Recovering through Oula – talking with Kelly Miller
Maybe I’ll get thrown into the lake at Camp Oula for saying this – but Oula isn’t my first dance fitness experience. Oula isn’t even the first time I’ve enjoyed dance fitness. If you root through my closet, I guarantee you’ll find a 1999 VHS copy of Paula Abdul’s “Get Up and Dance” with the label worn out from being popped in the VCR so much.
Why have I chosen Oula as my dance fitness home? Hands down, it’s the people. It’s Sara, and her gift of combining vulnerable, practical, and hilarious in one 5’ 2’’ package. It’s Chelle, who I religiously spend thirty minutes with each week on the Online Studio. It’s Q, whose hairography is so impressive it makes me want to get a wig. The magic of Oula is the alchemy of awesome people and dance fitness.
When Team Oula asked me to profile someone that Heather describes as “a wealth of badassery combined with love,” you better believe I said yes. Read on to learn more about Kelly Miller—a triple-certified Oula, Oula One, and Oula Power instructor; an Oula Power trainer; a veteran; a mother; a trauma survivor; a small business owner; and, yes, someone who is indeed a wealth of badassery combined with love. She’s now on my list of awesome Oula people, and I bet she’ll be on yours soon!
Please note, this profile does share sensitive topics, including addiction, trauma, and thoughts of suicide. If you are in crisis and need to talk, please call the national 988 suicide and crisis helpline.
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Kelly Miller wants to make you cry. Not in a bad way, and definitely not if you don’t want to. For Kelly, one indicator of a good Oula class is “my participants having space to express their emotions, get out of their heads, and connect with their bodies.” Sometimes that looks like crying. Sometimes it looks like having fun and experiencing joy. Sometimes it looks like an increased range of neck motion for someone recovering from the physical impacts of addiction. Kelly’s right beside her participants for all of it.
In 2020, Kelly founded Livingston, Montana’s Movement Collaborative – “a safe and inclusive space that offers a wide variety of opportunities to feel better.” The Collaborative offers Oula, Oula One, Oula Power, Oula Fusion, and other wellness workshops and fitness classes. Kelly founded the Collaborative because she “was tired of turning people away from classes when they couldn’t afford to pay the drop-in fees.” The Collaborative partners with other organizations to create a sliding scale payment model, so no one has to make the decision to choose between wellness and buying groceries.
One of the organizations Kelly partners with is The Phoenix, a nationwide nonprofit with the mission of building a sober active community to support recovery. The Phoenix provides a grant that allows the Collaborative to provide fitness classes for the cost of 48 hours of sobriety from drugs and alcohol. With continued sobriety, all classes are free. Kelly shares that the power of these classes is to “provide space for people who have experienced trauma to heal and recover, to slowly let go of hypervigilance and become better at doing something difficult in community with others experiencing the same things.”
Kelly speaks from lived experience when it comes to the power of Oula in recovery. Kelly first took part in an Oula class in 2014, and shared that the class was “one of the only things she had experienced [to that point] that was legitimately fun without having to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol.” Oula gave her the space to feel freedom and let her inhibitions go in a group of people without having to use substances. Kelly cherished this space, especially as she was in what she describes as a time when she had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
She shared that in 2016, “Oula literally saved my life.” Kelly was in one of the most difficult periods of her life. She was dealing with PTSD and a lower back injury from her time serving in Iraq with the National Guard. She was moving to a new city after a divorce. She had a newborn son and a toddler and was experiencing postpartum depression. She explained “it had been six months since I had felt joy in any capacity.” Every day for months on end, she thought of driving off a cliff on Bozeman Pass.
This feeling came to a decision point one day, and Kelly remembered the joy she felt from Oula. She decided to go to an Oula class in Bozeman as a test for herself. If she went to Oula and experienced joy, she would not drive off the cliff.
Oula—and Kelly—came through. Her emotions during the class were an instant reminder of where she wanted her life to be. Kelly was able to feel her love of music. She was able to feel a bit of control over her own body, even through her pain and trauma. She cried in the car after the class, realizing the horizon of her life would no longer set on that cliff. Instead, she drove into the life of service and purpose she lives today. We’re grateful to Oula—and even more grateful to Kelly—for that turn.
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Me again. Consider those asterisks above to serve the same purpose as a song change. One of the things I love about Oula is that you can experience a range of emotions through different songs and movements in one class. That was also true in my interview with Kelly. In addition to making me cry, she was also sage, insightful, and laugh-out-loud funny! Here are her answers to a few lighter questions:
What’s your advice for someone first starting Oula? Commit to going at least three times. The first time you’re going to be like a chihuahua on a surfboard. Come back. Embrace it. You’ll love it.
What’s your favorite Oula dance move? Any move where I can thrust my pelvis.
What’s your favorite Oula song? Oh no, I think that’s the hardest question you asked today![Note: this was after we talked about addiction, trauma, and recovery.]For Oula, "Wildest Dreams" by Taylor Swift. For Power, I’d say "Machine" by Neomi.
What advice would you give a new instructor? Be who you are. I’m not your average looking fitness instructor; I’m large-chested with a gut and a butt, and I think that makes other people comfortable to come in my class and move their bodies. Have a sense of humor, don’t take yourself too seriously, and encourage participants to move in ways that make them feel good. If it doesn’t feel good, do something else.
What are you doing now with Oula? I’ve become an Oula Power trainer. I love that it’s called Power. So many workout classes are about losing weight or changing in some way. Power is different in that it starts with knowing you’re already strong, it’s just about facilitating you finding that strength. You can move at your own pace, use your body weight, use your own judgment to find your power.
Can’t get enough of Kelly? I couldn't either. Check out her Mindfulness Moments in the Online Studio!
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