A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet
by James Whiteside
Viking. 256 pages, $27.
JAMES WHITESIDE is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre who is openly and outspokenly gay. Center Center is a collection of autobiographical essays by Whiteside that reveal the journey he undertook to achieve his childhood dream. The book also documents the ways in which he rebels against ballet’s strict heterosexual roles. The essays are both more intimate and more subversive than is customary in memoirs, with reminisces about childhood pets and an imaginative encounter with Jesus on Grindr.
Whiteside’s passion for ballet comes across from the book’s beginning, when he attends American Ballet Theatre’s spring gala at Lincoln Center at age twelve. After the performance, his ballet teachers take him backstage to the famed Principal Hallway, where he thinks: “This will be my home one day.” He describes the long, uncertain process of getting there, earning two scholarships to ABT’s summer intensive and numerous failed auditions to their Studio Company. He gets a spot in the Boston Ballet, rising to principal dancer before re-auditioning for ABT. The company offers him a place at the bottom rung, but he rejects this offer and they come back with a soloist role.