Dance or Die - Kiira Harper
“Everyone has a story,” says Kiira Harper. “No one woke up one day and was successful” Before every performance Kiira goes in a corner, closes her eyes and prays with a sense of gratitude, a tradition she picked up from her time performing with Beyonce. Sensual, empowered, bold are the words that come to mind when first encountering Kiira’s dance style. She is a woman that commands the eye, moves rhythmically to music and is comfortable in her expression. After encountering Kiira one quickly learns that what meets the eye merely scratches the surface of her essence.
Kiira’s dance journey started at the age of 7, and she very openly shares “I was not good”. She was shy and reserved. Her family had recently relocated to Long Island, NY from Woodland Hills, CA where she was born. Twenty years later, Kiira is an inspiring dancer who uses her ability of self expression to bring joy and healing to others. She has danced beside the likes of Beyonce, Trey Songz, Janelle Monae, Drake and Alicia Keys to name a few. In addition to wrapping up her multi city tour of Stiletto and Heels, she most recently held the role of assistant choreographer for performances at the Grammys and the VMAs.
Dance has afforded many opportunities for Kiira, including the ability to travel to new places. As a child, her first trip without her parents was with her dance instructor and fellow dancers. She notes this trip was the first time really making friends. They grew up together, practicing in the studio multiple times a week. “They are my family,” describes Kiira. For many people, the dance studio becomes a second home and the people become your family. This is an experience that many dancers can appreciate.
During her senior year of high school Kiira took a trip to Hampton University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) located in Hampton, VA. She admits that college was not an interest but an expectation of “excellence in education” was set by her dance instructor, Mrs. Vanessa. That weekend at Hampton, Kiira loved the freedom she felt, she never saw an all black classroom led by a black professor. Kiira graduated from Hampton University in 2011, a member of Onyx VIII and the Terpsichorean Dance Company.
When describing dance, Kiira states that, “it is a lot more work than people think. Your body gets run down after every rehearsal, I don’t know a morning I have not woken up in pain”. Kiira’s days start at 6am and often end late with her passing out from an exhaustive rehearsal or working on dance related projects. She goes on to share that “nothing is instant, everything has a process and if you stick to it, everything has a product.” Students of hers comment that her classes have changed their lives and that her story telling enriches the experience.
As an instructor, Kiira is intense, honest and vulnerable with her students creating a space for them to grow. For Kiira her classes are a way to share, connect and encourage. The advice that Kiira leaves her students with is “dance is the one thing that never makes you cry so don't let the world take the one thing that belongs to you.”
During my Q & A with Kiira she shared the following:
Q: What does a morning look like for you?
A: Living in LA, my day starts at 6am. I am doing business with people everywhere in different time zones and it is already 9am in New York and 12pm in London. I want to make sure I am being responsive. I always listen to gospel music or something inspirational while getting ready. I also love to have an acai energizer smoothie.
Q: What does the phrase rich heritage mean to you?
A: Our heritage is painful. Black people have gone through so much. Putting the word “rich” in front of heritage makes it feel like something positive.
Q: What traditions did you have growing up?
A: I went to a lot of block parties during the summer. During the holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, I spent my time with family. Two major rules on Christmas were never get dressed up and no one touches gifts until everyone is up.
Q: What is your favorite style of dance to perform?
A: Love Jazz, it always feels good. Love dancing in heels because it makes me feel like a woman.
Kiira has taught over 50,000 people across the world. She is a beautiful and vibrant woman with passion and traditions that continue to define the rich heritage of our community.