On the Tip of Her Toes

Written by Lindsay Whelchel in the July 2010 Issue

The first thing you notice about Roma Kathlin Catania is her joy. She embodies the emotion perfectly. Joy saturates her speech when she talks about dancing and it overflows when she performs.

The 11-year-old Edmond ballerina is jetting off to New York this summer to attend the prestigious Joffrey Ballet School.

Catania began dancing at the age of four. As she has gotten older, her love for ballet has only grown. “It’s really graceful and you can do a lot of things with it,” she says.

She practices five times a week and works hard to balance the demands of being a dancer and a student, while maintaining time for friends, family and the daily fun of being a kid.

“Roma’s at the age where children, if they have stayed committed, this is where it opens up for them,” says her mother, Mandilyn Canistelle O’Neal.

Her commitment to dance has helped shape her ethics in other areas. Practice is paying off with opportunities like the upcoming trip to New York.

On stage, Catania moves with the grace of someone twice her age. It is evident that dancing is in her blood. Her Grandmother, Katha Bardel has been dancing all of her life. After high school, Bardel attended ballet school in New York before feeling called to teach dance instead.

Bardel spent several years as a soloist for Ballet Oklahoma and owns Arts Revealing The Son, a dance studio in Edmond where Catania currently studies. Catania has gained a solid foundation from which to build her dance career.

Of the students in their program Bardel says, “We not only teach them physically as far as class work, but we work with their spiritual growth and maturity.” She adds that she has really seen her granddaughter blossom in the past several years with her dancing.

Catania is inspired by the studio’s missionary work and hopes to use her own dancing for humanitarian ventures when she is older.

“I probably want to travel around the world like my mom did and I want to teach,” she says. Catania is exercising her teaching skills already by helping her younger sisters dance and put on shows for her family and friends.  

Catania credits her wide variety of instructors and their individual techniques with her success. She considers her teachers great role models.

Viktoria Page is the school director of the Dance Center of Oklahoma City Ballet and has taught Catania for the past five years. Page emphasizes the benefits of dance for a child. “They get discipline. They get a lot of self-esteem. It goes much further than the ballet studio.”

Page also has high hopes for Catania’s experience in New York. “I think she’s going to have a great opportunity. I think you just grow a lot when you get into other environments.”

Catania is continually expanding her dance experience. She has recently started the partner dance Pas de Duex and is excited about aerial dance. “It’s like dancing in the air,” she says. Catania also looks forward to learning modern and character dance at Joffrey Ballet School and hopes to take in some of the Broadway shows that New York has to offer.

She wants other kids to know how rewarding dance can be. “You just really have to use your strengths and believe in yourself. You do it because you want to do it, not because your parents tell you to do it.”

Though she has tried other sports and activities, Catania is clearly passionate about her path. “My real thing to do right now is dance and that’s where God has put me,” she says, sounding much wiser than her age reveals. It is clear that no matter what, she is headed into a promising future.

Catania has received a half scholarship to Joffrey Ballet School. The remainder of the cost is currently being raised through donations. Please contact Katha Bardel for more information or to donate at 313-7060.

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