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What we’re obsessed with right now: ‘Center Center’

The cover of dancer James Whiteside's book, "Center Center."
(Courtesy of Viking/Penguin)

San Diego Union-Tribune editors and writers share what they’re currently obsessing over.

What I’m obsessed with: “Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet” — a book by James Whiteside of American Ballet Theatre.

Why? Usually when you read a ballet memoir (something I actually do) the stories are about the rigorous training, the controlling artistic directors, the toxic behavior between dancers. This book has plenty of drama, but you don’t have to know a pirouette from a pas de deux to enjoy it. Presented as a collection of personal essays, Whiteside candidly writes about everything from his beloved family pets to his (nearly deadly) dealings with homophobia.

Here’s a look: “I thought that by becoming a ballet dancer, I was doing something super gay, but it turns out my life’s work is just another heteronormative endeavor.” Whiteside points out that traditional, straight roles like Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet” and Prince Siegfried in “Swan Lake” pushed him to create alter-egos — pop musician JDubs and Uhü Betch the drag queen — “Both gay. Both proud. Both camp as Christmas.”

Best chapter: “Nancy,” a cleverly narrated section about Whiteside’s mother — a woman whose life was plagued by a scandalous romance and tragedy. It shifts between two perspectives: an omniscient voice that relays facts and Whiteside’s perspective on living through the chaos.

A few warnings: Whiteside is a candid narrator with a naughty sense of humor — he doesn’t hold back, most especially in the chapters about sex.

Sorry, Cindies: Where Whiteside does hold back is about his ballet best friend and fellow ABT principal dancer, Isabella Boylston. Together they’re known as “The Cindies” and have a large following in the ballet world (they even have a YouTube channel). The Cindies, unfortunately, are not mentioned in “Center Center.” Maybe for the next book?

(“Center Center: A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet” by James Whiteside. Viking; 2021; 256 pages)


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