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How I Leapt Into Ballet and Landed on Netflix

Actor Jamie Mann on overcoming doubts to shine as a child ballet dancer, leading to his starring role in the new Netflix sitcom Country Comfort.

Words by Pete Samson

Jamie Mann realized in elementary school that he preferred ballet to sports, and with that chosen path came some tests to his character. But despite his tender age, he had the focus and confidence to follow that path all the way to a starring role on Netflix.

Jamie started taking ballet classes in second grade, after being mesmerized by ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ on Broadway. He was the only boy in his class, which didn’t bother him at first, but began to as he grew a little older.

So the family started commuting from their home in Westport, Connecticut, to New York City so he could dance with other boys at Alvin Ailey’s Athletic Boys Dance Program. This further encouraged Jamie to devote himself to ballet, and he went on to join the esteemed School of American Ballet, dance with New York City Ballet, and land his dream role of Billy Elliot in a touring production of the musical.

And now, aged 17, he is starring in the new Netflix sitcom ‘Country Comfort’ alongside Eddie Cibrian and Katherine McPhee. McPhee plays a country singer who accidentally lands the job of the new nanny for the family, who have lost their mom, and brings music back into the home.

The role allows Jamie to flex his musical as well as acting muscles, and is the perfect end to his own story of following his gut to success, which has shown tenacity and devotion that Billy Elliot himself would be proud of.

Jamie (L) with the cast of Country Comfort // 📸: Netflix

Jamie (L) with the cast of Country Comfort // 📸: Netflix


Tell us a little bit about your experience as a child actor, and that commitment to your craft and career from such a young age.

I got an agent in third grade, so that’s eight years old, and for a period of around four or five years, I really wasn’t booking anything. I was young, I was new in the business, and it’s hard and so unpredictable. But that was important for me, because I learned resilience and how to handle rejection, and I’m very thankful for that time. I learned how to handle not being able to get anything and finding the optimism to continue. And I was just training a lot, and focusing on getting better.

Ballet was your gateway into the entertainment world, and where you excelled first. Where did your love for ballet begin?

My family and I saw a production of ‘Swan Lake’ in Madrid, Spain, when we lived there for a period when I was around three years old. And my mom said that I was watching it, completely mesmerized, as my father fell asleep. And when I was young, my mom said that I used to always dance in storefronts, and there was no stopping me. So I think that I’ve always been a little bit of a dancer at heart.

Then when I was in second grade, I started to take ballet classes and I really fell in love with the gracefulness of it. And I’ve carried on with ballet throughout my life, because I think it’s a really important style of dance. It’s a fun art form in itself, and helps to give structure to any other kind of dance you want to try to pursue.

 

Jamie Mann in Billy Elliot The Musical

Jamie Mann in Billy Elliot The Musical


Initially, you were the only boy your ballet class, and then your parents found you some boys’ dance groups to join. Can you tell us about that experience, as a boy in something that is stereotypically more practiced by girls, and did you ever have any doubts about pursuing it?

In the beginning, I was almost ignorant to it. I was in second grade and not thinking a lot about what social norms were. But as I got older, in fourth and fifth grade, I realized that I was the only boy in my class, and that was weird, because all my friends were playing baseball and basketball, and I really hated sports. That was definitely something I struggled with, because it was difficult, first of all, to not have the same passions as they did.

But when I started dancing at Alvin Ailey, they have a boys athletic dance program, and that gave me the opportunity to dance with 20 other boys in one class, which was really amazing. It was a really special experience and helped to ease my tensions about doing something different and unique, and not being the same as the rest of my friends at home. It’s just great that I was able to figure out that was my passion at such a young age.

What was so nice about these boys programs is it allowed me to continue pursuing this passion and helped to ease any sort of internal conflict that I was having, and tell myself that it was the right decision and that I really loved it, so I should keep going.

I think that’s the message for anybody pursuing something that is different than the norm: Find the people that love it with you, and anybody who tells you that it’s wrong or weird, they’re just trying to bring you down, dim your light, but they don’t have any idea what they’re talking about.

I’m so thankful that I had the drive back then and I was able to overcome those feelings of inadequacy, because now I’m on a Netflix show, which is absolutely insane!

Were your parents supportive, in particular your dad? And did you have any other male mentors that helped you along the way?

My dad was like captain of his soccer, tennis and basketball teams. He didn’t understand the world at first, but he quickly warmed up to it. And seeing me on the soccer field for about 10 minutes, I think convinced him that I was not going to be the all star soccer player! But I think he just saw that I really loved what I was doing, so after that there was no question that he was supportive. And I don’t think there was any sort of resentment towards the fact that I wasn’t playing sports.

And one of my teachers that comes to mind immediately is Thommie Retter, he’s a tap teacher and was also in Billy Elliot on Broadway for pretty much its entire run. And he was such an influential mentor for me. He’s just one of the nicest human beings, and most talented teachers, and we still we still talk all the time. He was a wonderful person to talk to and helped me with get over all those difficulties and doubts.

Jamie in Billy Elliot the Musical

Jamie in Billy Elliot the Musical


I read your mom say that you’d already starred in Billy Elliot across the country, but perhaps the most nerve-wracking performance was at your middle school talent show, where you came back and performed ‘Electricity’ from the show. How do you remember that experience?

There’s something so different about performing for an audience that has come to see the show, and it was a completely different type of nervousness to do it in front of all my peers.

They knew I’d been out of school for a period of time, and that I was doing Billy Elliot in different locations, and they were all curious. It’s stressful going up in front of your peers, who were into baseball and basketball and all these very different things.

But when the crowd started cheering, it was really special. It was such a fulfilling feeling. It felt like, okay, doing my own thing was absolutely the right choice, and even my peers agree.

So have you enjoyed this exciting new role in ‘Country Comfort’, and filming a Netflix show with Katherine McPhee and all these fantastic people?

It was an incredible experience in every way. It’s a real feel good show which helps make the dynamic on set very warm and fun. The show is based on a family dynamic, so it was very family-oriented on set, which felt very comfortable for me.

Brody is the second oldest brother, but a little insecure because his older brother is the hot one and gets all the girls. He’s a little goofy, so that’s really fun to play. The younger actors are so talented. And then Katharine McPhee and Eddie Cibrian are there to set the tone and to lead the charge and help us with any questions we have. We’ve had really great responses from people that have made the whole thing so fulfilling. It’s not ‘Game of Thrones’, it’s something you can sit down and watch with your family, and that’s nice!

Pete began his career on Fleet Street more than two decades ago, and has worked for some of the world’s biggest news, entertainment, and wellness companies as a writer, editor, and media executive. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to help demystify the world of personal development, and to encourage men to discuss and improve their mental health, by sharing the wisdom and lessons learned of inspiring leaders in their field.

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