Bring It! Studios: James Denton and Erin O’Brien Denton in Chanhassen

The owners of a Chanhassen fitness studio return to Minnesota to focus on health, wellness and a little fame on the side.
James Denton and his wife, Erin O'Brien Denton (inverted), enjoy hanging around Bring It! Studios in Chanhassen with Jaime Wallis and Katy Keeler.

Bring It! Studios is not a celebrity fitness studio, although there is a well-known celebrity associated with the Chanhassen facility—someone who, much like his most famous on-screen character, actually has handled on-site building projects, which was to the great surprise of participants in a Heavy Hoops cardio class in early 2013.

“All of us were working hard to get everything finished,” says Jaime Wallis, one of the studio co-owners. “During this particular class, James came walking into the studio, wearing a tool belt and carrying wooden planks on his shoulder, looking just like Mike Delfino (from ABC’s long-running primetime hit, Desperate Housewives). All of a sudden, there was the sound of all these hula hoops hitting the floor.”

Desperate Housewives fans certainly understand this response. Actor James Denton, married to Erin O’Brien (another of the three owners of Bring It! Studios), was the resident heartthrob on Wisteria Lane during the show’s 2004‒2012 run. 

More than Meets the Eye
There is definitely more to Bring It! Studios than meets the eye. Targeting all fitness levels and abilities, Bring It! Studios launched when Chanhassen resident Wallis, who has four boys, and Katy Keeler of Chaska, mom to a son and daughter, came together as work-out partners and started brainstorming ways to bring fitness not only to other busy working moms, but also to those struggling to find a comfortable workout atmosphere.

“Our goal has always been to help those who find that exercise doesn’t come easy to let us help motivate them until they find their own motivation,” Wallis says.
After a stint in the lower level of the Chanhassen firehouse (Wallis’s husband is a captain with the Chanhassen Fire Department), the pair knew they needed more space to accommodate the growing number of participants who discovered the program through old-fashioned methods like flyers and word-of-mouth. Eventually, the pair found the studio’s current Water Tower Place location.

Celebrity Status

There was more serendipity involved as Wallis and Keeler built their fitness business, including a chance meeting with O’Brien Denton during an information night at their children’s school. The latter is an acclaimed personal trainer and group fitness instructor—both here and in Los Angeles and New York City—with several workout DVDs to her credit. She’d recently moved back to her native Minnesota to be near her sister, who was battling cancer (and is now in remission), and had the sort of resume (think: hit workout DVD Prenatal Fitness Fix) Wallis and Keeler were looking for.

“We were humbled that Erin wanted to be part of this,” says Wallis, adding that the three are equal partners in Bring It! Studios. “She really appreciated what Katy and I were trying to accomplish. What’s great is that we all bring different gifts to this—I have a sales background, Katy’s in marketing and Erin is our fitness expert.”
When asked if owning a fitness studio was ever part of her master plan, O’Brien Denton laughs and says “absolutely not,” but in the same breath revels at how the Bring It! community continues to grow. “It’s so kismet, the way that everything has fallen into place,” she says, citing the addition of several expert staff members committed to fitness for all ages, leading classes in everything from Co-Ed Boot Camp to Zumba on Fire to Peak 10, an eight-week circuit training series.

James Denton occasionally shows up in classes (he participated in Peak 10 earlier this year and lost 10 pounds) and is frequently involved behind the scenes, sometimes with his tool belt, but Wallis is quick to debunk a common misconception about Bring It! Studios.

“This isn’t a celebrity business. It’s a hard-working mom business,” she says.

Bring It! Studios, 2963 Water Tower Place, Chanhassen; 952.361.3575.

Off Stage with James and Erin O’Brien Denton

Following the end of Desperate Housewives, James Denton and Erin O’Brien Denton decided to return to her native Minnesota (she grew up in Shakopee) after her younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We never wanted to raise our family in L.A.,” O’Brien Denton says of their two children, now 10 and 8. “We had property in Montana, but when my sister got sick, I looked at [James] and said, ‘I want to go home,’ and he said ‘OK.’”

