It says something remarkable about both the positivity of our industry and the incredible dedication of the lady that Colleen Kluwen has spent over 40 years pioneering group exercise in Australia. And, as she turns 70, she’s showing no sign of hanging up her joggers, as Scarlett Hurst discovered.
With a fitness career spanning over 40 years, passion is at the heart of Colleen Kluwen’s ongoing professional success. Still teaching group fitness and delivering international workshops at the age of 70, Colleen’s path to the fitness industry was paved via her career as a dance teacher and pioneer of Calisthenics in her home state of WA. In 1972 she became one of the first female gym instructors in that state, and later, as a member of the original steering committee for the Aerobic Institute of Western Australia, Colleen was central to the rapid growth of aerobics in Australia during the 1980s. Reflecting on that time she says; ‘When the aerobic boom arrived I realised ‘I’ve been doing this my whole life, exercising to music!’’
Describing her current role in the industry as ‘trying to keep the wow factor of freestyle alive’ Colleen is highly passionate about both mentoring fellow instructors and teaching freestyle classes; ‘When pre-choreographed classes were introduced I noticed it became very difficult to keep freestyle going… the demise is there, so I’m committed to mentoring people who are interested in becoming freestyle teachers and keeping freestyle alive.’
The former owner of highly respected club Fitness Express, Colleen continues not only to inspire (recently presenting a workshop in New York at the age of 69), but to take inspiration from fellow fitness professionals; ‘I still greatly admire other instructors that shared my freestyle dream – Lexie Williams, Marcus Irwin and Rebecca Small all still inspire me.’
With the exception of having ‘retired’ from teaching 6am classes, Colleen’s typical day rivals that of an instructor half her age; ‘I’m either doing my classes or mentoring someone else doing the class, guiding them on how they can improve as an instructor’ she says.
With such an enduring, and illustrious, career, Colleen’s infectious energy begs the question, what keeps her motivated? Her answer comes easily; ‘I love having the power to help people become fit and aware of their bodies…I really don’t know my life without fitness.’
Colleen continues to share her knowledge all around the world, naming one of her biggest challenges as ‘delivering presentations in foreign countries like Sweden, where there is little understanding of English and you can’t simply rely on verbal cues. And, of course, keeping the freestyle dream alive is a daily challenge I meet.’
Framed by a lifetime of achievement, Colleen points to the Western Australian Fitness Industry’s Roast in her honour as a career highlight, ‘feeling wonderful surrounded by people I had given their first job.’ This is closely followed by the victory of protégées Kylie Gates and Craig West (who sadly passed away in 2012) in the doubles Australian Aerobics Championships in 1993, being awarded the John Graham Fellowship Award in 2005, and being named recipient of Network’s WA Australasian Fitness Leader of the Year (1989) and Aerobic Leader of the Year (1990) awards.
Despite her celebrated past, Colleen continues to look to the future; ‘If I mention the possibility of retiring everyone says I can’t possibly do that! I will keep teaching as long as I have movement. If I hear music, I will be moving. I have never lost the inspiration to get up and teach people.’