Grace Marion Clark, 84, longtime ballet teacher

May 02, 1997|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Grace Marion Clark, who taught ballet for 40 years and founded the Annapolis Civic Ballet Company, died Tuesday of respiratory failure at Anne Arundel Medical Center. She was 84.

Mrs. Clark, also a choreographer, founded the Grace Clark School of the Dance in 1950 in a studio she had added to her large, white, Victorian clapboard home on Franklin Street.

She was a familiar sight in her trademark pastel leotard and matching skirt, with her hair pulled back in a dancer's bun.

During her long career, she instructed thousands of students in the Cecchetti Method, which is used by the British Royal Ballet. Named for Enrico Cecchetti (1850-1928), whose students included the famous Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, the method uses five basic ballet positions and seven movements.

She was a member and licentiate of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, Cecchetti Branch, in London, and a member of the general board of the Cecchetti Council of America.

Mrs. Clark maintained a heavy schedule of teaching, often conducting five classes a day, until she retired in 1989. She refused to sit in a corner tapping out the time with a cane while a young "demonstrator" taught the steps and positions to students -- preferring to teach them herself.

She set a serious tone for her students and would often say, "Without discipline, I can't teach and the students can't learn. Here, we mean business."

She moved to Annapolis in 1940 with her husband, Capt. Ellery H. Clark Jr., when he was appointed to the faculty of the Naval Academy. She also taught dancing for 34 years at the Naval Academy Primary School.

In 1946, she began teaching dance in Annapolis, which was then segregated, and was the first white dance teacher to offer classes to black students. She held classes at the Stanton Center, the Northwest Street YMCA and Parole Elementary School.

In 1966, Mrs. Clark established the Annapolis Civic Ballet, in which children and adults presented a series of performances semiannually.

She said she founded the company to encourage her students to continue with dance and to "give the community a strong group" to perform at civic functions.

Mrs. Clark stressed that the company's performances were not recitals. "I hate recitals where every little kid memorizes one routine and you sit for hours. Ugh-uh," she told The Sun in 1979. She disbanded the company in 1989.

Her interest in dance began when she was a 12-year-old in Detroit, where she began her formal training with the Denishawn School. It was under the direction of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn, who is known as the father of American dance. She later studied drama with the Detroit Repertory Company.

She was dance adviser to the Maryland State Arts Council and was appointed by Gov. Harry R. Hughes to the Governor's Commission on Physical Fitness.

Born Grace M. Gelinas in North Attleborough, Mass., she attended schools in Detroit and Boston.

She was a communicant of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis, where services were held yesterday evening.

In addition to her husband of 62 years, she is survived by a son, William E. Clark of Severna Park; a daughter, Victoria Clark Waidner of Annapolis; a brother, Ralph J. Gelinas of Van Nuys, Calif.; and a granddaughter.

Pub Date: 5/02/97

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