Meet dance master Paul Harris

Font Size

HE CHOREOGRAPHED the wand-fight sequences in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, earning him the title “the world’s only wand combat choreographer.” An interactive station of his image similar to a hologram is a permanent feature at the Warner Bros. Studios in England.

Paul Harris may not ring a bell to Juan or Juana de la Cruz, but this English choreographer, dance teacher, and movement director in film, television, and theater has made a considerable contribution to uplifting the state of ballroom dancing — also referred to as dancesport — in the Philippines. Since 2000, Mr. Harris has trained every Filipino couple who has won the Philippine National Championship in both Ballroom and Latin American dancing.

Mr. Harris started dancing at age eight, and thus early enough became a British champion in both the Standard Ballroom and Latin American competition categories. As a young adult, he became a UK runner-up in a global championship. Mr. Harris studied extensively in jazz, tap, historical dance, and classical ballet. After retiring from competitive dancing, he studied acting, subsequently playing leading roles in British TV and theater, including major national tours of three West End productions.

Paul Harris (center) witgh Blackpool's Filipino winners Edna Ledesma and John Co
Paul Harris (center) witgh Blackpool’s Filipino winners Edna Ledesma and John Co

In 1997, Mr. Harris was asked to look at a script for a British movie with a view to choreographing the dance sequences. Following a single conversation with the director, David Yates, he realized that combining his two backgrounds of dancing and acting were the direction he should take his career. Since then, he has become one of the world’s most prolific choreographers and dance instructors in film, television, and theater and is an acknowledged authority in historical and period dance, tango, salsa, swing dance, and musical theater — as well as ballroom and Latin American dancing. Mr. Harris is also an author of dance books and several dance syllabi for British awarding bodies in dance, and has also judged many international dance championships, including the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival. In 2006, Mr. Yates again asked Mr. Harris to devise the physical language and choreography for the wand-to-wand combat sequences in Order of the Phoenix.

Mr. Harris also formed London Theatre of Ballroom — developing a special relationship with dancers in the Philippines, where he said there is “spectacular talent.”

In 1999, he first visited Manila to promote his work in the movie Entrapment, for which he choreographed Catherine Zeta-Jones’s iconic famous laser sequences. He appeared on Philippine TV and it was during this visit that Filipino dance enthusiasts became acquainted with Mr. Harris and his track record. A couple asked him for a lesson, and a year later, a group of three couples brought Mr. Harris back to Manila to train them and other dancers in Dancesport. The three couples became champions in their respective categories, including the prestigious “Grade A” in Standard Ballroom. Mr. Harris has since been visiting Manila three or four times a year. In 2012, he visited six times because he was appointed National Coach of the Philippine Team by the DanceSport Council of the Philippines.

Among Mr. Harris’s many successes with Philippine Ballroom and Latin American competitors, perhaps the most outstanding achievement is the triumph of John Co and Edna Ledesma, who became the only Filipinos ever to win in any category in Blackpool, when they won the Senior Latin American championship.

The list of other Philippine National Champions who have been taught by Mr. Harris is a who’s who of Philippine competitive dancing. In the Standard Ballroom category: Rico Rosima and Faye Salvador, and Noel Reyes and Maira Rosete — all SEA Games Gold medalists; Marvin Marquez, Brian and Karla Ocana, Bernie Tumarong and Miljane Camacho, and German Enriquez and Danella Publico. In the Latin American category: Michael Mendoza, SEA Games Gold medalist; the five-year undefeated dance partners, real-life-couple, and ASEAN Games Gold medalists Ronnie Vergara and Charlea Lagaras; and the current two leading couples, Gerald Jamili and Cherry Parcon (the Asian Indoor Games Gold medalists), and Michael Angelo Marquez and his partner Stephanie Sabalo — who came through the ranks at Studio 116, a dance studio in Makati that Mr. Harris started a collaboration with in 2005, soon after its inception.

Three years ago, Mr. Harris introduced fellow Brit and former competitor Julie Plummer to Studio 116. This has proven to be a successful partnership, as at the recent Mid-Year Ranking event at the Ultra sports complex, where most of the students and scholars of Studio 116 placed in the top three in various competitions.

Featured image screengrab from “Wand Choreography with Paul Harris…”