Therese Bailey – 35th Annual Black Excellence Awards Honoree

Minority Business

Thérèse Bailey
ZenZen Yoga Arts

Thérèse Bailey, founder of ZenZen, LLC, left years of working in the corporate sector to pursue a career offering the opportunity to express her passion in movement, exercise and aerial arts.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, she and her three siblings were raised by their mother and grandmother, who both passed away when Thérèse was nine years old.

“After a brief stay in foster homes, we were split up among relatives on my mother’s side of the family. I and my baby brother, who was two years old, lived with a cousin. Since I had learned from my mother how to look after the baby, I became his caretaker in my relative’s home.” she said.

Thérèse excelled throughout school and graduated valedictorian of her high school class. She passed the civil service test to be hired for a job in the federal government. She made her way to Washington, DC and it was not long before she made the major step to fulfill her dream and earn a college degree. Working full time and taking a full load of classes each semester, she graduated from Howard University with a liberal arts degree.

“I was unsure of the career path to pursue, but getting hired at that time was not difficult. I dabbled in the clothing business and custom-designed styles selling to co-workers, friends, and others. I was very comfortable, exercising, eating well and taking care of myself, going about my life. However I discovered, after years in corporate systems and management, something needed to change. I left DC, and moved to Los Angeles where my sister was living,” she said.

Her new job in Los Angeles meant networking and meeting other professionals at conferences around the country. Friendship with one these associates became a long-distance romance. He lived in Wisconsin while she lived in California. Things became serious and he proposed, so she moved to Milwaukee to start a new life. Sadly, the relationship ended in a few months and they went their separate ways, but Thérèse decided to remain in Milwaukee.

“The people I met in Milwaukee were friendly and unpretentious. For eight years, I thrived in corporate marketing until the company began layoffs and just before the holidays I became one of the casualties. This gave me pause to recognize life was more than a paycheck. Turning toward my spiritual practice, as I had done throughout my life, the ‘ah-ha’ moment was revealed. I took a step back from it all and did absolutely nothing. With enough money saved, very little debt, and a reasonable severance package, financial concerns became light,” she said.

She knew the time had come to follow a different path and while visiting her elderly aunt who had been struggling with a bad back, Thérèse offered her guidance through yoga movements to help to bring her aunt a degree of relief.

“I had been inspired by a host of yoga teachers and yoga masters and was certified to teach, but never seriously considered going beyond my personal practice. When my aunt said, ‘you should be teaching this’, her words were a light to me. I had great respect and admiration for her and trusted her judgment; so the next day I began my search for studios that might be hiring yoga teachers,” she said.

With enough money saved to achieve the additional training and further certifications she needed, Thérèse landed contracts with several Milwaukee businesses, including Mortgage Guarantee Insurance Corporation, The Woman’s Club of Wisconsin and Aveda Institute Milwaukee, to offer classes at each location.

“While doing some online research, I saw that a certain type of yoga had been trending, where participants used a silky sling for their practice. It was called aerial yoga. After taking classes in Chicago, it took no time for me to decide to open a studio in Milwaukee, especially since the city had nothing of its type available,” she said.

As she pursued this passion, she recalls one of her favorite songs by Whitney Houston, “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength.” It became her mantra at ZenZen Yoga Arts.

“My online presence had steady growth and was fueled via word-of-mouth. They enjoyed sharing time with others who were learning to move their body in different and more expressive ways. ZenZen Yoga Arts became a gathering place for a new crop of local aerialists.” she said.

Now in her eighth year of studio ownership, Thérèse is considering a second location. In September 2019 the compass pointed to a relocation in the Bay View neighborhood. For the 10 years since forming ZenZen, LLC, she has kept growing and learning and has received several certifications in her specialty, including becoming a registered affiliate of Yoga Alliance and the Worldwide Federation of Female Professionals.

Thérèse believes her challenges have mainly been misguided perceptions of how she and others see the world around them. She said she stopped doing what was making life a struggle and started doing what would make life a joy.

“Sometimes we see a situation and put our own limited label on it, causing us to feel depressed, lonely, unworthy. If I can step back and remove the label and the judgment (of things, people, etc.), I can get through any storm. I’m guided by the principles of God’s love for us all, our forgiveness for each other, and allowing myself to be authentic in every way. We all have gifts and our gifts need to be expressed,” she said.