Divinely Inspired to Continue Dancing

This dance instructor was ready to retire—until she heard an angel's voice in the night.

- Posted on Oct 17, 2012

Katha Bardel with some of her dance students

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.

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.

“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.

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.

I rolled my eyes. I knew he was trying to help, but if there was a way to get The Prince on stage, didn’t he know I would have thought of it by now? “Bob, ballet productions take time, dancers, costumes, crews and cash. Your wife has none of those.”

“Tell your students about it,” he said. “Maybe they have suggestions.”

I poked at the food on my plate. What could the students do? I didn’t want to give up on the ballet. I’d felt that the divine voice I’d heard had inspired me to write it. This is your project, Lord. Show me the next step.

That Saturday afternoon I stood before my students and their parents for a meeting, trying to get up the courage to talk about The Prince.

“I’ve got a new project I’ve been working on,” I said, and explained the plot.

One of the moms raised her hand. “I could help make the costumes. I’m a pretty good seamstress.”

“I’m a carpenter,” said a father. “If you need a stage, just let me know.”

“My husband’s an artist,” another mom said. “He’d help design sets.”

I was touched by their offers, but to make costumes and sets and a stage would cost a significant amount of money.

“As soon as we have a budget for the project, I’ll let you know.” I felt like adding: And don’t hold your breath. After the meeting one mom lingered behind. She placed a piece of paper in my hand.

“Maybe this will help with the budget,” she said.

She had slipped me a check— enough to cover our materials!

As the weeks passed, God continued to send his angels to make our Christmas production a reality. An electrician friend wired a light board for the stage lights. A man who owned a sound studio recorded the music track. A friend who acts in community theater helped with the dramatic scenes.

I was busier than ever now, rehearsing for The Prince on top of teaching my usual classes. Yet I had more energy than ever. I was at the studio first thing in the morning and at night I didn’t want to go home.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, we staged three performances, all free to the public. It was our Christmas gift to them, but I was really the one on the receiving end.

The first time the donated, secondhand theater curtains parted, I looked out across the packed house and felt the hair on my arms stand on end. I couldn’t believe that only months before I was praying for a way to retire. Now I couldn’t imagine giving all this up.

That was eighteen years ago, and I’m still dancing. Bob found another job: He’s helping run our 18,000-square-foot facility, complete with a theater and more than 300 students! The Prince is now a Christmas tradition for many Edmond, Oklahoma, families.

Thank goodness an angel knew that if I retired, I’d have missed out on a thrilling second act.

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