One Giant Leap
I appeared on the May 2014 cover of Australia's Star Observer. I open up to Miles Heffernan about my wayward focus in the early days, my inner nerd, second chances and how I connect to characters as a gay man usually playing straight roles.
Read the interview below the photos.
BALLET is an art form known for its discipline
and exacting standards. Only the rare few can
physically achieve what it demands. If the mind
is not as strong at the dancer’s core muscles, then
success is a distant dream.
James Whiteside’s assent to Principal Dancer
of American Ballet Theatre is all the more
remarkable considering he didn’t care much for
ballet at first.
However, with some pressure he was pushed
down that path.
“Ballet wasn’t always my passion, I started
dancing at nine years old in jazz and tap classes,”
he told the Star Observer.
“My teachers saw that I had ballet potential
and they pushed me to improve but my heart
wasn’t in it.”
His teachers seemed to have seen something
beyond his passing interest, so they enticed him
with ABT during his spring break.
“It wasn’t until they started taking me to
ABT’s yearly spring galas that I saw what ballet
could be. I was given full scholarships to ABT’s
Summer Intensive two years in a row,” he said.
“I attended (the spring galas) with all the focus
of a wayward teen in hopes that I’d be selected to
be in ABT’s Studio Company. Such was not the
case. I wasn’t even in the highest level. In fact, I
was in the third-lowest.”
There were more bad news when ABT
dropped him altogether after he started to lose
“Needless to say, it was time to get my act
together. I went to the now-defunct Virginia
School of the Arts in my sophomore year of high
school and cracked down on ballet. That year, I
received a letter stating that I would no longer
be receiving a scholarship to the ABT summer
course,” Whiteside recalled.
“Naturally, I was devastated.”
When looking at his career highlights, those
early days still sit with him: “I sometimes feel
that milestones and hurdles are synonymous. I
had many obstacles in my way before becoming
a principal dancer.”
Despite the rocky start to his career,
Whiteside’s talent and focus paid off and he
forged a career as a professional dancer, a
promotion to corps de ballet, second-soloist,
soloist, and finally, principal.
But he wanted something more. His
childhood-missed opportunity still nagged. He
had some unfinished business.
“I decided to audition for my old obsession,
American Ballet Theatre,” he said.
“I took class with the company on my day off
from Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker.”
He got the gig as a soloist, which was his fairy
“The next thing I knew, I was looking for an
apartment in the East Village,” he said.
“I spent a year as a soloist and was then
promoted to principal dancer. It was a real
Disney moment, dreams really do come true.”
Whiteside is openly-gay and his roles often
tell stories of heterosexual intimacy, but he did
not see it that way: “I’m a gay man, often if not
always portraying a straight man, so intimacy is
not always the best word to use when describing
my relationships with my partners. I’m acting,
pulling feelings from life experiences and
applying them to what I feel the scene calls for,
which is great fun. My personal life is very simple
and fulfilling, full of love and laughter.”
The question of the blokey Australian identity
was raised and whether male ballet dancers
had a tough time earning the reputation of
being manly, but Whiteside dismissed gender
stereotypes with some class.
“I’m probably the wrong person to answer
that question. It doesn’t actually matter, all this
current political nonsense will be long over in
a couple hundred years. Anybody have a time
machine?” he said.
Earlier this year, Whiteside trained with
Queensland Ballet Theatre. Even while relaxing
he had perfect posture, defined and muscular,
supported by hyper-flexibility. So much so,
that you wouldn’t think he was couch-dwelling
However, he inadvertently admitted
otherwise: “I love going out to eat with my
friends, seeing movies, making music and doing
nerdy stuff like playing video games. It’s getting
increasingly difficult to stay connected to loved
ones, but I’m always trying to FaceTime my
When he returns to Australia in August,
Whiteside planned to explore more: “I had an
incredible time on my advance visit. The people
were so kind and accommodating. Culturally, I
noticed that Aussies are extremely proud of their
food, wine, and coffee, which is a-okay in my