CANTON Some adults stumble into their destiny. Jessica DiBattista knew what she was born to be, even before she could read and write.
When she was 3, her grandmother, Josephine DiBattista, took her to see a Canton Ballet Co. performance of "The Nutcracker" at the Palace Theatre.
At 4, DiBattista was enrolled in classes, a decision that set her on the path of a professional dancer and yoga teacher.
DiBattista recently returned to live in Canton after working as a professional dancer in Columbus, New York and Los Angeles. She wanted to be closer to her family. The St. Thomas Aquinas alumnus graduated from the Ohio State University in 2007 with a double major in psychology and dance.
"When I took up modern dance at Ohio State, I'm glad I had the foundation of ballet," she said. "It's a demanding form of dance. It's very disciplined. There's a grace and harmony between movement and dance. It ended up being good for me overall."
The original plan, she said, was to pursue graduate school.
"Initially, I intended to apply for a masters program in psychology, but I ended up dancing professionally after my undergrad," DiBattista said. "In Columbus, I danced for TUPACO Dance, Lori Belilove, High Jinx, Anna and the Annadroids, and primarily the Backspace Performance Ensemble. My dance career led to my curiosity in yoga, because many choreographers were using yoga for warming up the mind and body for rehearsals and performances."
In recent years, dance has experienced a boom in popularity, thanks in part to televised ballroom dance competitions such as the hugely popular and celebrity-driven "Dancing With The Stars," and other reality-TV shows such as "So You Think You Can Dance," and "Dance Moms," which focuses on child dancers, their mothers, and competing studios, including the Candy Apples Studio in North Canton.
However, "Dance Moms" has come under some criticism for showcasing bickering mothers and stressed children. The show's original star, Abby Lee Miller, owner of a studio in Pennsylvania, has pleaded guilty to bankruptcy fraud, and tax evasion. Miller, who quit the show, is awaiting sentencing.
"I've only seen maybe one or two episodes of either, so I don't have a strong opinion," DiBattista said. "I do hope that the shows do not paint the picture the dance is for 'others,' or that dance is only for people who can do tricks and compete. In other countries, for instance Brazil, dance is more engrained in the culture. I visited Rio de Janiero during Carnival in 2009, and it was incredibly inspiring to see people celebrating dance for the sake of it and all people regardless of age and skill participated. It seemed like a beautiful fun way for people to connect."
In 2009, DiBattista moved to New York City to continue dancing for Backspace and to collaborate on projects with the Crooked Mouth Dance Co.
"My yoga practice became a priority, for not just physical benefits, but for emotional and spiritual as well," she said.
In 2014, she completed 200 hours of certification training at Yoga Vida NYC, a program grounded in Vinyasa with influences of Ashtanga yoga.
"After five years living the New York City life, my fiance and I decided to move to Los Angeles," she said. "This transition was the perfect time to visit India. We traveled for a month, and we stayed at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram while I completed their two-week yoga intensive. It was an incredible experience to live among people who live, sleep and eat yoga."
DiBattista and her fiance returned in February to Canton, where she teaches Vinyasa yoga at Yoga Central.
"Ohio is different and better," she said.
Studio owner Michael Curtis calls DiBattista a talented teacher who makes good use of her dance experience."We have high standards for our teaching staff and want teachers that are not just good teachers, but good people," he said. "Jessica is knowledgeable, and also caring and committed to learning. I think the arts and yoga are a really good combination. Jessica has the great possibility of bringing her art (dancing) into her yoga and her yoga into her dancing." The goal of yoga, Curtis added, is to "grow symbiotic relationships and try to avoid unnecessary friction." "Dance and yoga are not the same thing, but there need be no friction between them, and they can benefit from each other," he added. "Jessica’s work is a good example of this synthesis."
DiBattista said good yoga technique causes practitioners to focus on moving and breathing, which forces you to pay attention, in the moment.
"As Westerners, we live in a pretty competitive culture," she noted. "There's a movement in yoga of people showing how they can do intense poses. It gives people the wrong idea of what to strive for. In the yoga tradition, that's not what you are supposed to do. It's about your path and journey."
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