How ballet principal James Whiteside is revolutionizing the dance worl

American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside has constructed a profession taking part in romantic leads onstage, from Romeo to Swan Lake’s Prince Siegfried. Offstage, he creates experimental music, choreography, and extra by way of bombastic on-line alter egos, reminiscent of a singer named JbDubs, drag artist Ühu Betch, and a turkey-baster-wielding journalist referred to as Shannon Bobannon (who “fires information like a cannon”). As theaters went darkish throughout the pandemic, the New York–primarily based Whiteside started placing out a flood of unique content material on Instagram and YouTube: going behind the scenes of his exercises and rehearsals, providing reside dance lessons, creating comedic skits, and debuting creative music movies. In the course of, he has demystified the rarified world of ballet. “Folks assume ballet is inaccessible or overly haughty,” he says. “I take delight in bringing it to a really giant viewers.” Right here’s how he’s embraced self-discipline whereas subverting expectations.

[Photo: Erik Tanner]

Don’t be outlined by rejection

When Whiteside took up dance in center faculty, he targeted on trendy and faucet. “I actually didn’t like ballet, however my academics noticed I had potential.” They urged him to attend an ABT summer season program and, later, the Virginia Faculty of the Arts, the place he was a boarder, and his ardour for the artwork was ignited. (“It was like Hogwarts for ballet.”) However after he joined the Boston Ballet, after which ABT, he acquired loads of criticism. “Rejection goes hand in hand with this profession. Disappointment is a each day incidence,” he says. He has thrived on this surroundings by creating a thick pores and skin. “There’s a slight coldness to my strategy [to work] as a result of [I know] artwork is subjective. You must be in favor with choreographers, coaches, bosses, and so they received’t all such as you,” he explains. The important thing is to search out management the place you possibly can: “You simply must see each little alternative you’re given and ship.” Whiteside has taken additional command of his profession by pursuing choreography. His first piece, New American Romance, debuted at the 2019 Vail Dance Competition, and was later carried out by ABT at Lincoln Middle as a part of the firm’s fall season. His second piece will premiere this Could at one in every of ABT’s outdoor performances in Tivoli, New York.

In Character: The numerous identities of James Whiteside

Discover your artistic retailers

Although he calls ballet “the nice love” of his life, Whiteside finds inspiration in different arenas as properly, whether or not it’s drag, pop music, or publishing. He taught himself learn how to use music-making software program whereas he was with the Boston Ballet. Since then, he’s been writing, producing, and performing music underneath the moniker JbDubs. He drew consideration in 2019 with a music video for his tune “WTF?,” a commentary on homophobia, misogyny, and the #MeToo reckoning in ballet that rapidly went viral. In the video, he leads an all-male troupe of ballet dancers by way of classical pointe choreography (sometimes reserved for ladies) combined with parts of hip-hop and trendy dance. “I wish to confuse folks and go from taking part in a really butch prince to a extremely female particular person,” he says. “I need to have the ability to create inside all of these areas.” He additionally lately wrote a memoir, Center Center, which comes out in August. (On the cowl, he sports activities a silver sequined costume and Converse sneakers.) He says this sequence of essays, which cowl such private milestones as popping out and moving into ABT, gives “an introspective take a look at the human expertise [of ballet] and the way it pertains to expression and freedom.” The 36-year-old Whiteside sees these various artistic retailers as “sowing the seeds” for his eventual retirement from dance. “If there’s something I’ve discovered from this pandemic, it’s that I’m going to be okay once I retire.”

[Photo: Erik Tanner]

Pull again the curtain

Whereas social media has turn into a profitable aspect hustle for Whiteside (he’s racked up a powerful 318,000 Instagram followers, and labored with manufacturers reminiscent of Membership Monaco, Chanel, and Thom Browne), it’s all in the service of showcasing dance. Throughout the pandemic, he teamed up with ABT principal dancer and frequent partner Isabella Boylston to host ballet lessons, referred to as “The Cindies,” on Instagram Reside that raised cash for the ABT Disaster Aid Fund. He additionally recurrently shares rehearsal pictures and movies of himself dancing in different kinds, together with faucet and pole. (He’s significantly graceful in high heels.) “Dancing is not easy,” he says. “I wish to present folks how a lot work is concerned.” And whereas he goals to dispel myths about the artwork type onstage, he additionally needs to vary issues behind the scenes. “I’m a homosexual man, and I’ve by no means carried out on a classical ballet stage with a person in a romantic scene. I’d like to present folks the house to reside their fact inside characters in classical ballet.” This 12 months has been robust on the performing arts, with many venues closed: ABT canceled its 2021 season at the Metropolitan Opera Home, which had been scheduled for June and July, in favor of digital and out of doors performances. Whiteside, nonetheless, is already planning for the firm’s return. “Ballet is a beautiful place to spend a while,” he says. “When this is throughout, I simply wish to get some butts in seats.”