• Center Center

  • A Funny, Sexy, Sad Almost-Memoir of a Boy in Ballet
  • By: James Whiteside
  • Narrated by: James Whiteside
  • Length: 6 hrs and 41 mins
  • 4.1 out of 5 stars (41 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

“James Whiteside is an electrifying performer, an incredible athlete, and an artist, through and through. To know James is to love him; with Center Center, you are about to fall in love.” (Jennifer Garner)

“A frank examination and celebration of queerness.” (Good Morning America)

A daring, joyous, and inspiring memoir-in-essays from the American Ballet Theatre principal dancer-slash-drag queen-slash-pop star who's redefining what it means to be a man in ballet.

There's a mark on every stage around the world that signifies the center of its depth and width, called "center center." James Whiteside has dreamed of standing on that very mark as a principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre ever since he was a 12-year-old blown away by watching the company's spring gala. The GLAMOUR. The VIRTUOSITY. The RIPPED MEN IN TIGHTS! 

In this absurd and absurdist collection of essays, Whiteside tells us the story of how he got to be a primo ballerino - stopping along the way to muse about the tragically fated childhood pets who taught him how to feel, reminisce on ill-advised partying at summer dance camps, and imagine fantastical run-ins with Jesus on Grindr. Also in these pages are tales of the two alter egos he created to subvert the strict classical rigor of ballet: JbDubs, an out-and-proud pop musician, and Ühu Betch, an over-the-top drag queen named after Yoohoo chocolate milk. 

Center Center is an exuberant behind-the-scenes tour of Whiteside’s triple life, both on- and offstage - a raunchy, curious, and unapologetic celebration of queerness, self-expression, friendship, sex, creativity, and pushing boundaries that will entertain you, shock you*, inspire you, embolden you...and maybe even make you cry.

*THIS IS NOT A BOOK FOR CHILDREN.

©2021 James Whiteside (P)2021 Penguin Audio

What listeners say about Center Center

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Don’t bother

Really tacky writing, story and reading. Sorry I wasted credit on it. Maybe I was disappointed because I listened to it directly following David Hallbergs book.

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Hilarious & Heartwarming

I loved this book. It made me laugh and cry. His perseverance and unapologetic attitude is inspiring and his vulnerability touched my heart.

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Must read

James Whiteside is an incredible story teller. The book is a must read/listen for dancers and dance fans. I listen to my audible books while I drive and there were a few times I had to turn this off because I was laughing too hard to drive safely.

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Um, where's all the ballet?

I have loved James Whiteside's work as a dancer and choreographer for years, but this memoir was a major disappointment. The first chapter is one of the only chapters that actually discusses his time in ballet in detail. The rest focus on his family and friends and weird experiments in writing satire. Tiny, random details about his ballet career are minimally scattered throughout like unsatisfying crumbs. Maybe he's sick of talking about ballet? Most likely, if you're reading this, it's because you know and love Whiteside as a dancer, so chapter upon chapter about his extended family and events that have nothing to do with dance are a real letdown. Misleading marketing, promotions, and descriptions.

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Fabulously told stories with the glitter you’d expect

I adored this audible book! It was so fresh. The stories and images are going to stick with you for some time.
I will never be able to fly again without thinking of all the characters in the London to NYC story. We’ve met them before and I am sure will pop up again at the least sign of delay.
And Wouldn’t you all just love a Dairy Queen’s show ? With all the costumes and parties? (A different version of sex and the city)
Thank you James for sharing such a thoughtful and thought provoking work.

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Charming and Witty

This is NOT the memoir one might traditionally expect from a leading light in America’s leading ballet company. But because James Bruce Whiteside is so comfortable within his own skin, the reader rapidly grows comfortable with his tales of wonder, adventure, and burgeoning sexuality. His travails in returning to the States from London form a side-splittingly play within a memoir. The portrait of his mother is finely drawn, sparing few details despite possible embarrassment, and always told with love. I found myself wondering at times how he found the time for his many delightful escapades while maintaining the discipline so necessary for a dancer of his caliber and stature. But manage it he has obviously done to our dance and literary benefit. Bravo.

