Stellar Sunshine Hoops and Beyond Barre

You don’t need to jump through hoops to get a good workout — but maybe you should. Two local ladies put the fun in fitness with a pair of unusual — but intense — exercise routines

When she was a little girl, Casey O’Connell recalls asking her mother why she went to the gym so often. “It’s healthy to exercise,” her mom explained. Suddenly, the small child felt panic-stricken about her own health because she wasn’t a gym-goer. No, mom assured her, when you run around and play you’re getting all the exercise you need.

Now, a bit of that little-girl fun has morphed into serious cardio regimes here in the Valley. Women are losing weight and sculpting muscles with workouts that borrow from two girlhood activities: ballet dancing and hula-hooping.

O’Connell makes and sells sturdy, adult-sized hula-hoops, and teaches grown-ups how to twirl their hips in order to get the blood pumping and burn calories. “I tell people to give it whirl — if you’ll pardon the pun,” says the 23-year-old Goshen resident.

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» Hooping at Stellar Sunshine Hoops was voted “Best New Workout” in 2010!

O’Connell first encountered hooping when she attended the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee in 2007; enthusiasts there were twirling their rings to the sound of the music. “I was really enamored with it,” she says. Some time later, while visiting a friend who’d gotten into the activity, O’Connell tried using the hoop — and couldn’t put it down. She brought her first hoop back with her to Widener University, near Philadelphia, where she was a junior. “I began doing it in the winter in my dorm room,” she says. “I had just enough room to move it around. When the weather got warmer, I went outside to practice more tricks” — which included spinning several hoops simultaneously over her shoulders and legs. “I didn’t know anyone else who was doing it, so I had to teach myself. Now, my students learn in a month what it took me six months to figure out.”

O’Connell quickly realized the health benefits of hooping: she lost around 30 pounds in about a year and a half. And her enthusiasm for the workout was contagious: After fashioning hoops for herself out of irrigation tubing, her friends started asking for their own. In September, she established an online shop to sell her handmade hoops, which are 40 to 42 inches in diameter. She’s sold about 60 of them (most are priced between $20 and $40) and recently shipped one to a buyer in Australia.

After she graduated, O’Connell says, “I came home and started teaching classes in the parks in the summer.” She now offers private or group lessons in hooping, and conducts workshops at two local venues: Sports Fitness and Fun in Florida, and Sacred Space Yoga and Healing Arts Center in Beacon. The goal, she says, is to get people to make hooping part of their routine. “I think people have forgotten t at, as long as you’re being active, you’re exercising — whether you’re running on a treadmill or hiking, or doing anything.”

The health benefits of hooping are impressive. In a recent University of Wisconsin-La Crosse study, hooping elevated the heart rates of test subjects to levels comparable to boot-camp classes, step aerobics, and cardio kickboxing. The study concluded that strenuous hooping burns about 210 calories each half hour and contributes to weight loss.

Because it’s a low-impact exercise, hooping is particularly good for the elderly. O’Connell’s 85-year-old neighbor recently purchased one of her hoops, and she brought one to the nursing home that’s connected with the nonprofit agency where she works three days a week. The patients there “really love it,” she says.

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beyond barre pilatesColleen Ketchum’s BeyondBarre routine combines ballet with Pilates for an exhilarating workout

Photographs courtesy of BeyondBarre

Meanwhile, in Warwick, Colleen Ketchum has created BeyondBarre, a workout that extends beyond the handrail. “This is not your daughter’s ballet class,” says the 38-year-old owner of Pilates in Motion workout studio in the village. “I could not be happier with how it’s taking off.”

Ketchum had long wanted to incorporate ballet barre exercises at her studio. The programs she considered, however, were all attached to franchises. “I didn’t see the point in paying franchising fees and changing the name of my studio,” she says.

She thought often about what kind of exercises she wanted to include in a barre class, but she’d never had the time to write a manual or teach trainers the new methods. “And then, after I’d had my third son — as if things weren’t hectic enough — one of the Pilates teachers said, ‘Oh, I can help you with that.’ ” Ketchum went on to develop BeyondBarre by collaborating with two trainers, one of whom is a professional stunt woman. The program has become so successful that Ketchum now licenses it nationally.

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The 55-minute routine moves through a variety of exercises: warm up, small weights, Glide Board aerobics, barre work, and stretching. “This workout really targets the area between the hips and knees of women — thighs and glutes — the place where it’s really difficult to trim down and sculpt,” Ketchum says.

Barre exercises focus on stretching and strengthening muscles, but Ketchum wanted to ratchet up the aerobics aspect — just as a ballet performer gets a cardio workout on the dance floor in addition to completing a barre routine. She determined she’d need a slippery surface in order for exercisers to remain in motion while staying in one place. “My father helped me create the Glide Board that we currently use,” she says. “He’s a fine woodworker, and I enlisted him to start making prototypes for me. He tried different materials, different lengths to come up with the perfect piece of equipment that would work well in my studio. And he did.” And it’s the board, which Ketchum has submitted for a patent, that makes this workout so different from others.

beyond barre pilates

Varying from four to five feet long, the Glide Board’s surface is made from a super-slippery plastic, and each end is capped with a cross piece designed to keep feet and hands from sliding off. Users wear ballet shoes or specialty socks. “It’s fun, like ice skating,” Ketchum says. “It really works the lateral muscles of the body, which frequently isn’t done unless you’re an ice skater, hockey player, basketball player — someone who does a lot of that side-to-side motion.” Overall, the workout is meant to build “long muscles, and the kind of sculpted bodies that dancers have.”

Ketchum sells Glide Boards for $249 apiece through, a site that also provides information about the 17 BeyondBarre classes held each week at her studio. She’s licensing the workout to gyms throughout the country, and has already gone international with a license in Tel Aviv, Israel. Ketchum hopes to develop a BeyondBarre DVD to bring the workout into exercisers’ living rooms. That way, she says, “everyone can join in the ballet barre fun.”

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