Dance teachers often remind their students that the dance world is small, and that the people they run into today might very well shape their tomorrows.
Dancer Kate Harpootlian will tour with the concert dance phenomenon Shaping Sound starting next month, not just because she is a former So You Think You Can Dance Top 14 finalist equally at home in the concert and commercial dance scenes, but also because she met company co-founder Travis Wall at a dance convention when she was 14.
Their friendship led Harpootlian to continue her post-high school training at Wall’s family studio, Denise Wall’s Dance Energy, before moving to New York City at age 19 to pursue her professional dance dreams. After a few years, frustration set in. An “I’m thinking of moving to L.A.” phone conversation with Wall, who by then had relocated to Southern California and started Shaping Sound, led Harpootlian to join Wall and other old friends on the company’s 2014–15 tour.
“The biggest thing I learned from SYTYCD is that I’m capable of anything. You are asked to do everything, and to do it live and in front of all of America. You get to a point where you just think, ‘I know I got this.’ ” —Kate Harpootlian, SYTYCD Season 12 finalist
“Commercial contemporary” is how Harpootlian describes Shaping Sound’s brand of story-driven, technically thrilling yet accessible dance. “Usually my dad falls asleep in my performances,” Harpootlian says, laughing, “but with Shaping Sound he follows along and enjoys the show.”
Harpootlian met another career mentor, former River North Dance Chicago dancer and Bad Boys of Dance choreographer Jason Parsons, when she was only 10. “He came to work at our studio”—Columbia City Jazz Conservatory in South Carolina, where Harpootlian joined the dance company at age 6—“and for some reason took a liking to me,” she says. Parsons, who taught frequently at the studio, continued to support the young dancer as she struggled “through a rough patch when I wasn’t very good.” After she moved to New York, Parsons introduced Harpootlian to important people (including a great body alignment teacher), and opened her eyes to new dance styles and companies (such as Batsheva Dance Company).
Harpootlian, who guest teaches and sets choreography on students at about 30 or 40 studios a year, calls Parsons “a major influence” on her as a teacher and mentor to young students, and on her work as a choreographer.
“I’m trying to find my voice. I feel that every year it gets stronger,” says Harpootlian of her choreography, which won her first runner-up in the 2016 Capezio A.C.E. Awards and was featured August 4 at DancerPalooza’s 25 Live: Act II show. “One of my biggest influences is Bob Fosse. It’s the subtly of his work. Growing up in the competition world you see lots of loud things, but in Fosse you see movements that are so powerful and yet so small.
“I love character work. Look at ‘Big Spender,’ ” she says of Fosse’s iconic dance scene from Sweet Charity. “Those women are grungy and inverted, and almost ugly at times, but it’s probably one of the most feminine pieces I’ve seen. I’ve just always been drawn to Fosse.”
DSL associate editor Karen White has taught dance since age 17.