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Fierce, touching, hilarious and illuminating

In Center Center, James Whiteside’s “funny, sexy, sad, almost-memoir of a boy in ballet”, there comes a point in the last essay “Why Not?” when James and his gaggle of traveling twinks ponder what they are getting into as they make plans to go to a stranger’s beach house. After asking themselves, “why not?” several times and coming up with no good answer, James concludes: “Apprehension thus effectively ignored, we continued on our merry way . . . “

That phrase, “apprehension thus effectively ignored” could be a subtitle for the book. Throughout this supremely entertaining, non-chronological collection of essays - some real, some fantastical, some hilarious, some devastating - James regales us with a variety of tales in which he sets aside apprehension and eschews “normalcy . . . an insidious evil.” The apprehension around coming out when he was a teen. The apprehension of turning down an offer from American Ballet Theater, his dream job, when they wanted to downgrade him from his Principal status at Boston Ballet to a member of the Corps de Ballet in New York. The apprehension around creating two alter egos - one a pop musician and one a drag queen - to enable James to express his “true self” which ballet did not. The apprehension he must have felt exposing his emotional and physical nakedness in this book.

While the bright pink admonition on the front flap warns “This is not a book for children”, James’s sex stories may not be the ones you re-read. “Dick College”, the essay chronicling James’s early 20s as a dancer with Boston Ballet, is clever and funny, but nothing to warrant hot pink hysteria. Anyone who has ever been a 20-something has a similar life chapter, even if the alcohol, drugs, and orifices were different. A reality that does set James’s experience apart though is the violence he suffered just for being homosexual, and the limitions on where he could safely live, as he harrowingly describes in “A Boom Box and a Box Cutter.” Being chased through the Boston subway by a lunatic wielding a serrated knife screaming he’s going to kill you because of your sexuality is not a universal experience and James’s telling of it is wrenching.

The essay “All My Pets Are Dead” will likely strike a familiar chord with more readers. There’s something endearing about animals that talk, and James’s are particularly witty. There’s Alice, the golden retriever, who asks five-year-old James while she watches the Today show, “How does Katie Couric get her eyelashes so voluminous?” Or Mookie the homicidal German Shepherd who pins down young James and screams in his ear, “I’m gonna freeze your head for later little boy!” Cherry Merry Muffin, a glamorous, “stunning white pussycat,” muttered: “Let Muffin finish her martini before we go to Hermes” and “My favorite Disney princess is Cruella de Vil.” These are animals one would like for dinner party guests just for the repartee.

Forays into the fantastical are sprinkled throughout the book, but the most realistic, longest and moving essay is dedicated to James’s mother Nancy. The construction of this essay alternates between first and third person narration, and chronicles the life and death of his “brilliant, complicated, unicorn of a mother.” This essay takes us on a journey in which James unashamedly and courageously explores all the darkness and light of family, a theme with which we can all empathize. There is grief, humor, shame, defiance, regret, loyalty, jealousy, confusion, and mostly love. This essay undeniably deserves its status as the crown jewel of the book.

There is an audio version of Center Center which James performs himself and which I also recommend. I laughed out loud as I listened to several essays, and was particularly caught off guard - in a good way - by James’s liberal use of hyperbole when I heard it versus while reading it. But it was the play-let “Stranded in Casablanca” that produced a continuous chuckle fest. James’s musical ear and deep knowledge of pop culture combine to produce hilarious characters whose voices he dramatizes with devastatingly comic effect. There are many essays that are enhanced by hearing James read them, but “Stranded in Casablanca” is a must-listen.

As someone with almost no knowledge of ballet and an aversion to porn, there were decent reasons for me to pass on this book, given the neon caution sign on the jacket flap and the title of this “almost memoir”, which refers to a location on a ballet stage. I effectively ignored my apprehension, however, and could not be more excited to have done so. In describing the feeling of being a twenty-something homosexual in a classical ballet company who forms a drag posse in “JBDubs and Uhu Betch”, James notes, “If you’ve never done something as someone else, you’re missing out. Shedding yourself to inhabit a new persona is truly illuminating.”

While cracking the cover of a somewhat unfamiliar genre can hardly be considered shape-shifting, it could be a first step toward knowing why creating a new persona is not only illuminating but absolutely necessary for historically marginalized members of our society and culture. James takes advantage of his platform in this book to challenge his readers and. He writes:

“I never thought anyone would see or hear of either one [JBDubs and Uhu Betch], but I’m grateful now to be able to share them with people -- especially young people, who may feel as if they’ll never be heard. Being heard has nothing to do with notoriety; it's about feeling like you’ve a right to exist. And if you’re asking, “What’s the big deal?” then I congratulate your privilege.”

It was a privilege to read this fine book, and I look forward to James’s next ignored apprehension.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 12-01-21

Some really good some blah

Some really funny and entertaining stories but it starts to peter out towards the end. I skipped the chapter of the play completely

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