Tag Archives: Jamie Mann

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.)

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.]