College of Visual and Performing Arts

Be the Change: JMU alumna, Grace Machanic ('58)


Grace Machanic

Grace Machanic has taught dance to children in her basement studio for 40 years. She can still put her leg up on the bar and do the splits—something she has been doing with the children since she first founded School for Swans in 1975. Since its inception, the school has graduated more than 3,000 swans.

Machanic began taking ballet at age four in Coconut Grove, Florida. When her family moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, she took classical ballet, tap and pointe. She continued ballet at the Washington School of Ballet when she was 15 and her family relocated to D.C.

Two years later, she injured her knee as an apprentice for The Ballet Russe, ending what she had “hoped to be a professional career.” At that point, she set her sights on a different future, and enrolled at Madison College, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in education and majored in English.

Machanic’s degree earned her a job as an English teacher at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, where she taught for seven years before marrying her husband, Roger. The couple had two children, Bruce and Laura, who with Roger, named the Theatre Green Room at the Forbes Center in honor of their loving wife and mother.

“The Green Room is not about show. It’s where you hang out, where you wait to go onstage and get your notes from the previous performance or for the upcoming one. It’s my speed, and it just suits me,” says Machanic.

And it appears that a vibrant career in the arts still suits Machanic as well. She teaches 4-15+ year-olds ballet and tap three days a week for three hours per day, plus private lessons. “In the morning, I lament over my wrinkles and wonder what a facelift would look like, but then I look at these perfect little bodies and their perfect skin, and I just see their youth and energy. It’s the children that I do this with and for…”

In addition to teaching at her home, Machanic choreographs local productions every six weeks. She is on “cloud nine” after recently winning “Best Choreography” for Spamalot by the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors (WATCH).

Published: Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, October 5, 2017

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