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Atlanta Dancer Recalls Performing In 1996 Olympic Ceremonies

Cameras were not allowed inside the Olympic stadium during the opening and closing ceremonies, but that didn't stop Lee Harper from hiding one in her hoop skirt.
Cameras were not allowed inside the Olympic stadium during the opening and closing ceremonies, but that didn't stop Lee Harper from hiding one in her hoop skirt.
Credit GABBIE WATTS / WABE

This Cultural Olympiad story was produced in partnership with ArtsATL as part of “Atlanta Remembers: The 1996 Olympics,” WABE’s series on the impact of the 1996 Summer Olympics on Atlanta, 20 years later. For more stories, click here.

Under the rather broad narrative “A Journey Through Civilization,” the 1996 Olympics opening ceremony featured hundreds of performers, including dancers, cheerleaders, marching bands, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Gladys Knight and Celine Dion, all curated by filmmaker Kenny Ortega.

Longtime Atlanta dancer and choreographer Lee Harper and several members of her company participated. Along with 50 other dancers, they performed as Southern spirits during the showcase “Summertime: The Beauty of the South.”

Describing their outfits, Harper said, “We had huge wings like giant butterflies … almost like sail boats.”

In fact, the wings were so cumbersome that at some rehearsals, dancers would topple over and would have to be propped back up.

While she thoroughly enjoyed her participation in the opening and closing ceremonies, Harper said she wished there had been more representation of Southern artists.

“I hate to criticize it because we were so honor to have been in it, but it would have been great if they had used some local choreographers in addition to Hollywood,” said Harper.

Though, Southern artists did benefit in some sense. At the end of the Olympics, Harper got a call to come and take as many props as she wanted from the ceremonies. Needless to say, those butterfly wings have been used for performances all across Atlanta.