Isabella Torres was surprised by her friends’ thoughtful gift—tickets to a live taping of the Ellen DeGeneres Show for her 40th birthday. Accompanied by her two friends while driving south on I-5 to Burbank, Isabella was looking forward to being a part of the television studio audience of her favorite program. Cheers star Ted Danson and R&B singer Maxwell were the day’s featured guests.
Before the doors opened, Isabella and her friends stood outside, waiting in line, for non-reserved seating. The TV show’s staff were outside too, asking audience members (nearly all women) if anyone would like to be on stage during taping. Almost everyone in line raised their hands. There was one caveat, though—you must be willing to dance. All the sudden, the pool of interest had diminished to a handful of women. Still, there was enough interest for the staff to serve as judges and decide who would be that fortunate guest.
Familiar with her lifelong passion for dancing, Isabella’s friends pressured the birthday girl to strut her stuff. Never one to seek the limelight, Isabella was reluctant initially. Yet, she somehow found the courage and threw herself (along with her fedora hat) into the ring, or, in this case, the sidewalk.
There were more than a hundred female onlookers, most of whom were white and middle class, staring at this forty year-old Mexican-American from the rural, agricultural town of Hollister. Isabella grew up poor, was the fourteenth of fifteen children.
As a youth, Isabella’s exposure to dance was limited at first. Unlike many of her upper-class peers, Isabella did not have the luxury of dancing on a wooden floor, complete with mirrors and a barre. Her primary dance area consisted of pavement, often with deep-seated cracks. The music she danced to would never be mistaken as classical. Typically listened to in stereo, it was pop music’s newest and most controversial sound—rap, or better known now as hip hop, and breakdancing served as its trademark move. Her program of choice wasn’t the Nutcracker, but the 1970’s iconic black television dance show, Soul Train.
Thirty years ago, dance schools did not offer hip hop classes. If you were not interested in the traditional styles of ballet, jazz or tap, you were out of luck. Isabella wasn’t concerned with tradition; she was focused on dancing to the likes of performers like Michael Jackson, who could move his body in ways that had never been seen before. One moment he’s frozen, the next he’s upside down with his back to the ground, all in perfect symmetry to the beat of the music. She was mesmerized. Practicing for eight, ten, sometimes twelve hours a day, she entered competitions, mostly at car shows, and was victorious in almost all of them.
For Isabella, dancing enabled her to “stand out from others” and it served as a “positive outlet,” as opposed to partying or running with a gang, which many in her life back home had done. She had not only become a dancer, but was a choreographer, a DJ, a teacher and even created her own style of dance, coining it “Latizmo,” break-dancing with a Latin vibe.
It was finally Isabella’s turn to dance for the audience and Ellen’s staff.
“Show us your moves,” a staffer yelled out to her.
She didn’t hold back.
Isabella’s decades of dancing had paid off. Unplanned, she “busted out” her signature step, “popping and locking,” the classic robotic style that’s infamously associated with hip hop, along with a dash of Salsa and Meringue. She even did a backspin.
No one had expected this from a lowly audience member. The crowd was up in arms, cheering Isabella on. The staff quickly made its decision. No one was surprise when she was selected as the guest who would appear on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
Within the hour, Isabella’s turn had come. The audience, waiting patiently outside earlier, was now inside the studio, sitting comfortably in their seats. Isabella was brought onto the stage. Her friends were giddy. The cameras were rolling. The plush, shiny floor was nothing like what she was used to.
It didn’t matter.
Pop. Lock. Spin. Salsa. Latizmo!
For more info on Isabella's hip hop classes at the Joan Pisani Community Center, click here. To find out what other classes are being offered through the City of Saratoga Recreation Department, visit our website.
Connect with Isabella on her facebook page.