When he was 7-years-old, Lorton Station Elementary School second-grader Ben Cook would marvel at the dancing his older sisters would do, and dreamed of hitting the dance floor himself.
“I was always really interested but never had the guts to try it,” said Ben, 14. “Finally, I just decided one day that I was going to get out there and do it, and I never stopped.”
Once Ben took the floor of the Alexandria-based Metropolitan Fine Arts Center, it was his teachers that were watching in amazement.
“It was pretty evident from the moment I first saw him that he had something spectacular,” said Melissa Dobbs, Ben’s first teacher and founder and executive director of MFAC. “Not just talented, but amazing.”
Ben started in a jazz class but soon was trying dance of all types, his favorite being contemporary.
“Ballet was the biggest challenge for me when I was younger,” he said. “It’s technically harder and I was always embarrassed by it. Now, being older and more mature as a dancer, I love it.”
At the time, Ben was the only boy in the class, but he didn’t let that damper his love of dance.
“He really overcame a lot of hurdles,” Dobbs said. “In the middle of the year we choreograph a dance for each class and he decided he wanted to choreograph the dance around him. He was so confident and hungry for everything he could learn.”
If his story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s close to the premise of the award-winning movie and musical, “Billy Elliot,” about a boy who after witnessing a dance class, decides he wants to pursue it and amazes all that see him.
Somewhat ironically, Ben now is playing the title role of “Billy” in an 11-city national tour that will take him around the country during the course of the next six months.
“I can really relate to the character,” Ben said. “The thing I like about ‘Billy’ is that we both have the same kind of passion and dreams, and no matter what, we both try as hard as we can to accomplish what we want to in our lives.”
A major difference between Ben and “Billy” is that in the musical, the boy’s family is against his dancing. Ben always has received tremendous support from his loved ones.
“They have been so supportive; my parents, my sisters and my brother,” Ben said. “They have made so many sacrifices that I’m sure have been really difficult, but they have remained supportive through everything.”
That includes taking him to singing, dancing and acting lessons, as well as driving him for auditions.
Ben quickly made a name for himself in the theater community. He snagged his first professional role as “Tiny Tim” in the Ford’s Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” and went on to appear in the Folger Theatre’s production of “MacBeth,” followed by playing the young boy in “Ragtime,” first at the Kennedy Center and then, Broadway.
“I try to approach each role with the same passion, but at the same time, it was Broadway,” Ben said. “When I was little, my parents used to take us to New York to see plays every once in a while. I saw ‘Movin’ Out,’ ‘A Chorus Line’ and ‘Rent.’ It was a great feeling to be doing something on Broadway.”
Touring in “Billy Elliot” now, Ben travels with a guardian and admits being apart from his family isn’t easy.
“It’s tough not seeing my sisters and brother every day but the moments we do get together are so much fun,” he said. “The whole cast is like one big family and especially the boys are really close.”
When not on stage, the youngsters of the production can be found playing video games, football or other sports. Ben also has taken up photography, and is honing his craft on his travels.
He plans on sticking with performing as he gets older and already has his sights on some Broadway vehicles.
“I’d really love to land a role in ‘Newsies’ some day,” he said. “I also love the show ‘Spring Awakening’ and when I’m older, I would love to that.”
Until then, Ben said, he’ll just keep on dancing and “see how far I can go.”