Cover Image: Center Center

Center Center

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Member Reviews

Full disclosure, I have known and loved James since he began dancing at the small CT studio and I am very good friends and life-long supporters of the studio owners Steve Sirico and Angie D’Valda.

This richly detailed essay collection explains who the “Man behind the Instagram Account” truly is. Like a 3 legged stool, James’s creativity and artistry is balanced by his 3 personas: ballet dancer, pop music creator, drag queen. A difficult, hard fought, yet rewarding journey, is packed with honest discovery and profound heartbreak. I especially was moved by his family history and can attest to its authenticity.

I am fully aware that the unvarnished story was the intent, but think that the graphic components and language will be off-putting to many readers. I sincerely hope that is not the case, as I enjoyed every word, but feel that some of the more graphic scenes and descriptions of sexual encounters will overshadow the intriguing story James has to tell. Due to the uniqueness of this book, I feel it unworthy to gauge with a starred review comparison on a platform such as Goodreads, but plan on featuring it on my bookstagram page @bookshelfbybeckwith closer to publication. 

I share my honest opinion with you, and appreciate the advanced copy in exchange.
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This is easy, breezy, and mostly fun, so I think my students may like it, but I found it kind of exhausting the longer it went on. I thought Whiteside started great, and the highlight was the section about his childhood and his mother's subsequent illnesses. Those sections were very thoughtful, emotional, and deeply human. I related to Whiteside when he was being vulnerable.

But then it all kind of falls apart with throwaway chapters on his pets, past hookups, and a dreadfully long, utterly pointless scene about missing a flight written in the style of a script (for a musical set to the songs of the Pussycat Dolls, for some unknown reason that truly adds nothing). That no editor thought to say "this isn't funny, and it's kind of annoying to read" is beyond me.

Center Center does move quickly and is mostly entertaining, though!
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In Center Center, readers are gifted an insider's view of the world of dance, and ballet specifically. Told by a gay male dancer, this memoir provides a much-appreciated glimpse into a profession that many associates only with women or hypermasculinity. Reading about Whiteside's experiences was an utter delight.
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"I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats!"

James Whiteside, principal dancer with ABT, has written a personal memoir about growing up gay, a professional memoir about becoming an artistic athlete, a creative memoir about his expansion and personal expression of his craft, and a meditation about growing wiser through all the difficult changes  getting older brings-  all in the same book. The stories are told with empathy, understanding, and a wry and sardonic humor that engages the reader from the very first pages.

James describes vividly and meticulously the process of becoming a professional dancer. His path was rocky and he is open and honest about his disappointments and successes. The same can be said about his writing about growing up gay, his relationships with his family, and relationships with the men in his life.   His frustration with the heterosexual pigeonholes for male ballet dancers inspires his creation of alternate personas and avenues for himself as an artist. This evolution and his subsequent involvement in the wild NYC club scene is described colorfully and joyfully.

The memorable final segment of the book, a harrowing tale of being deathly ill on tour in Lake Placid, brings the various tones throughout the book together. Recalling this frightening time on the page, he engages the reader with humor, vivid description of physical pain and emotional alienation, and finally insight to share for the future. 

Center Center is a welcome addition to the ballet memoir canon, and also to the ever-expanding LGBTQA memoir canon. Bravo, James!
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Center Center is a really good autobiography of James. Throughout the book are his life stories. The mistakes he has made, the choices he’s made, and everything that made him the person he is today. I loved reading about all aspects of his life. My favorite parts were his ballet and drag stories. Overall this really is a fun book to read!
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I felt like happenstance that I stumbled upon this book after mere HOURS of finding James Whiteside's Instagram account. It was such a WONDERFUL memoir. His essays were an in-depth look into an utterly charming, funny, almost fantastical human. I was so thrilled to read this book!!
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