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Mukwonago Zumba teacher goes international

Feb. 19, 2013

When the new year started, many people had something about health and fitness on their list of resolutions. Some turned to their local gyms and fitness studios and tried out a popular fitness craze: Zumba.

The Latin-inspired dance-based fitness program is the modern version of aerobics and is often noted for its upbeat rhythms and energetic instructors.

Kelly Bullard, 34, of Mukwonago, teaches classes throughout Southeastern Wisconsin. She is a regular instructor with Mukwonago Athletic Club and Studio One Dance company in Wales. She also is known to spend a significant amount of time teaching Zumba abroad.

Bullard is a registered Zumba education specialist with Zumba Fitness, based in Miami. One of only about 100 certified specialists who travel the country, Bullard is even more unusual in that she travels the world.

"I spent time in Dubai, Egypt, Israel, down to South Africa, Botswana and over to India and islands like Trinidad, Tobago, Guadalupe, Cyprus," Bullard said. "Places that you wouldn't imagine Zumba flourishing, and it is. And you don't even have to speak the language."

The Sussex native who now calls Mukwonago home said her dreams as a child did not include Zumba, because the 11-year-old program didn't even exist quite yet.

"As a kid growing up, I was certain I was going to be a veterinarian or a physical therapist," Bullard said with a laugh. "When I entered college, I went for physical therapy, and I found out I loved fitness and exercise and people and decided I wanted to become a physical education teacher."

That is exactly what she did, enjoying a position as a physical education and health teacher at Badger High School in Lake Geneva for nine years. It was the high school that prompted Bullard to become a certified Zumba instructor in hopes of incorporating the new fitness craze into its curriculum.

After spending time as a substitute instructor at gyms, Bullard attended the Zumba Fitness Conference and took a chance in applying to become a Zumba education specialist.

"They were looking for fitness background, a dance background and people who could educate. I thought, you know, this is something I could do," Bullard said. "I had no idea at the time that thousands of people had applied for this position. Somehow, I made the cut. I got offered an audition in Texas in 2009 and somehow ended up making it."

Since 2010, Bullard has worked full time with Zumba Fitness. In her role, she trains potential instructors, develops current instructors and also teaches her own classes. She does this all over the United States, recently spending a weekend teaching in New York.

"Most of our trainers stay here in the U.S. but it just so happened I had the time and the interest to break out and go to different cultures," Bullard said.

The real challenge isn't necessarily the language barrier, Bullard said, explaining that she typically has an interpreter when needed. The real challenge is the schedule.

Bullard excitedly explained that she had spent more of the past year out of the country than in the country on excursions that ranged from one weekend to six weeks long.

"The challenge will always be keeping my schedule straight," Bullard said. "By the time I leave for a trip I have to know what flight, what train, what hotel, everything."

In between her time traveling, Bullard set a goal for herself. She had a dream to appear in an instructional video. Bullard accomplished that goal, appearing in "Aqua Zumba" Volume 6, a learning and growing experience she calls one of her proudest moments in Zumba.

"From that experience alone I learned so much," Bullard said. "I think that's what makes it a huge accomplishment; it's not just something I did. It's something I did and learned a lot."

Bullard explained that there is a type of Zumba for everyone. Zumbatomic is for kids up to age 12. Zumba Gold is a slower version for older adults or those with injuries. Water Zumba is for those who dare to dance in a swimsuit. Zumba toning is for those who want to use weights for a more-intense work out. And of course, there's traditional Zumba, which Bullard said is truly for everyone.

"I always tell people the first time is the most challenging because you are trying to get a feel for it. By the second time you get it, and by the third time you just own it," Bullard said. "The health benefits, people are just melting away pounds because they get lost in the music and they just burn calories."

The most common excuse Bullard hears is that participants believe they can't dance. That's hardly something to stop you from trying, she said.

"My answer to that is don't worry, you don't need it; you just watch and follow as best you can. If you do something a little different, it's OK. If I do something you don't want to, don't, its OK," Bullard said. "Anything goes. There are no rules in Zumba."

As for Bullard's success internationally, she said it's an enjoyable but strange divide between her small-town upbringings and her new world-traveler status.

"It's really kind of crazy, because when I'm here I have a husband and a dog and a normal life. Going to those places - in Italy, for example, we had 672 people in one class - it's just crazy. I come home, and I'm just like everyone else. I grocery shop at Pick 'n' Save and go to the club to work out and lead a normal life," Bullard said. "Once in a while, I get stopped in an airport because somebody has been in a class or seen an event and wants a picture, and that's weird. That's not me, you know. I grew up in a small town and was just a P.E. teacher."

Bullard will enjoy more time at home in the next year and will continue to teach classes both locally, nationally and abroad. As for specific plans? Bullard said she just wants to enjoy the ride.

"Take the bend of the road and look at the full opportunities," Bullard said. "Too many times we walk through life and there are opportunities there, but because we don't have an open mind, we miss them. Have a goal in mind. Enjoy the process. Enjoy the ride, and see where life takes you."

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