Her sister, Meg, now in remission, finished her nursing degree during her cancer treatment and works in the neonatal intensive care unit at a Minneapolis hospital—and “is doing very well,” she says. During her sister’s recovery, O’Brien Denton helped her sister slowly ease back into fitness and now hopes to make an exercise DVD for other recovering cancer patients. “They aren’t in their body anymore and they have to mentally go back into it,” she says. “It’s a traumatic experience—the fear of exertion, movement, sweating, being sore. We worked hard for her to overcome that.”

Although the couple has settled into life in the Twin Cities, Denton continues to travel back to Los Angeles for TV and film projects, as well as occasional gigs with Band From TV, a rock cover band featuring TV actors including Hugh Laurie from House (although he’s taken a break from the group to focus on his own music career), Adrian Pasdar from Heroes, Bob Guiney (from season 4 of The Bachelor), Jorge Garcia from Lost  and even occasionally Teri Hatcher, Denton’s co-star from Desperate Housewives.

All of the proceeds from live performances and the group’s CD Hoggin’ All the Covers Unleashed! go directly to a variety of charitable causes. “We’ve written checks to more than 50 charities,” says Denton, listing organizations including Save the Children, Make a Wish and the ALS Foundation. “We all just feel so lucky to get paid for what we do in our careers, so it’s nice to be able to give back.”

Denton also is actively involved in local charities, including the Angel Foundation, benefiting families fighting cancer. Ruth Bachman, a cancer survivor and founder of the Hourglass Fund Project, met him at an Angel Foundation event in early 2013 and was amazed by how willing he was to help her out. “James is a Twin Cities treasure. He generously gave his time and energy to the launch event for my book, Growing Through the Narrow Spots,” Bachman says. “All proceeds from the sale of that book go to cancer research, education and advocacy. His dedication to support cancer-related events and organizations is remarkable.”

Self-effacing but committed to his charity work, Denton raised money for the Angel Foundation during a “Mr. Manuary” competition on radio station FM.107—something that pitted him against Vikings MVP running back Adrian Peterson—as listeners voted with donations.  “I won, but even Erin voted for Adrian Peterson,” he says with a laugh.

Although Denton was a star of one of the most popular TV programs in the world at one time (to this day, he can’t go to London or Paris without being mobbed—“they love their American television,” he says with a shrug), he is excited to be performing back on stage in productions like last fall’s Good People at the Park Square Theatre in St. Paul and Rancho Mirage, playing through early December at the Old Log Theater in Excelsior. “I haven’t been able to do theater in a while, and the desire to be on stage was why I originally quit my job in advertising,” he says. “I never planned to be in front of the camera.”

And while he’s had a few other hula-hoop-type moments since moving to Chanhassen—and a lot of “you know, you look just like that guy on Desperate Housewives” experiences—Denton takes the attention with a grain of salt.

“Thank God people watched our show,” he says. “I have never complained.”

Go See It!
Denton stars as Nick Dahler in Rancho
through December 7 at Old Log Theater. Tickets $24-68. Check website
for show times. 5185 Meadville St.,  Excelsior; 952.474.5951.

What bugs James Denton and Erin O’Brien Denton about the Land of 10,000 Lakes?
For the Denton family, making the adjustment from California to Minnesota has gone relatively smoothly—and better now that O’Brien Denton’s sister has regained her health—but while you might expect the Minnesota winters make them miss the California sunshine, the biggest change they have experienced is actually a small one.

“It’s the mosquitoes, the flies and the bees,” Erin says. “I forgot how bad they get here in the summertime.”

“When you move to Minnesota, you don’t get to complain about the snow,” says Denton, adding that their kids love winter weather. “But in L.A., there are no bugs, because there’s no water. It’s bug central here.”

Local residents might be surprised to learn that Denton doesn’t think the Twin Cities has anything on Los Angeles when it comes to traffic, either. He tells a story about trying to drive from Chanhassen to St. Paul for a play rehearsal in mid-afternoon—a trip that took 90 minutes.

“The traffic here is surprisingly bad, but really only during peak times,” he says. “In L.A., the traffic is bad around the clock.”

And in response to a question about whether they have found “Minnesota nice” to be more of a catch phrase than a reality, O’Brien Denton says she has found the attitude here to be genuine. “In L.A., people will be nice to you to your face, but cutthroat behind your back,” she says. “People in Minnesota seem to be genuinely kind. I’ll go to bat for Minnesota being nice.”