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
Work that body: Casey O’Connell takes her hoops out for a spin
Photograph by Jennifer May
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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.
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.