Principal dancer James Whiteside shares his favorite reads

Principal dancer James Whiteside shares his favorite reads

James Whiteside, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer and author, corresponded with Ballerina Book Club for “Friend Picks” about his favorite books, his writing habits and thoughts about reading informing dancing.

Whiteside’s new book “Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet” arrives in bookstore’s Aug. 17. The collection of essays — not intended for children — spans his childhood, ballet career and alter egos.

On July 31, Whiteside joined Boylston for a Cindies and Ballerina Book Club ballet class. Check out their discussion from their abode at the Vail Dance Festival in Colorado.

Favorite books?

  • “Boy” by Roald Dahl, with illustrations by Quentin Blake: This collection of stories from his time as a student inspired me to write my book. The illustrations add to the overall hilarity of his tales.
  • “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll: Nonsense is my love language, and Lewis Carroll has won my heart. I don’t understand what is going on for much of the book, but it makes me giggle. As we age, I worry that our imaginations wither. Reading books like Alice make me want to make believe.
  • “Calypso” by David Sedaris: This is another essay collection by humorist David Sedaris. If you’ve never read any of his books, you’re missing out. For me, he really put the essay collection style on the map. His wit and humor make me feel a little bit less like an asshole. I adore him.

What was the last book you recommended to a friend?

This Is Not My Memoir” by André Gregory and Todd London

Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. Photo courtesy Isabella Boylston.
Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. Photo courtesy Isabella Boylston.

What’s your writing style? Where and what time of day?

Absurdist. I like to write from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with coffee and snack breaks sprinkled in.

What was your relationship to reading and writing as a kid?

I always fancied myself a bit of a fantasy writer as a child. My teachers didn’t believe me.

Did reading ever inform how you’d portray a role, particularly literary characters?

Reading gives so much more life to characters than film or television. If an actor or dancer doesn’t like to read, I worry about them.

James Whiteside and Hee Seo. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor
James Whiteside and Hee Seo. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

How did you get into ballet as a profession?

I started dancing at nine and knew I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was 12, after seeing a performance of American Ballet Theatre’s at Lincoln Center.

To date, what has been your favorite part of living in NYC?

The culture of New York City is the reason I live there. Everything from the food to the hustle. I love the great dance that is NYC.

What advice would you offer to someone trying to break into a career in ballet, choreography or writing?

It’s very important to bite the bullet. Confidence is hard to come by, but be natural, be yourself and, most importantly, GO FOR IT.

What’s a passion outside of your public persona(s) that people might be surprised to know about?

I adore video games and anime. I have the artistic interests of a teenage boy. I even have a group of gay guys that I play video games with online.

Image courtesy James Whiteside.
Image courtesy James Whiteside.

Favorite pasta recipe?

My favorite pasta is from Lavagna on East 5th St. It’s a rigatoni with a pink sauce, sausage, peas and parmesan. It’s out of this world.

Favorite book store?

The Strand in New York City, duh! I also love my hometown’s public library in Fairfield, Conn., where my father took me nearly every day.

What was the last book you read?

“Rhythm of War” by Brandon Sanderson

What are you looking forward to reading?

Isabella’s book, when she gets around to writing it!

What book have you read over and over again?

Any and all of Jules Verne’s books

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Top Image: James Whiteside. Photo: James Jin.