COLTS NECK, N.J. -  "Rockettes!" That one word can take you back to childhood memories and grown up memories as well. The incredible sights, the sounds (and the popcorn and spinning toys). Christmas is a time of joy at the exciting and historic Radio City Music Hall. Filling the season with wonder and cheer, The Rockettes and their Christmas Spectacular show are Americana.

The Rockettes--a "precision" dance company was founded in 1925 in St. Louis, Missouri. Since 1932 they have performed out of Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan, New York City. During the Christmas season, the Rockettes present five shows a day, seven days a week. The costumes! The kicks! The Red Cheeked Rag Dolls! The Teddy Bears! The perfect Parade of the Wooden Soldiers!  The Santa Clauses! The breathtakingly beautiful Live Nativity! Every fan has a favorite scene they can quickly and vividly recall. One thing is certain, The Christmas Spectacular wouldn’t be magical without the Rockettes, and as we watch them, sometimes one may wonder what life must be like as a Rockette and what the person is like behind the costumes and makeup.  Their talent is very special. Their dancers are incredibly unique. TAPinto Holmdel and Colts Neck had an opportunity to learn more by being brought into the wonderful world of our very own former Rockette, right in Colts Neck. Her name is Ann Yocum.

Ann Yocum, has owned Colts Neck Yoga for the past 15 years and can tell us all a little about what it’s like to be a Rockette.   First of all, how did she get to be one? Growing up in Edison, NJ, Ann was a dancer at a young age. Her first love was ballet and she quickly became a ballerina who started training in New York City, at the age of 12 at Joffrey Ballet School. Her ballet teacher then was Finis Jhung, he recently this year just turned 80 and he still to this day teaches in NYC, and is a great inspiration to so many. Soon after Ann began studying dance in NYC she began singing and acting as well. At age 19 and majoring in dance at Butler University in Indianapolis, Yocum began to audition for professional dance companies, and soon joined The Finnan American Show. This took her performing all over the world in countries such as Egypt, Greece and Spain. Yocum also performed in commercials and television parts that she auditioned for in-between her dance shows. 

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After the Finnan American Show experience, Yocum auditioned for a chorus line Broadway show, and ended up going on tour with A Chorus Line in Europe. In 1992 Yocum came home and at the end of the year auditioned for the coveted role of a small dance ensemble with Liza Minelli.  Yocum won the part and performed with Minelli and 4 other dancers at a series of shows at Carnegie Hall.  The show was  for the Great Performance Series on PBS. It was called, Sondheim, A Celebration at Carnegie Hall.

Following that career launching experience with Minelli, Yocum then auditioned to be a Rockette and performed with the Rockettes from 1993 -1995. On being a Rockette Yocum says, "It was magical really, it was a time in my life that was so joyful and being part of the Rockettes dance group really was unique because you are with these women day in and day out and the thrill of performing together and making so many people happy. Really it was so great it was beyond a dream come true!"

All of that magic and joy took a turn in 1995 when Yocum unfortunately had a debilitating hip injury that took her out of dancing, and eventually resulted in a double hip replacement.  Yocum was at a loss for what to do after dedicating almost her whole life to dance. “I could no longer dance professionally and I didn’t know what to do. My entire life was dance.  In April of 2000 I was feeling down about my hips and missing my dance life. My brother told me about this great studio he was taking yoga classes at in Colts Neck and kept bugging me to try it with him. So I gave in and took a class at Colts Neck Yoga. I was soon hooked! It was the first studio in Monmouth County that offered hot yoga. Dancers love to sweat and I loved sweating in the hot yoga. I had the opportunity to train with the most wonderful woman, the previous owner of Colts Neck Yoga, Michelle DelPresto.  I eventually became a certified yoga instructor and taught yoga for Michelle. I also at the same time taught ballet, jazz and tap at other studios but I was finding a new passion with Yoga.  Michelle was my mentor. She has incredible energy and inspired me to strengthen myself and one thing led to the next and soon I was teaching and managing her studio for her. I eventually bought the studio from Michelle and her husband Sam about 14 years ago. Michelle was always so positive with me and she really taught me the importance of discipline and to believe in myself. Michelle empowered me to do this and here I am still loving what I’m doing all these years later.”

Yocum is an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (ERYT) with certification from Yoga Alliance. In the yoga world this is top tier and requires over 500 hours of training. Yocum says, " My favorite class is my Hot Yoga Series, or my Hot Flow.  I love teaching, I like switching it up that’s what yoga is all about . I love teaching beginners and I love teaching the very advanced. I find satisfaction teaching all levels."  When asked who inspired her the most, Yocum responds, "Michelle DePresto was my yoga inspiration and thinking back at my dance career, My first ballet teacher was Verne Fowler. We met at a local dance studio in Metuchen, NJ. She saw potential in me and said, 'You are doing great with me but you are ready for the next step. You need to study dance in New York City. You can come back to me but you need to go.' She also taught me how to teach dance and that is a real gift. Later I was lucky again with my incredible ballet teacher in NYC, Finis Jhung. I also am thankful to my first acting teacher in High School. All of them I mentioned believed in me and helped me build my confidence in myself to succeed.  Even if I didn’t believe in myself they believed in me and I realize now as a teacher myself the gift is if you can give someone confidence to step out and believe in themselves.”  Now many of Yocum's yoga instructors at her studio were once her students.  Miriam Pilgrim says, "As a student being taught by Ann enabled me to deepen my practice and give me the confidence to pursue my own certification under her guidance. As a teacher, Ann's support and knowledge provides the framework within which I am able to share the benefits of the practice of yoga. 

When asked about the importance and benefits of yoga, Yocum says, "It's important for everyone to be body aware. The more you know your body the better off you will be. Enjoy the process and the journey of yoga and you will feel better and have more confidence. Yoga began thousands of years ago with meditation and breathing which then advanced to body movements.  It’s nothing new it’s been around for thousands of years. We have the ability within us in many ways to heal our bodies by movement and meditation.  It is all about practice. The core is the first thing to go and the hardest thing to get back. Practicing yoga, really practicing it is going to improve your physical body and your mental state and the connection between the two."

A perfect night out for Yocum if not in New York City is enjoying time in Asbury Park where she loves to live as well.  “I love the Tides Hotel in Asbury, I love the whole Asbury Park vibe and for me that’s a great night out. I lived in New York City and I loved it and in my opinion Asbury has the NYC vibe so I have made Asbury my home base and I love it. I have alot of family in Colts Neck and my business as well so I get a great balance between the two locations.  Focused on dancing her whole life Yocum has never married or had children of her own but adores her nieces and nephews and loves life to the fullest and enjoys sharing time with them regularly. One of Yocum's  acquaintances commented, "Ann has such an easy laugh and smile and you can't help but leave her presence feeling better about yourself. She's the type of person that everyone wants to be around and she just makes you feel better about yourself. Her company is warm and inviting. Sometimes when I share time with her I actually miss her as soon as we part. She's that much of a positive light. People are drawn to her and in her business she treats everyone as if they are important to her and that's because they are."  In Yocum's office at her yoga studio she has a mural with the Buddha verse; "There is no way to happiness...happiness is the way."  This is a mantra Yocum seems to live by. For more information about Ann's yoga studio go to Colts Neck Yoga will host an open house on January 30th from 6pm-8pm. Check the website for details.