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. More recently, 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.