Ashley Hooper might be a world champion yoga instructor, but she also has a ballerina hidden deep in her soul.
She'll indulge in her love of ballet one more time this Christmas when she dances in the Mid-Columbia Ballet's annual Nutcracker Dec. 10-12 in the Richland High auditorium.
Hooper, of Kennewick, competed in the International Yoga Asana Championship in 2006 and walked away the world champion.
And she will be the principal performer in this year's Arabian Coffee scene in Nutcracker. It's a role she's danced before, but this time she won't be wearing ballet shoes. The scene has been improvised this year to incorporate some yoga moves instead.
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"Ashley has danced so many different roles since she started dancing with the Mid-Columbia Ballet," said Joel Rogo, co-director of the ballet company. "What always impressed me about her is that she came to dance later than most kids who usually start at age 5 or 6. So, she had to learn with all the little kids, but she had no problem with that, which is unusual for kids that age."
Hooper remembers being the biggest kid in her first ballet classes.
"I was in sixth grade then," she said. "I wasn't upset being with all those younger kids, but I remember telling my mom I was a little bummed about it."
But her mom had a practical response, she added.
"She told me I could quit or buck up," Hooper said. "And I don't think she was about to let me quit so easily."
Focus has been one of Hooper's strengths ever since, and it's also what makes her a champion yoga instructor, Rogo said.
Hooper has studied yoga since high school and in 2002, at age 17, she met Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram yoga, at a seminar in Vancouver, British Columbia. Bikram is a form of hot yoga that is said to increase strength and well being.
Choudhury mentored Hooper for a time, and then she taught the technique in Los Angeles and Laguna Beach for four years before returning to the Tri-Cities in 2005 to open her own Bikram yoga school with her sister Angie Casassa.
Hooper said she's excited to be taking part in the Mid-Columbia Ballet's Christmas production after so many years.
"I'm really looking forward to this," she said.
Being a part of the Mid-Columbia Ballet again also brings back a flood of wonderful memories.
"I love the time I spent with there, and with Debra (Rogo, the company's artistic director)," Hooper said. "She's like having a second mother to her students. She taught me so much and has always been a great role model.
"She instilled in me a sense of confidence, strength and focus, which is still with me today."
Tickets are $22 for adults, $17 for seniors/students, $12 for kids 12 and younger, and are available at www.midcolumbiaballet.org or call 946-5417.
*Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org