There have been a lot of stories lately about bullying.
This is not one of them.
Today’s stand-up-and-cheer story begins in April 2009. Jill Johnson Mann and her family had just moved to Westport, after 5 years in Madrid. When she searched for play dates for her son Jamie, Sharon Suggs immediately responded. Jamie and Josh Suggs soon became great friends.
In elementary school, Jamie discovered a passion: dance. He’s extremely talented, and dedicated himself fully to his craft.
As great as he is, it’s not always easy being a ballet dancer in middle school. Yet whenever Jamie was taunted, Josh — a popular, athletic, kind-hearted boy — was always there.
He literally stepped forward and confronted his peers — also not easy for a middle schooler to do. (Josh says he learned those strategies in the Kool 2B Kind program, at Greens Farms Elementary School.)
This winter, as the Bedford Middle School talent show neared, Jamie planned to dance. He encouraged Josh — a budding magician — to perform.
Josh had practiced his tricks for ushers at the New York City Ballet, when he watched Jamie perform. (How’s that for friendship! And Jamie has many other supportive friends, who have watched him dance at Lincoln Center.)
But as “Bedford’s Got Talent”‘s first rehearsal neared, Jamie worried about how others would react to his routine. But he and Josh were in it together — he couldn’t back down now.
As the cast rehearsed, camaraderie — and excitement — grew. The curtain rose last month, a few days before school vacation.
Josh closed the 1st act with a mind-blowing magic show. His tricks were perfect — poised and professional. The audience loved him.
Then — as the finale of Act 2 — came Jamie.
Casting aside any fears — hoisting an original “Broadway Billy Elliot” bag on his shoulder, and wearing Billy attire all the way down to his ballet shoes — the 7th grader proudly took the spotlight.
And made it his own.
He sang, in a Broadway-quality voice. Channeling Billy’s words, he used the show’s signature song “Electricity” to explain how he feels when he dances: “I’m flying like a bird…I’m free!”
Then he danced.
Athletically, spiritedly, beautifully, Jamie Mann danced his heart out, in front of an audience of middle school boys and girls.
It was a bold move. Jamie was doing something different.
His performance caught the eye of a theater website, This Way to Broadway. They wrote that from the opening moments, the Bedford youngsters:
proved they are different too—different from middle school kids of decades ago, the ones who would have sneered and teased a boy who dared to plie on a school stage.
The crowd roared with approval. “We love you, Jamie!” they chanted, as he began to sing: “I can’t really explain it. I haven’t got the words…”
They were Billy’s words, but easily could have been Jamie’s — trying to find a way to describe his heart swelling as his classmates validated his talents. “Go Jamie,” they cheered as he leapt and spun across the stage. The roar of applause at the end, after his series of a la seconde turns, was deafening. The sound traveled across social media for days to come.
Jamie has performed “Electricity” as Billy at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre, alongside Broadway actors. No question, the experience was electric. But that evening, when Jamie danced for his classmates and their families, was also electric for everyone in the room. Especially for a kid who thought that kind of acceptance only came from a touchdown or a goal.
[Here is the entire “Bedford’s Got Talent” show. Josh performs his magic tricks at the 45:00 mark. Jamie is 1:33:30 in. Both are spectacular.]