Josh, Jamie, Billy Elliot And Bedford

There have been a lot of stories lately about bullying.

This is not one of them.

Josh Suggs and Jamie Mann.

Josh Suggs and Jamie Mann.

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.)

Jamie Mann (5th from left) with Bedford Middle School classmates (and friends since kindergarten) Jaimie Hebel, Maddy Edwards, Rachel Suggs, Josh Suggs, Maggie Moore and Ava Lacoseglio. They were at Lincoln Center, watching him dance in "The Nutcracker."

Jamie Mann (5th from left) with Bedford Middle School classmates (and friends since kindergarten) Jaimie Hebel, Maddy Edwards, Rachel Suggs, Josh Suggs, Maggie Moore and Ava Lacoseglio. They were at Lincoln Center, watching him dance in “The Nutcracker.”

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.

Josh Suggs works his magic at the "Bedford's Got Talent" show.

Josh Suggs works his magic at the “Bedford’s Got Talent” show.

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.]




19 responses to “Josh, Jamie, Billy Elliot And Bedford

  1. For a period of time during the show Billy Elliott it was directed by Westport’s and Staples’ geana Rattan

  2. Norbie Longman

    The blog post says “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.]”–but there’s no link. Can we get access to that? Thanks.

    • The video is underneath that paragraph. If it does not appear for you, the issue is on your end. Try a different device or browser.

  3. What a wonderful story af courage and friendship at a very difficult age!

  4. Wonderful story, Dan. Thanks for sharing it…..Wish there could be more like it.

  5. mary schmerker

    An open letter to Dan….You have a talent for starting my mornings, especially Mondays, with tears…..of joy! Thank you! What a wonderful story. Westport does have talent and these young men are and their story are an inspiration. I’m sure that we will see their names in the future, not just for their talent, but for the contributions they make in all areas of life.

  6. This is a fantastic story. It brought tears to my eyes. The parents of these two boys should be extremely proud!

  7. Patricia Kantor

    What a heart-warming story. Now I understand why Westport schools are so desirable. Bravo!

  8. When so many of our adult national leaders talk only about how terrible our country is, you wonder why they just don’t visit Westport and spend a few days with us. These two boys and the entire audience displayed courage and presented a picture to the world of what Americans hold dear. Here are two boys with wildly different talents who live in a community that lets them know that their passions are worthwhile and will be supported. An audience of middle school kids shouting approval for dance and magic and music is nothing short of astounding. It gave me chills. I remember about eight years ago when a sophomore boy at Staples wanted to do a solo modern dance performance at the annual variety show. I was secretly apprehensive but had faith in our high school students. He and the event were a success. These even younger kids will move on to high school with these same values of acceptance. That becomes the norm allowing shy, tentative young people with hidden talents and passions of all kinds to blossom. I have to thank the Principal of Bedford and all the adults there who promote acceptance. And, by the way, I guess the Kool2BKind program really works.

  9. great story dan, thanks for posting it — i’m going to pass it on to the producers of the original production, they’ll love this!

  10. Although it’s only Monday, I can say with confidence that this astonishing story has made my week. Thank you for bringing it to the light, Dan.

  11. Margaret Allen

    Great story Dan! and love Mr. Dodig’s comment!

  12. What an awesome story. I am so proud of both boys for being so authentic and brave. As a mother of three girls, I am so grateful to hear that boys are being brought up to value their creativity and embrace it in others. Hopefully this means that our girls will someday reap the many benefits that a multi-dimensional male can bring to a relationship.
    Great job parents, boys and K2BK!

  13. The entire evening of Bedford’s Got Talent was a moving experience. There were performers of all kinds and skill levels. There were beginners and pros, those with disabilities and those with great fear of social judgment. What all the performers got to experience was a truly loving and supportive crowd–deafening hoots and hollers–because they were all rock stars for that night. I don’t know what Westport has done to make the middle school years more kind, but whatever it is, the rest of the country should take notes. Bravo, to all the kids brave enough to show their peers what makes them special. And bravo to those kids in the audience brave enough to support them whole-heartedly. Something that we can all learn from.

  14. Tereza Hulme

    What a wonderful story. I’m a parent in another school district and would love to learn more about the Kool 2B Kind program which Josh Suggs used. I assume it’s still in use — have you published any pieces on it, in your blog? Thanks!

  15. Clarissa Moore

    I’m so proud of our kids when they delight in one another’s accomplishments. What a strong tomorrow they will build. Jamie’s performance in the Nutcracker at Lincoln Center was inspiring and something we will all remember always.

  16. September Stevens

    I was thrilled to see attention given to the talents of Jamie and Josh. Both gave spectacular and charming performances. Living in Westport we get used to the deep talent that our town has to offer between sports, music and theater but their singular performances were a sheer delight. The entire audience was mesmerized. As an audience member and parent you worry that kids that put themselves out there may not be as well received by their peers…particularly in dreaded middle school. It was life affirming to hear the cheers of encouragement and appreciation by the large crowd of fellow students. Truly a great Westport moment. The BMS talent show is a special event that can make our big and getting bigger town feel small and warm again. Thank you to Kelly, Jared and Damien for your time and labor of love. It was a very special night.