Metro Weekly

James Whiteside on the American Ballet Theatre and being Uhu Betch

ABT principal dancer James Whiteside has a side gig -- and it's not what you'd expect.

American Ballet Theatre: James Whiteside — Photo: Erin Baiano

“My friends and I would just throw on whatever sort of slightly feminine wear we had,” James Whiteside says of his younger years, “and we’d go out and terrorize the Boston nightclubs and basically just be good bad kids. Nothing terrible, just debaucherous, fun nights.”

A dozen years later, when not singing and making music videos as JBDubs, the 33-year-old still dons drag. “I like to do that stuff in my free time, because it’s just fun and creative and a nice outlet from the rigidity of classical ballet.”

Yes, ballet. Whiteside’s full-time job is as a principal dancer with the renowned American Ballet Theatre Company. A native of Connecticut who grew up training in various forms of dance, he joined the Boston Ballet at the age of seventeen. While there, he started performing with fellow dancers in a drag act called The Dairy Queens. The now New York-based ensemble is led by head heifer Milk from RuPaul’s Drag Race, with Whiteside performing as Ühu Betch — named after Yoo-Hoo. However, he has yet to merge the two worlds. “The closest I’ve come,” he says, “is doing Mother Ginger in the Nutcracker in Boston Ballet.”

Next week, Whiteside the ballerino will perform at the Kennedy Center in two different works by famed American Ballet Theatre choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, including a new full-length work, Whipped Cream. “It’s got the wildest sets and costumes that I’ve seen in a ballet,” says Whiteside, “and a really fun story with great music. My character, Prince Coffee, is this egocentric, suave, Johnny Bravo-type of character.”

The other piece, Serenade after Plato’s Symposium, is “essentially just a big men’s dance,” Whiteside says. “Most of my dancing in that ballet is pretty…loud. I don’t do too much adagio work in that ballet. I’m jumping around doing pirouettes all over the place.”

James Whiteside performs with the American Ballet Theatre in Plato’s Symposium Tuesday, Jan. 30, and Wednesday, Jan. 31, at 7:30 p.m., and in Whipped Cream on Thursday, Feb. 1, and Friday, Feb. 2, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 3, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 4, at 1:30 p.m., all in the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $49 to $249. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.