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In a white-dominated sport, this Howard dancer uses adversity to reach new heights

Cameron Harris, a senior dance major from Richmond, Virginia and an accomplished dancer, uses feelings of adversity to fuel her craft as a dancer.

Harris looks at herself in the mirror as she prepares for dance practice. (Nolan Baynes/The Hilltop)

Cameron Harris started in the arts by playing the flute, piano and violin. But by the time she was in sixth grade, the Richmond, Virginia, native knew dance was her calling. 

When Harris was only 3-years-old, she began her passion for dance when she took ballet. Once she turned 13, she enrolled at Interlochen Arts Academy, focusing on finding freedom through improvisation and modern dance. 

Courtney Harris-Butler, Harris’ mother, speaks on how she approached the arts and how surprised she was at her daughter’s response when she asked which art she wanted to commit to.

“The way we approached all of the arts was to allow her to explore a bunch. She danced, played the violin and piano but dance is what she gravitated towards,” Harris-Butler said.

“When she got into middle school, I asked which one she wanted to be her focus. She wanted to stick to dancing,” she added. “It surprised me because when she was starting dancing she was mostly around all white girls and so the want to stick with it and be that…was a bit of a surprise but it was a pleasant surprise.” 

Professional dancing is a white-dominated sport with 43.9% of dancers being white with only 6% of African descent, according to dancer demographics by Zippia. While this makes it easy to be ignored, this evoked a sense of motivation for Harris.

“It’s easy to be ignored and bypassed in white spaces. So I felt like I had to work ten times harder to even get noticed by my dance teachers. Once I grasped their attention, they couldn’t deny that I was talented. I saw the shift from being brushed off to being the token black girl in the room,” she said.

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In 2017, Harris attended the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Summer Intensive which allowed her to improve her technique and professionalism. Two years later, the vibrant dancer was performing at festivals including the Bates Dance Festival. In that same year, Harris made a decision that she described as life-changing. 

She decided to attend the Kennedy Center Dance Lab, one of the nation’s best pre-professional dance programs, led by choreographer Hope Boykin, as a member of the lab’s inaugural class. There she trained under artists such as Jamar Roberts, Roxanne Lyst, and Lorraine Graves, according to the Kennedy Center.

While Harris was nervous upon arrival, she overcame the feeling of doubt but it was nothing new to the artist. 

“There were times where I doubted my own ability and how far I could go with dance career-wise. I pushed through that by being able to be free within myself and be accepting of myself,” she said. “Not worrying about what other people were saying and trusting the feeling that dancing feels so good in my own body.” 

“I was very nervous. I remember the audition process and getting my first job at the Kennedy Center. But, I still trusted in my own ability to dance my heart out. After the first day of getting the job, I was still nervous, but something that my choreographer assured me was that I was in the room for a reason and that made my nerves calm down a bit,” Harris added. 

In 2020, Harris enrolled at Howard University as a dance major. To some of her peers, Harris’ vibrant personality and flawless use of movement caught their attention right away. 

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Portrait of Harris seated as her classmates go over a new routine. (Nolan Baynes/The Hilltop)

Richè Williams, a senior dance major from Savannah, Georgia, and a friend of Harris, recalled some of her favorite memories of Harris’ dancing. 

“When my friend choreographed for the dance composition class, Cam was a part of her piece and it was just amazing. It was a trio so you just saw Cameron shine through their movement and everything on stage. Another favorite was with the production of The Other Side choreographed by Hope Boykin and just seeing Cam get into character was really funny,” Williams added. 

Harris will be graduating from the Chadwick A. Boseman School of Fine Arts this spring. While Harris hopes to leave her mark on the School of Fine Arts, she shared advice for young, aspiring African-American dancers.

“If you have a calling for dance, definitely go for it. It’s in our blood and everyday life. I feel the best places to do that are local dance studios, online dance classes and workshops. Even the Kennedy Center offers some free classes,” Harris said. 

As for the future, Harris said that dance will continue to play a huge role in her life. The dancer shared that she wants to hone in on her modern dance skills, including joining a dance company that focuses on modern dance. She also wants to expand her craft beyond just dancing. 

“I also have a passion for choreography, I’d love to choreograph for many dance companies around the world,” she added. “I see myself being surrounded by art in all of its fruition.” 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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