Jill Johnson Mann Takes Lara Spencer To (Dance) School

The other day, “Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer made a moronic, smirking “joke,” mocking Prince George for taking ballet classes. Her co-hosts cackled along. Audience members joined in the laughter.

The internet erupted in outrage. This is 2019, after all.

Jill Johnson Mann went one better. The Westporter wrote all about ballet in the Washington Post.

Jill Johnson Mann

She should know. Her 4 kids — 2 girls, 2 boys — have all taken dance classes. Plus, she’s a writer. And — oh yeah — back in 2012, she interviewed Lara Spencer for Greenwich Magazine.

Her 9-year-old son Jamie had just performed in “The Nutcracker.”

Jill is a lot softer on Lara than I would be. But she pulls no punches when she talks about her family’s experiences with dance.

She describes how Jamie was “entranced” the first time he saw “Swan Lake.” He was 3 years old.

At 7 he saw “Billy Elliot the Musical” on Broadway. “My son took the leap and began taking ballet classes — with all girls, which is often the case in the suburbs,” Jill writes. “He was not fazed. He loved it.”

The next year, he joined Alvin Ailey’s Athletic Boys Dance Program.

Commuting 90 minutes to class was worth it, so he could experience a studio filled with 25 boys who loved to dance as much as he did. The program is free — a common perk for young male dancers. Especially at ballet schools, the lure of free tuition compensates for the threat of teasing.

In fact, there was teasing. Jamie wanted to go to private school.

But 5th grade “turned out to be fine. Jamie was becoming a stronger dancer and fighting to have a strong viewpoint about what is okay for boys and girls to do. He began studying ballet with a tough Russian teacher who made the boorish kids at school seem like kittens.”

In 6th grade, things got even better. Jamie was accepted into the School of American Ballet — and danced with New York City Ballet. The Wall Street Journal included him in a story on boys in ballet.

Jamie continued to rock the dance world. He landed his dream role of Billy Elliot, in 4 productions from Florida to New Hampshire. Jamie’s parents — including his “ball sports guy” dad — watched proudly as he played his part: “a physical and emotional feat unmatched by any other child role.”

Jamie Mann in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” (Photo/Zoe Bradford)

Still, Jamie was living a real life — not a Broadway musical. His mother writes:

Despite an Actors’ Equity card in his pocket, the biggest test for Jamie was daring to don ballet shoes and perform Billy’s “Electricity” in his middle school’s talent show. In 2016, even in artsy Westport, Conn., “dare” still felt like the accurate term. He got cold feet a few days before. My husband insisted he not do it. “You don’t know how boys are,” he told me. I countered, “He has to do it, for every boy who comes after him and wants to dance.”

I remember Jamie’s mop of golden hair and his white ballet shoes as the spotlight fell across him during his dramatic entrance. My husband and I braced ourselves for heckling, but instead the audience roared with encouragement. Classmates shouted Jamie’s name as though he were a star. He was, because he made it a little bit easier for kids like George.

“06880” wrote about that day. It’s still one of my favorite stories ever.

Jamie is now 3 years older. He’s continuing to dance — and to dance beautifully. This summer, he performed in a new musical at Goodspeed Opera House. It’s based on the great children’s book “Because of Winn Dixie” — a story about kindness and acceptance.

It was a fantastic show. I look forward to watching him on stage this fall in “Mamma Mia!” with Staples Players.

And if Lara Spencer wants to come, she’s welcome to sit next to me.

(Click here for Jill Johnson Mann’s full Washington Post story.)

9 responses to “Jill Johnson Mann Takes Lara Spencer To (Dance) School

  1. Absolutely beautiful!

  2. Kathryn Sirico

    Jamie congrats for following your dream and for your family’s support from the beginning. What a talent and wonderful example for all who hesitate to follow.

  3. Go Jamie!
    Thanks for showing others what a real man can be.

  4. Love this story. It’s the job of every (good) parent, not just to love and take care of their child’s needs, but to embrace and encourage every child’s passions as well. Thank you, Mann family, for leading the way and showing our community how important dance is to our collective souls and for being kick-ass parents!!

  5. Tom Duquette, SHS '75

    I thought that was a photo of actress Kyra Sedgwick. Anyway, I’m surprised at how much traction this story has gotten. Somebody says something dumb on one of these insipid morning shows, what a surprise. Who cares what Lara Spencer thinks? Everybody; go, do, and be whatever you want. Verbiage coming out of DC concerns me a lot more.

  6. Ellen Meehan

    Thank you Dan for sharing this story.

    Congratulations to Jamie and his amazingly supportive family to support his dream!

  7. Sheila Smith

    My heart swells is sheer happiness as I heard his classmates cheer. Amazing young man. Maybe you should go and sit with Jill.. Lara.

  8. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70 BA, MA, JDE

    Anybody heard of Nureyev? Russian colluder to influence American culture.

    • As a dance ‘mom” of professional dancer, some of her dancing with abt in nyc, boys are in high demand and I wish that young boys felt free to take dance classes at an early age. Dance is ever evolving and young men are welcomed and needed!!