NY Times Feature
I sat down with freelance journalist Brian Schaefer, to discuss my multiple personalities. It resulted in a fabulous and important New York Times feature. I hope this will inspire young people to follow their creative arrows.
Last Halloween, the American Ballet Theater principals James Whiteside and Daniil Simkin took a class dressed as stars from the troupe’s past, to the delight of observers. Mr. Simkin was Mikhail Baryshnikov. But Mr. Whiteside turned heads as the ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, with leotard and skirt, pointe shoes and fake hair in a bun. The choreographer Jessica Lang, scouting for dancers, was impressed: “He’s not afraid to push boundaries.”
Pushing boundaries is something of a habit for Mr. Whiteside, 32, who joined American Ballet as a soloist in 2012 and became a principal a year later. Yes, he professionally plays Prince Charmings, but he also leads alternative artistic lives: as a pop singer, JbDubs, and drag queen, Uhu Betch.
Ballet remains rather traditional when it comes to romantic pairings, gender roles and sexual expression. “I became very aware of the hetero-normative standard in ballet very early,” said Mr. Whiteside, who realized he would mainly play straight men onstage. “And that made me sad. I will never get to express myself as my true self.”
JbDubs and Uhu Betch help fill that gap.
Those characters have helped Mr. Whiteside attract an eclectic collection of fans on social media, including young, gay male ballet dancers who tell him his presence is reassuring. Some older ballet fans, however, are perplexed, and at times dismissive. “When I post a drag photo,” Mr. Whiteside said, “or if I post something off-color or nontraditional, I notice that I lose followers.”
Mr. Whiteside will be busy during American Ballet’s fall season, beginning Wednesday, Oct. 19, including Ms. Lang’s premiere. His ballet accomplishments have given him courage in his other endeavors.
“Right now, I’m so happy with where I am professionally that I find myself caring less about propriety,” he said in a recent interview. “I want to be true to my artistic visions — multiple — because I know exactly what I want to do, and why should I have to change myself to fit society’s needs?”
The Leading Man
“I play a straight character every role I do. I don’t have the luxury of choice. Hopefully, someday we will.”
As a teenager, Mr. Whiteside said, he dreamed of joining Ballet Theater. On the surface, his affinity for the traditional romantic ballets that constitute much of the company’s repertory seems at odds with the glee he takes in scrambling gender roles through his alter egos. “He’s unabashedly himself and completely recognizes when his unabashed self doesn’t fit with what it is he’s trying to do,” said Kevin McKenzie, the artistic director of Ballet Theater. The way Mr. Whiteside sees it, Romeo, Conrad, Albrecht and the other seducers in the ballet canon are characters as fun to play as anything else. “Out of context, I couldn’t care less about how I appear on the spectrum of masculinity,” he said. But tradition compels him to play it straight onstage. “I do pas de deux with women all day, every day. Always with women. So I choose to create this character, to create this story, to make it relatable to the masses and artistically sensible.”
The Dairy Queens
“Drag tells you exactly what is wrong with the world in a really, really creative, glamorous, funny, sexy way.”
Mr. Whiteside and his friends had been going out in drag for years when they created the group the Dairy Queens at a Cheesecake Factory in Boston, where Mr. Whiteside was dancing for the Boston Ballet. Mr. Whiteside became Uhu Betch, below, a play on his favorite childhood drink, Yoo-hoo; his boyfriend, Dan Donigan, a professional drag queen who appeared on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” had adopted the name Milk; and two Boston Ballet dancers became Skim Burley and Juggz Au Lait. When Mr. Whiteside joined Ballet Theater, the Queens caught the eye of the night-life impresario Susanne Bartsch, who hired them for club nights and parties. “They reminded me of a modern version of the ’80s,” she said.
The Sassy Rapper
“As a ballet dancer, I don’t get to really play the type of music I love listening to, which is club music, pop music, rap music, basically anything but the music I dance to in my professional ballet career.”
As a child growing up in Fairfield, Conn., Mr. Whiteside played his father’s records on a toy turntable and spent hours at the Virgin Megastore in New York City. In his early 20s, he started experimenting with songs on his computer, eventually developing a style he calls “sassy rap,” with sexually explicit lyrics and a dancehall beat. He corralled fellow dancers from Boston Ballet, where he worked at the time, to join him at clubs and in music videos, including for the 2012 song “I Hate My Job,” which made a splash on YouTube and streaming sites. This fall, JbDubs, right, will release “NYC Piece of Me,” a song inspired by Britney Spears, which he recorded in Los Angeles on a day off from dancing Ballet Theater’s “The Nutcracker” in December. The new song, which will have a video featuring several Ballet Theater company members, “is about being too gay, being not gay enough,” Mr. Whiteside said, and confronts the recent loss of his mother to cancer. “I find JbDubs to be less ‘JbDubs’ and more James as time progresses, because I find myself caring less about separating my interests,” Mr. Whiteside said.
View original story here.