Frank Rizzo caught up with James Whiteside, principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre — and VOICE’s first cover boy — has always been an outspoken guy.
Whether it’s as a star of both classical and modern dance, as electro-pop music creator under the moniker JbDubs or in his drag persona of Uhu Betch, the Fairfield native speaks with frankness—and snap.
Now, the talented multi-tasker shares the tea in “Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet,” chronicling his dance challenges, bad Grindr dates, family trauma and his own ego, pride and search for intimacy.
“It doesn’t feel like a memoir to me,” he says during a Zoom interview from his Brooklyn apartment. “I’m 37 for fuck’s sake,” he says laughing. “Why should I be writing a memoir?”
Among essays about his pets, sketches and a mini-play, Whiteside tells playful, sad, joyous, painful tales. Think of it as confession with the lights turned all the way up and with a dance beat playing in the background.
“I wrote the book carrying a lot of baggage around with me and I felt that as I wrote I would drop little bits of it off. By the time I finished, I just felt lighter.”
I told him it seemed more like a biography of another, younger much wilder, and self-centered self.
“Yeah. It’s like a very long apology.”
“Everyone and anyone really.”
But there’s also much humor in the book, too, as he writes about his love of ballet—and butts, which he says is one of the draws for gay men who become fans of the art form.
“I’m always flattered to be objectified frankly,” he says. “I think more men should be objectified,”
Frankness is Whiteside’s M.O. as he details his relationships, including his sexual ones.
“Honestly, sex is big part of the gay experience. I’m a gay man. I like sex period. I am happy to be viewed as promiscuous because that just means I’m having more fun than you.”
And no, he did not give his lovers fair warning. “I changed a lot of names but unfortunately there will be some sore folks, which was not my intention. I wrote it not thinking people would actually read it.
“Sex is always interesting to write about, and it felt good to explore my sexual history and to come to terms with things I wish I had done differently.”
There was a lot of shame, he says that came up in the writing. “Shame for the way I treated people: Friends. Family. Animals. Lovers. Myself.”
However, Whiteside was circumspect about the end of his 12-year relationship with boyfriend Daniel Donigan, aka drag artist Milk.
“I essentially made the decision not to air that laundry as of yet. It’s too soon. I probably will write about it at some point, but I’ll have to find the best way to do that and be respectful. We’re still great friends and he’s wonderful person.”
And relationships now? “No comment,” he says — discreetly.
Favorite drag artist, not counting Milk: “[P-Town regular] Dina Martina.”
Who would he love to be seated next to at a dinner party: “Cher. Just Cher.”
Growing up, did he have a male fantasy figure? “Prince Eric from ‘The Little Mermaid’.”
How about now? “I would like to have a date with Chris Pine … and Henry Cavill.”