James Whiteside's Unapologetic New Music Video is Custom-Made for Ballet Insiders

American Ballet Theatre principal James Whiteside is known for more than just his uber-charismatic presence on the ballet stage; He doubles as both the drag queen Ühu Betch and the pop star JbDubs. Whiteside's newest musical release, titled WTF, came out last week, and is for sure his most ballet-filled song to date. Both the lyrics and the choreography are jam-packed with bunhead references, from the Rose Adagio to Haglund's Heel to a framed portrait of George Balanchine. Not to mention the fact that he and his four backup dancers (Matthew Poppe, Douane Gosa, Maxfield Haynes and Gianni Goffredo) absolutely kill it in pointe shoes.


Whiteside released the video on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. And beyond showing off his impressive quadruple pirouette into a double tour (see 3:22), Whiteside uses WTF to shine a light on the questions surrounding gender, sexuality and harassment that have been circling the ballet world for the past two years. Whiteside's main message, "What the what," shows that he's flummoxed, and trying to make sense of it all. Yet his words also act as a form of protest against the people who have held him back, or questioned his unapologetic sense of self.

The most prominent example of this is Whiteside's pushback against Sergei Polunin's recent homophobic and sexist outbursts. If being partnered by men while on pointe doesn't send enough of a message, then Whiteside's lyrics make things crystal clear. "Sergei Polunin is a bully and a coward," he sings. Towards the end of the video, Whiteside walks defiantly toward the camera while a recorded clip of Polunin speaking plays: "Personally I don't want to see men onstage not being a man." In another section, Whiteside calls out writers, naming former New York Times chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay and anonymous ballet blogger Haglund's Heel. He sings, "I will not be influenced by Alastair Macaulay. Haglund is fresh by the names that she calls me. Look at my career and look at all the ones that fought me." Whiteside has been celebrated for redefining the idea of the principal male dancer, but that progress has not come without criticism; in an interview with Dance Magazine last year he said, "I can't imagine someone like me existing when I was a kid." Here, Whiteside uses his musical platform to showcase his most honest self.

Latest Posts


Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

NYCB's Maria Kowroski Reflects on the Challenges, Joys and Mysteries of Balanchine’s "Mozartiana"

The first time I was called to learn Mozartiana, I didn't think I would actually get to do it. It's a coveted ballerina role in the company, and I was still early in my career. But I got to dance it once or twice, and then not again for many years. The ballet isn't in our repertoire that often, so each time we've performed it I've been at a different level as a person and as an artist.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Ask Amy: How Can I Overcome My Fear of Pirouettes on Pointe?

I have a terrible fear of falling when doing turns on pointe. I sometimes cry in class when we have to do new turns that I'm not used to. I can only do bad singles on a good day, while some of my classmates are doing doubles and triples. How can I get over this fear? —Gaby

Keep reading SHOW LESS
xmb photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

The Washington Ballet's Sarah Steele on Her At-Home Workouts

Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."

What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks