Photo by Andrew Werner

Never Not Fabulous: Peek Inside James Whiteside's Offstage Life

James Whiteside sometimes seems larger than life. He knows how to effortlessly command any room he's in, whether he's playing a noble prince onstage or appearing in fashion campaigns for designers like Marc Jacobs and Thom Browne. During a rare day off, Whiteside gave us a glimpse into a quieter side of his personality—which is perhaps most endearing of all.


His Style

James Whiteside shows off his developpe front from his couch in his apartment

Whiteside in his Manhattan apartment

Andrew Werner

The piece of clothing he collects the most: "T-shirts. When they start to wear out as my real clothes, I transition them into dancewear, so it's fun to cycle through. I found this vintage Reba McEntire shirt from a 1988 tour at an amazing shop in the East Village."

Fashion philosophy: "I want to be comfortable. I like traditional, American clothing—T-shirts, jeans, leather jackets, cowboy boots, Chucks. I like to keep it simple with a James Dean sort of vibe."

Perks of stardom: "My shoes, I actually snagged off the set for the Valentine's Day Macy's shoot that I did with my boyfriend, Dan."

Frugal finds: "The couch is something a friend was getting rid of, the trunk was $1 at a flea market and everything on the walls, people have given me."

How He Fuels the Fierceness

Daily indulgence: "I eat dessert like every night. I'll get a pint of ice cream, or there's a 16 Handles around the corner from my apartment. My order is usually the peanut butter ice cream, and then I put in peanut butter cups, plus Reese's Pieces and Cap'n Crunch cereal."

Pre-show ritual: "Isabella Boylston and I always have lunch at Fiorello's. We get pasta with a side of pizza and really carbo-load."

Post-show ritual: "I go back to Fiorello's and have a Manhattan and maybe some chicken parmigiana."

Coffee order: "Just a small, black coffee."

What His Downtime Looks Like

James Whiteside on his toes in his apartment lobby

Andrew Werner

What he's reading: "Jane Eyre, because ABT is staging it this spring. I read every day. I recently loved The Dispossessed and Oathbringer."

Ideal day off: "My favorite thing to do is wake up slow, have coffee, go to my bagel shop, read, play video games. Maybe I'll meet up with some friends for lunch or see a movie. I usually work on my days off though, and I'll schedule a photo shoot or meetings. I can't do this forever, and I really want to solidify my place in the dance legacy. I want to get better all the time, and I like to make things and choreograph. I think in the future perhaps, you'll see more of that side of me."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021