S2020 E491 | CLIP

NYC-ARTS Profile: James Whiteside

A profile of James Whiteside, one of American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancers, who is also notable for his activities as a DJ, video producer, drag queen, model, and Instagram star.

AIRED: May 07, 2020 | 0:10:29

♪♪ >> Good evening, and

welcome to "NYC-Arts." I'm

Paula Zahn at the Tisch

WNET Studios at Lincoln


Tonight, we'll meet one of

American Ballet Theatre's

principal dancers, James


Originally from Fairfield,

Connecticut, Whiteside

began studying ballet at

the age of 9.

He started his

professional career at

Boston Ballet in 2003

before eventually moving

to New York in 2012 to

dance for ABT.

He was promoted to

principal dancer in

October of 2013 and has

been widely praised for

his powerful, energetic


But Whiteside is also

notable for his activities

outside of the ballet

world as a deejay, video

producer, drag queen,

model, and Instagram star.


>> So, I was 9 years old

when I started dancing.

I did jazz, ballet, tap,

acrobatics at a local

school in Fairfield,

Connecticut, and I got

into dancing because I had

tried everything else --

you know, football,

baseball, soccer.

And my mom one day threw

me a phone book and said,

you know, "You have to

pick something, you're

driving me crazy, you

hyperactive monster.

And so I found an ad for a

dance studio in the phone

book, and it was of a man

holding a woman over his

head with one hand, and it

just looked awesome, and I

said, "I want to try

that." When I look back at

the videos of when I was a

kid, you can see pure joy

in the videos, and I

wouldn't replace that with


My technique has evolved

so much, but the energy is

the exact same energy.

It's like the sort of, I

don't know, just like

spastic wildness, which

sounds like a bad thing,

but I think it's a good


My first dance teachers

brought me to see ABT,

American Ballet Theatre,

at the Met Opera when I

was 12 years old.

I didn't even know what

ballet could be at that

point, but I really saw it

that night, when I decided

that's really what I

wanted to do.

ABT was my first dream,

and so I haven't stopped

until I got here, and I

now that I'm here, I'm

still not stopping.

As a principal dancer, I

dance a lot of princely

roles, so Prince Sigfried

from "Swan Lake," Prince

Albrecht from "Giselle." I

actually had never done

the prince in "Swan Lake"

until I joined American

Ballet Theatre.

So I worked really hard,

and my first show here

with ABT of "Swan Lake"

was with with principal

ballerina Gillian Murphy,

and she really showed me

the ropes and made me

comfortable with the


>> I've known about

Gillian's prowess for 1

million years.

She's the resident prima

of American Ballet

Theatre, and I'm so happy

to be dancing with her.

I just adore her.

She's hilarious, also.

I feel like, in a story

ballet, it's a lot about

dialog, about listening to

what the other person is

saying through their

movement and through

their, you know, physical


And I feel like the older

I get and the more I dance

with these ballerinas, the

more solid and readable

our dialog is.

I have a sort of little

backstory that I tell


I feel like the the prince

in "Swan Lake" has a

little secret.

He's lonely, and in my

mind, it reminds me of how

I felt as a teenager being

afraid to come out of the

closet as a gay man.

When I am doing the first

act and everyone's

celebrating me and it's my

birthday and I'm the

prince, and how could I

not be just overjoyed?

I think back to that

feeling I had of

isolation, even though I

had absolutely no reason

to put myself through that

other than fear of


I try to give that feeling

through body language.

Instead of always being

the proud prince, to show

vulnerability and


♪♪ ♪

>> I think "Fancy Free"

is a storytelling work of


You've got such a sense of

atmosphere from this

ballet, which is really

hard to do.

So I've been doing "Fancy

Free" for a really long

time, I think since I was

maybe 21.

I've been the same part --

third sailor.

My character specifically

has this haughty sass,

which I really love.

I sort of treat it like

The Fonz.

I'm curious to see how it

holds up in, like, in

societal change.

Right now, I feel like

we're right on the brink

of it being almost


However, that being said,

I love dancing this


It is so much fun.

The music is unbelievable.

Choreography is so

charming and strange and

wonderful and jazzy.

♪♪ Choreography, for me,

has always been something

that I've enjoyed just

from a very natural place.

Like, I would take my

dad's records and put them

on my Fisher-Price

turntable and make up

dances in my bedroom.

At my jazz studio in

Connecticut, they saw that

I like to make things and

they would let me make up

dances for competitions.

They really nourished my

creative needs.

When I joined Boston

Ballet, I kept making


I kept creating.

And now here I am at ABT,

and I'm still showing

interest and being given

opportunities that I am so

grateful for.

I made a piece last fall.

It was my first commission

with American Ballet

Theatre which premiered in


I made "New American

Romance" as a nod to the

classicism of romantic


But I also wanted to

inject a little bit of my

personality and my

perception on romance into

it, which is limitless,


It was sort of my

appreciation for what

romance could be, for all

the possibilities.

♪♪ So, my new ballet,

called "City of Women," is

about the generational

sharing of knowledge from

ballerina to ballerina.


I know them all so well.

I wanted to make a dance

for the ballerinas that

would showcase their

individual gifts and also

represent, you know, the

wisdom of Gillian, the

sort of brazenness of

Katherine, and the

courageous dancing of


I know their strengths and

I know their

personalities, not just

their strengths.

So I wanted to showcase

that ♪♪ ♪ [ Applause ]

I created JbDubs in 2005.

He is a pop musician sort

of rapper thing.

I produce, perform, write

all the music, as well as

choreograph the music


♪ I'm Mr. "Who is this

Queen" since I was 17 ♪

Don't matter if I'm Prince

Sigfried ♪ Or JB in them

red high heels ♪ I have

been witness to a lot of

discrimination and

homophobia in ballet, and

also, I have seen a lot of

sexual misconduct

allegations sort of shake

up the ballet world.

So all of these things

happened at once, and my

brain exploded.

And my instinct was to


So I wrote a song called

"WTF," and it's exactly

like it sounds.

And it wasn't so much

pointing fingers at people

as sort of just expressing

my exasperation and the

incredulity of the


♪ What the what happened

to the city ♪ What the

what happened to the

states ♪ What the what

happened to creativity ♪

Whoo, what a, what a, what

a waste ♪ The reason I

wanted to dance en pointe

in the music video is to

further hammer home the

point that we as dancers

should not be forced to be

gendered or put in a box.

I want to encourage as

many people to dance en

pointe as they want to.

♪ Suzanne, Gelsey, Wendy

♪ Anna Pavlova, Nijinsky

♪ Suzanne, Gelsey, Wendy

♪ Martha and Tallchief

And while I am a

cisgendered male, I want

to be free to dance in

whatever I want.

I am really hoping the

future of ballet remains

very classical.

I want the definition of

classical to evolve.

I think, socially, ballet

has to adapt, and I

absolutely want to be one

of the people leading the

charge on the creation of

more representation in

classical ballet.

I have huge respect for

the classics, but that

doesn't mean new stories

can't be told.

♪♪ ♪



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