, Kiira caught her eye.
“I wanted to learn from her so bad and then she became my mentor because I kept coming to her classes. I just kept learning! I put the work in and took as many classes as I could and tried to be seen. I auditioned and got cut a thousand times. And then it all just clicked.”
But how does she feel now that she’s made it to the other side?
“I feel like it’s just a bigger grind, where I am now versus the beginning. I’m grinding to get an agent, then I’m grinding to book auditions, then you get the job and it’s like okay, now I’m grinding to keep the job. It’s a never-ending grind.”
Kiira has seemed to master the art of the grind when it comes to making it as a professional dancer. She now makes it a point to impart her wisdom on the young men and women who come to take classes through her successful workshop series, “Simply Stiletto”.
“When you get into these auditions there’s no ‘thank you so much for coming, but you don’t have the right look for me right now’. There is no explanation. You’re job is to understand the job wasn’t for you and to be ready for the next opportunity.”
“I think that as a black woman, it’s understanding that in this industry a majority of the jobs are only looking for one of us.”
– Kiira Harper
Kiira makes it a point to advise dancers, especially female dancers of color, that to succeed they must be better than at all times. They have no choice but to be the best the moment the walk through the doors of an audition. To succeed as an African-American in the competitive world of dance, you must be willing to surpass the expectations of everyone around you, including those making final selections during a casting.
“You’re job is to be better than everyone around you in all aspects- personality, training, performance. Do you have a full package? Is your headshot and resume stapled in the right place? There’s no room for error.”
If Kiira’s career is any indication of the advice she gives I think that we can all learn a lot from her.
And as my interview with Kiira came to an end, the final burning question on my mind was what could we expect from her next?
“Simply Stiletto will be doing great things! We have workshops coming up in Europe, and merchandise is coming very soon. Dance wear, dance shoes- and I want to really work on giving back in the Humanitarian sense. I want to find a way to connect the industry to the rest of the world.”
Kiira will be honored by her alma mater, Hampton University, this weekend as one of their Top 40 under 40 . And as Kiira continues to break through barriers, as well as open doors for others along the way, it is clear that she’s destined for even more success and recognition in the future!