The Principal Dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, James Whiteside, discusses fear and visibility, that time he performed a death drop at the ABT and the future of ballet.
“It’s time to fucking learn from history for once. Let’s stop making the same mistakes.”
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How was your youth, did you have a role model growing up?
My parents divorced when I was a toddler, so I was shuttled back and forth from home to home almost daily. My mom and dad had very different parenting methods, so I was very confused. It was almost as though I developed two personalities for each home. Both of them were loving and wonderful, it was just a confusing way to grow up.
My role models were undeniably queer; Judy Garland, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo.
Do you remember your first crush?
My brother’s best friend, Justin. I was probably 6 years old. He was a babe. Justin if you’re reading this, call me.
What advice would you give a young LGBTQ person struggling to come out to his family?
Take solace in art and music, find laughter and strength with your friends, and know that if your family is too blind to accept you, there are millions of loving souls who will.
Growing up as a professional athlete how did you deal with rejection, obstacles and the constant strive for perfection?
As a child, one doesn’t really have perspective. Whatever one’s childhood, that’s the norm. I competed in various dance competitions as a preteen and teenager. Some I won, some I lost. Whenever I did ballet specific competitions, I always lost. Not just lost, but failed to even place. It is exceptional vindication to be a Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theatre now. It’s a real American story, chasing after my limits, catching up to them, then kicking them right in the teeth. Truth be told, it was great fun!
Who would play you in a movie?
Bugs Bunny. No doubt in my mind. I’m much more cartoon than human.
“I performed a death drop at a Nutcracker opening night party, with ABT’s donors present and all. Nailed it.”
ACTIVISM and BALLET
You’re an incredible advocate for the queer community – challenging the stereotype of what it means to be an athlete. What role do you think sports have in activism and how can the queer community help promote a more inclusive environment?
I find there’s so much harm being done by fear; the fear so many people have of appearing gay. In American pop culture, there is a fair amount of queer representation, compared to the past. With such visibility, comes awareness, and with awareness, comes fear. I find that the louder queer people get, the more afraid heterosexuals become of being lumped in with us “others”. Which is hilarious because we’re all just star-dusty meatbags trying not to die. Queer people should continue making noise, because no group of humans is better or more righteous than another. It’s time to fucking learn from history for once. Let’s stop making the same mistakes.
Where do you draw your inspiration from and has your relationship and involvement with drag queen culture influenced your ballet?
I tend to draw inspiration from music, video games, and anime. Drag queen culture has crept into ballet without a doubt. Stage makeup for instance has become greatly dragified. I’m certainly not complaining!
Has Ühu Betch ever spontaneously performed a death drop during rehearsals at the American Ballet Theatre?
I performed a death drop at a Nutcracker opening night party, with ABT’s donors present and all. Nailed it.
Heteronormal traditions are ingrained in the repertoire of classical ballet. Do you think it will be long until diverse gender roles share the stage with traditional gender roles?
New York City Ballet is already shaking things up in that way. I’m hoping I get to participate in the near future. As either a dancer or a choreographer.
Do you have a Go-To track for exercising?
The very sad Sarah McLachlan save-the-puppies song, “Angel”. Just kidding, Gorgon City’s “Blue Parrot” is a killer workout jam.
“My role models were undeniably queer; Judy Garland, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, and The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Leonardo.”
What have you learnt about yourself this year?
I’ve learned that I like to be busy. So busy that I run myself ragged. I need to take more time to take a breath in the new year.
Goals for 2018?
I’d like to perform as a guest with another major ballet company. Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet in London, or even New York City Ballet.
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
Yes, I’m working on some ballet film projects, new JBDUBS music, and a children’s book! Stay tuned!
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
For a good time, call someone else.