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Divinely Inspired to Continue Dancing

A lifelong ballerina, this dance instructor was ready to retire—until she heard an angel's voice in the night.

By Katha Bardel, Edmond, Oklahoma

As appeared in

I placed my leg onto the barre to begin warming up for the next class at my dance studio, A.R.T.S. I checked myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror, and smoothed a wisp of gray hair that escaped from my bun. I look as weary as I feel. I wish I could retire.

I was in my early fifties and had been a ballerina all my life. For the last three decades I’d run my own studio, teaching ballet, pointe, jazz, tap, tumbling. Owning my own place had been a dream come true, but the long hours were unforgiving. I was ready to pirouette into the sunset.

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Then my husband, Bob, lost his job. I had to work full time. I continued going through my warm-ups, and tried to smile for the next class coming in. Katha, I told myself, dance is supposed to be your passion. Your calling.

I needed my old mojo back. Then again, I’d been dancing since I was four years old. Maybe it was time for something new.

By the end of the day I was exhausted. I drove home, kissed Bob on the cheek and went straight to bed. The next morning was Sunday, my only day off. I burrowed underneath my covers, grateful for the rest. “Katha.”

It was a voice. Loud and distinctive, yet as comforting as an angel. I looked around the room. Bob was snoring beside me.

I glanced at the clock: 3:00 a.m. I fluffed my pillow and closed my eyes. But I was wide awake, my mind racing with images of—The Nutcracker?

One by one a series of pictures danced through my head: Clara receiving her beloved Christmas present, the Mouse King’s arrival in the night, the Nutcracker transforming into a prince. It was nine long months to the holiday season. Why was I thinking about a Christmas ballet?

It would be a fabulous production, I thought.

But not at a small dance studio with less than 40 students. We had no costumes. No lights. Few backdrops and a modest sound system. Not even a proper stage. There was no way I could pull off a production like the one an angel had planted in my head in the middle of the night.

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“Ridiculous!” I whispered, rolling over onto my other side.

But the images kept coming: fabrics and colors for the costumes, which students to cast in each role. It wasn’t The Nutcracker at all, but an original Christmas story. Finally I gave in. I went down the hallway to my office, sat at my desk and began scribbling frantically.

“A modern-day family prepares their home for a Christmas Eve gathering. Grandmother, Aunt and friends arrive with gifts. A party begins, but there is conflict. The middle boy is jealous of his sister. Dad and Mom disagree about holiday spending. A teen daughter and her boyfriend are disrespectful.”

I constructed the entire ballet, scene by scene. I had no idea how long I’d been writing when Bob appeared in the doorway.

“Are we still going to church?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.

“What time is it?”

“A little after six,” he said. “I’ll get in the shower.”

I stapled my notes together and wrote on the top: The Prince.

The next morning I woke up in the wee hours again. I went to my desk and fleshed out the scenes. Over the following weeks, I polished The Prince. Watching the story take shape on the page was too entertaining to put aside for food or sleep.

Each time I took my pen in hand, I felt like the words were coming through me from someplace else. Maybe from the angel who’d spoken my name in the middle of the night.

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Tchaikovsky played on a tabletop cassette player so I could start and stop it while I worked out choreography. I danced barefoot on my wooden floor, trying to work out steps.

It’s foolish to spend so much effort on something that won’t be performed, I thought from time to time. But dance was alive again in my life, and I felt more motivated than ever. Perhaps that was enough.

After a few months The Prince was finished—on paper. But I knew that’s as far as it could ever go. Writing it had been a great pet project. I hadn’t thought about retiring since I’d started it.

“I finally finished that little ballet I was working on,” I told Bob one night over dinner.

“Well, now we have to get it on stage,” Bob said.