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Local man surprises wife with role in 'The Nutcracker'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Chris Brinkley's quest for the perfect Christmas gift landed him and his wife Karen a role in The Charleston Ballet and West Virginia Symphony Orchestra's production of "The Nutcracker" this weekend. Chris wanted to surprise Karen and knew how much she enjoyed dancing  "The Nutcracker" as a child and teenager, so he boldly asked artistic director and choreographer Kim Pauley for a spot in the performance.

"When he called to see if they could participate in 'The Nutcracker,' he explained that she is a former dancer and that he's danced socially," said Pauley. "He's actually doing pretty well."

 Chris, a lawyer, probably won't be as comfortable on the Clay Center stage as his wife when they welcome guests to the opening party scene. Karen danced nearly every role in "The Nutcracker" during her 10 years with a company in their hometown of Bartlesville, Okla.

The couple, now residing in Charleston, were close friends in junior and high school, but despite his persistent efforts to date her, she never wanted to be more than friends.

"The first time I saw her in 1980 was one of those jaw-dropping moments," he said. "For five years, she kept telling me no when I asked her out. We were wonderfully good friends."

After her family moved to Iowa, he lost touch with Karen. Both of them moved around the country, married other people and had children, but he never forgot her.

They hadn't heard from each other in 23 years when a mutual friend connected them on Facebook in 2009. Both were single. He lived in Charleston, and she in Des Moines. The day he contacted her on Facebook, they chatted online for hours, then switched to five-hour phone conversation.

"I was running out of minutes on my phone. We just decided to get together. We hopped in our cars and met mid-way. It was a seven hour drive for both of us," she said.

They've been together ever since.

As he looked for a meaningful Christmas gift that year, Chris remembered how much she enjoyed dancing in "The Nutcracker" years ago. She cried when she opened the toe shoes he gave her on their first Christmas together.

The following Christmas he gave her a piece of stained glass that portrayed Clara holding the Nutcracker. She cried harder.

"I asked myself how I was going to top that," he said. "I knew that nothing would mean more to her than to be up there on stage and dance it again." So he called Pauley, and she agreed to his request.

Although he regularly argues cases before federal judges in his job, Chris said the thought of ballet rehearsal terrified him. "I'm out of my element, but it's going better than I expected," he said. "It's all for Karen."

Reach Julie Robinson at julier@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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