Updated: Oct 9
El Segundo’s own Grace Maxwell is a dancer, teacher, and life-long learner.
By Maureen Kingsley
"Dance is for everybody and everyone. All people can enjoy it at any age.”
This is the uplifting and affirming philosophy of El Segundo-based dance instructor and business owner Grace Maxwell, founder of Athletic Grace dance studio on Grand Avenue. This month, Grace is once again offering her wildly popular and always highly anticipated Thriller-choreography class, this time with prerecorded instruction and live Zoom sessions that will be available online for dancers to access in their own homes. It’s an annual El Segundo Halloween tradition, and just because the pandemic has altered the way we gather and socialize doesn’t mean it can’t take place! Visit Grace's Thriller dance website and be prepared to get your zombie groove on. Zoom rehearsals began Saturday, Sept. 26, and continue every Saturday this month from 11:30am -12:30pm. The cost is $60 per household/family.
All About Grace
Having grown up in El Segundo, Grace credits the city’s Recreation & Parks program for her early love of dance. Longtime Recreation & Parks dance instructor Carol Wells taught the tap and other dance classes in which Grace enthusiastically participated, and, years later, Grace furthered her dance career as captain of El Segundo High School’s drill team.
Figure skating figured prominently in Grace’s formative years as well, and in the late 1990s she began working with renowned skating instructor Frank Carroll at the Toyota Sports Center on Nash, east of PCH.
Armed with a Bachelor of Arts degree in dance from UC Irvine and a Master’s degree in dance from Ohio State University, Grace began teaching dance exclusively in 2002 and opened her own studio, Athletic Grace, in 2003. “I enjoy teaching ballet the most,” she says. “It’s the easiest dance form for me to apply my teaching knowledge and skills.” She also enjoys teaching jazz and Zumba, too. And just last year, Grace earned her Master’s of Fine Arts from St. Mary’s College.
This school year, in addition to running her studio, Grace is teaching dance remotely to Santa Monica High School students, as well as continuing her long-term role as a dance instructor at Long Beach Community College. She considers herself fortunate to be able to continue working through the pandemic and the resulting prohibitions on in-person indoor gatherings. “I have been incredibly blessed to be able to go online, and my students have hopped right on with me,” she says. “There were some internet hiccups at the beginning,” she adds, “but I’ve since upgraded my internet, and my students have been lovely and patient” through the process. She half-jokes that teaching virtually has turned her into an ad hoc lighting designer, set dresser, and audiovisual technician as she navigates online platforms and produces prerecorded videos. The challenge now, she explains, is “how can we as educators get our students live-performance experience,” which is a critical element of all performing arts? “I’m brainstorming ways to do this,” she says, “perhaps with smaller audiences on outdoor stages.”
Change for Good
Grace, who is highly educated and knows full well the somewhat “dark history” of dance, as she describes it, is optimistic and thoughtful about the changes taking place in both American society and the dance world. “I see a light,” she says about changing perceptions of race, body type, and pedagogy in her field. “There’s definitely a change happening. From the eighteen-hundreds, dance’s dark history has included abuse” and discrimination in various forms, she says. “I acknowledge that dark history, and I choose to see the beauty of dance.” She continues, “Let's have discussion and dialog centered on bringing equity to all is happening. Let’s talk openly about it”—in dance and elsewhere.
Living Her Truth and Inspiring Others
Grace’s students, who range from teenagers to senior citizens, are living proof of her “dance is for everyone” mindset. Adult ballet student Julia Ramirez explains her experience this way:
“Like many lifelong ballet dancers, I left dancing in my twenties. After my babies were born, I looked around for fun fitness options, and I found myself in my forties longing for the feeling I got when dancing. A friend found the Beyond Basics Adult Ballet class at Athletic Grace Studio, and I enrolled.
“That was 10 years ago. Since then I have danced blissfully with the most incredible group of women led by the unstoppable Grace Maxwell, an El Segundo treasure. With Grace’s coaching last year, at the age of 49 I landed my first solid triple pirouette.
I’m so glad I get to continue to dance with this group during COVID through the Zoom classes. I’m also excited to participate in her annual Thriller class this year for the very first time.”
Grace’s El Segundo studio, Athletic Grace, is located at 113 W. Grand Ave. downtown. Visit online at athleticgrace.com. Register for her annual Thriller class at https://thrillerdance.weebly.com. Cost is $60 per household or family.
This story appears in the October 2020 issue of The El Segundo Scene.