Our Founder

Ballet School Old Town Alexandria

Grace Machanic in her studio

Grace Manly Machanic
Grace Manly Machanic remembered taking ballet at age four when she lived in Coconut Grove, Florida, 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, Virginia, 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. where she continued ballet at the Washington School of Ballet, dancing in 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 also taught ballet at several studios in northern Virginia — Mt. Vernon Academy of Dance, the Russell School of Ballet, Arlington Dance Theatre and The Athenaeum. In her later years, she had concentrated all of her teaching at her School for Swans.

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

In August 2017, having recently returned from a Broadway Choreographers Workshop in New York with some of her long-time dance and theater friends, and just three weeks before School for Swans was due to begin its 43rd year, Grace lost her life prematurely due to a massive pulmonary embolism. Bittersweetly, her daughter Laura found her in a perfect first position.

Today, 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 beat—just as “Ms. Grace,” as she was known to her beloved little swans, would have wanted.

Our Teachers

Cynthia Calgaro Bragg

Cindy Bragg Ballet Tap Dance Alexandria VA

Cynthia “Cindy” Bragg, Lead Teacher and Recital Producer

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.

In addition to teaching, Cindy serves as our recital producer for the annual School for Swans recital.

Elenaluisa Alvarez

Dance Ballet Tap Classes Alexandria VA

Elenaluisa Alvarez

Elenaluisa Alvarez grew up in Lima, Peru, and trained at the Estudio de Ballet Lucy Telge, under the guidance of Gloria Centurion and Patricia Ramirez. There she was able to perform with the Municipal Ballet of Lima as Clara in the Nutcracker and Cupid in Don Q, among other ballets.

In 2013 she moved to North Carolina to study Dance Performance at East Carolina University, where she trained in ballet, modern, jazz and tap. There she earned the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (URCA) grant highlighting choreography. After graduating in 2017 with Magna Cum Laude, she went to take part in the international Dance Journey program with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel.

She is currently part of the Bowen McCauley Dance Company, under the direction of Lucy Bowen, in Arlington, Virginia. She performed with BMDC at the Kennedy Center in May 2019.

Elenaluisa joined the teaching staff at School for Swans in the Fall of 2018.

Mary Strum

Mary Strum brings more than 25 years’ experience as a dance educator to School for Swans.

A graduate of The University of Texas-Austin, Mary trained in dance while pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in Communications/ Radio, Television & Film.  As a broadcast professional, she worked for KUHT Public Broadcasting in Houston, PBS Network in Alexandria, and as a television writer and producer, also in Houston.

Mary’s post graduate studies in dance included training at nationally recognized studios including the Delia Stewart Dance Center and Dance Arts in Houston, and The Ailey Extension, Steps and Broadway Dance Center in New York. She continued her training while also serving as a dance instructor for numerous studios and schools throughout the metropolitan Washington, DC region including Dance Place, Joy of Motion, The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, The Oxford Academy, and the National Cathedral School.

In 1996, Mary brought her expertise in dance education to programs for the City of Alexandria’s Department of Recreation and the children’s dance program at the YMCA in Alexandria. She became the owner and artistic director of The Ballet Studio in Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria in 2004 and expanded the studio’s curriculum to include jazz, tap, modern, and hip hop dance for children and adults. Continuing her commitment to broaden awareness of dance and its positive and therapeutic effect on physical and mental well-being, Mary has worked with Alexandria City Public Schools as an Intersession Dance Educator and as choreographer for T.C. Williams High School’s production of Crazy For You.

In addition to pursuing her goal to educate and motivate a new generation of dancers, Mary is a freelance editor and writer and, fittingly, the very proud mother of “triple threat” dancer and Temple University honors student and now journalist, Lora.

Daniel Kingsley

Daniel Kingsley Tap and Dance Teacher

Daniel Kingsley

Daniel Kingsley started tap dancing in his school musicals and he loved it so much that he forced his parents to get a piece of plywood that he could practice on himself. They turned their garage into his “studio” and the rest was history!

He is an Alexandria-native who has recently returned after graduating from The University of Virginia in May 2018. During his time at UVA, he trained in theatre as well as performed professionally with the Heritage Theatre Festival. He also has trained in dance and musical theatre with the Metropolitan School of the Arts and was a member of the Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble. Daniel now works as a professional actor and substitute teacher in both Virginia and Washington, DC. He is a member of the DC tap company SOLEdarity that performs around the DC area and hosts percussive shows that bring together the vibrant percussive dance community. He also performs as an independent dancer and was in DC’s first ever “Emerging Tap Dance Choreographer’s Showcase.”

Daniel loves that tap is amazingly accessible, is a truly American art form, and can be practiced at any age. He is excited for the opportunity to share his experiences with our School for Swans swans and tappers starting in the Fall of 2019.  Daniel will be teaching our Creative Movement/PreBallet, Boys Tap, and Advanced Tap 3 classes.

Maureen “Mo” Ribble

Maureen Ribble Dance Ballet Tap Alexandria VA

Maureen 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!

Maureen and “Ms. Grace” taught ballet together at various dance studios throughout both of their teaching careers.

JULY 18, 2019
UPDATE:  Ms. Maureen will not be teaching in Fall 2019 due to a severe motorcycle accident her daughter, Courtenay, was in last week in Maryland; Ms. Maureen will need to be with her daughter on an unpredictable schedule for the foreseeable future. We wish her daughter a full recovery.

Ms. Maureen’s ballet classes have been reorganized to other teachers on other days, and Alexandria-native Daniel Kingsley will be joining the School for Swans staff to teach Creative Movement and Tap.

Mimi Najafzadeh

Children Tap Classes Alexandria VA

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 and serving as a substitute when needed for other classes. This year (2019-2020) she is heading off to college and may be back at School for Swans to teach a “reunion” tap class during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

© 2020 School for Swans, LLC
430 S. Fairfax St.   Alexandria, VA 22314
703-338-1330 | [email protected]

Photos by Louise Krafft