Our Founder

Grace Manly Machanic
Grace Manly Machanic remembers taking ballet at age four when she lived in Coconut Grove, Fla., and some of the classes were held in the sand dunes where she kicked the sand to music, waved sea grass and spun in the sun. From that creative time, she moved to Lynchburg, Va., where she began classical ballet, tap and pointe at the Floyd Ward School of Dancing. She was 15 when her family moved to Washington, D.C., and she continued ballet at the Washington School of Ballet, dancing in the all the annual productions and in the summer ballets at the Carter Barron Amphitheater.

When she was 17, she auditioned to appear with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in a local performance, and joined as an apprentice with the company for a brief time before a knee injury ended what was hoped to be a professional career. So she limped off to Madison College (now JMU) where she earned a BS degree in Education with an English major, and she taught English at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, all the while still dancing in local musicals and choreographing for the high school productions.

After marrying Roger Machanic she gave up teaching English to have a family, and when her two children, Bruce and Laura, were born, she began to teach dance to the neighborhood children in her home basement where the School for Swans exists today. Grace taught ballet at several studios in northern Virginia — Mt. Vernon Academy of Dance, the Russell School of Ballet, Arlington Dance Theatre and The Athenaeum. More recently, she had concentrated all of her teaching at the School for Swans.

In addition to teaching ballet, Grace danced in numerous musical theatre productions in northern Virginia, and over the past 30 years choreographed over 40 shows in community and professional productions in the DC Metropolitan area, winning many nominations and awards for her choreography. Most recently, she choreographed the sold out smash hit 1776 at Little Theatre of Alexandria. Grace succeeded in teaching eight modern men a minuet!!!

Very sadly, unexpectedly, and prematurely, Grace lost her life in August 2017 due to a massive pulmonary embolism. Bittersweetly, her daughter Laura found her in a perfect first position.

Laura is carrying on Grace’s vision of introducing young swans to the world of ballet and dance. School for Swans opened its doors in Grace’s honor in September 2017 for its 43rd year without missing a step—just as “Ms. Grace,” as she was known to her beloved little swans, would have wanted.

Our Teachers

Cynthia Calgaro Bragg
Cindy Bragg took her first formal dance classes with Ms. Grace (founder of School for Swans) when she was just 3! She has continued training ever since, studying Classical Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Contemporary, Modern, Yoga, Stretch, and Pilates. She danced soloist roles at Radford University and choreographed for the Virginia Dance Company at UVA. Cindy has a Masters in Teaching from UVA, is certified to teach preK-6th grade in VA, and has achieved National Board Certification. She has been teaching since 1992, when she began working as an apprentice dance instructor. Cindy will be teaching Creative Movement, Beginning Ballet, Advanced Beginning Ballet and Advanced Intermediate Ballet.

Maureen “Mo” Ribble
Maureen Ribble, or “Mo” as she’s known to her friends and colleagues, is trained in classical ballet, tap, jazz, voice and acting and has taught dance as well as graced stages throughout the Washington, DC area for more than 40 years. Mo has taught ballet, pointe, tap and jazz for numerous dance studios in northern Virginia during her career, and has taken master classes and seminars with teachers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and The Joffrey Ballet, among others.  Throughout her career, Mo has been a member of the Dance Teachers Association of America as well as the Cecchetti Council of America, a leading organization in the U.S. dedicated to maintaining the standards and methods of ballet training and whose objective is to raise the quality of ballet teaching.

Maureen has held leading roles in musicals at venues including Arena Stage, Lisner Auditorium, the Smithsonian in their Musical Theater Series, and The White House where she performed the role of Peter Pan.  As a singer and dancer soloist for 25 years for the political journalist show The Gridiron Club in Washington, DC, she was the first female soloist for the Gridiron and performed at their annual dinner given for the President, politicians and national dignitaries. She has sung and danced for 5 Presidents. 

Two fun facts about Maureen is that she was Ms. Virginia Senior America 2009 as well as a finalist in the 2009 Ms. Senior America pageant held at Harrah’s in Atlantic City where she performed a jazz routine for the talent competition. She also was a Mickey Mouse Club finalist at age 11! 

Mo and “Ms. Grace” taught ballet together at various dance studios throughout both of their teaching careers. We welcome Mo to School for Swans as our teacher for Advanced Ballet/Pointe.

Mimi Najafzadeh
Mimi Najafzadeh began dancing at age 4 when her mom first enrolled her in a ballet and tap class. She loved it from the first step and has never stopped! We trained throughout her childhood at a school that adheres to the Cecchetti method, a rigorous training standard considered to be the gold standard in classical ballet.

When Mimi was 13, she began competitive dancing. She also expanded her dance range to include lyrical, contemporary, jazz, acro, and pointe, all the while continuing her training in classical ballet and tap. With this broad foundation, today Mimi takes classes and volunteer-assists at a local dance studio three days per week. She is a junior at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria where she is an active member of the Yoga Club as well as the Charms for Charity Club.

Mimi joined the teaching staff at School for Swans in the Fall of 2017, teaching our beginning and intermediate tap classes on Tuesdays and serving as a substitute when needed for other classes.