It was at a birthday clambake just after the Fourth of July that I first met Isaac “Boots” Calpito.
Warm, smiling, he approached me and said, “We have a lot of mutual friends!”
Here’s the thing: one of Isaac’s many gifts is that he knows instinctively how to put someone at ease.
Of course, I already knew who he was… The New York Times dubbed him, “The Breakout Star of Virtual Fitness.”
Virtual, because it was during the pandemic that Isaac Boots became a worldwide phenomenon.
In March 2020, when we were all stuck in our homes, Isaac started offering free 45-minute workouts — called Torch’d — on Instagram Live.
Suddenly, frontline workers in Florida were doing leg lifts with the likes of Jessica Chastain, Kelly Ripa, and Lisa Rinna.
Torch’d became a thing.
And, Isaac, who grew up struggling (to say the least), made it a charitable thing, too — raising $1.4 million to date for No Kid Hungry.
This summer, the mega trainer has been teaching at his own Torch’d shoppe in the Hamptons. He’ll be back at it this Saturday and Sunday, and then one weekend a month after Labor Day.
Put on your boots. I’ll see you there.
ALINA CHO: Take me back to your childhood in Hawaii, because I think you have to understand how you grew up to understand how it shaped you as a person.
ISAAC BOOTS: I grew up really, really poor. I grew up on food stamps, kind-of a Dickensian childhood. I was bullied. If we really want to get down and dirty, my father killed himself on my 12th birthday, my mom and I have had a really contentious relationship mainly because I'm gay. My father was a boxer. My grandfather was a boxer, and I was doing paddle turns to Madonna on the beach and it just…
ALINA CHO: … didn't fit.
ISAAC BOOTS: It didn't fit. But the reason I never complained about my childhood is because my grandmother was a real source of unconditional love. Not a nickel to her name and the happiest, most gracious, and welcoming woman in the world. I always say my grandmother taught me love. And my mother taught me drive.
ALINA CHO: In what way?
ISAAC BOOTS: As tough as my mother was — it wouldn't work now — it was quite abusive in every respect. [But] I wouldn't change it because she was a pusher. And so, it made me want more. It gave me fire.
ALINA CHO: When did you come to New York?
ISAAC BOOTS: I came to New York the morning after high school graduation, 8 a.m. flight, Continental. I'll never forget it.
ALINA CHO: I read that you had $30 in your pocket.
ISAAC BOOTS: I had 30 bucks. I bought a one-way ticket. I had been saving money from when I was in seventh grade. Talk about manifestation. It was just like, "I'm going to New York.”
ALINA CHO: What was your first break?
ISAAC BOOTS: The first was a regional show of West Side Story. And then I was on the national tour of Mamma Mia, which was a really big, big break. And then they brought me to Broadway. Eight shows a week for seven years.
ALINA CHO: Wow.
ISAAC BOOTS: And [it was during] West Side Story…
ALINA CHO: That’s when you developed…
ISAAC BOOTS: That's when I created Torch'd. I created it really just for me. Because West Side Story was the most challenging dance show I'd ever, ever done.
ALINA CHO: And you didn't have time to work out.
ISAAC BOOTS: I didn't have time to go to the gym. We were in the theater 24/7. So, I was like, I need to create something that I can do in my little dressing room that would keep me lean, keep me fit and be able to perform this major show.
ALINA CHO: So, what's the philosophy behind Torch'd?
ISAAC BOOTS: It’s ultimately dance conditioning. So, it's a mixture of ballet, body resistance, and targeted reps.
ALINA CHO: I mean, I've never done so many leg lifts in my life. I was like, "Is this is going to end?"
ISAAC BOOTS: It never does.
ALINA CHO: So, you noticed when you started doing this…
ISAAC BOOTS: … that it shifted my body, not only to make it look aesthetically the way that I needed it to look — long and lean — but also, I wasn't getting injured.
ALINA CHO: Right.
ISAAC BOOTS: Then, after West Side [Story], I started choreographing for pop stars. My first was Brooke Shields’ one woman show at Feinstein's and then a number for Hugh Jackman at Lincoln Center. And then Ariana Grande, that was a major one. I worked with her for years and did every music video, every performance.
ALINA CHO: Choreography.
ISAAC BOOTS: Choreography, but I would start rehearsal with Torch'd because I knew, as a dancer, that made me perform better. And then slowly, but surely, that is what took off.
ALINA CHO: Like, "Can you believe? Have you heard?"
ISAAC BOOTS: Yes, and then I got the girls. Lisa Rinna and Vanessa Hudgens and Gwyneth Paltrow and [Jessica] Chastain, and it just grew and grew and grew to the point where that's what I had time for and what really was becoming successful.
ALINA CHO: So, let's talk about the pandemic.
ISAAC BOOTS: When the pandemic hit, I offered [the Torch’d workout] as a one-off on my Instagram. There was no plan. There was no agenda.
ALINA CHO: And then what happened?
ISAAC BOOTS: I had less than a hundred people on that first live and something interesting happened. At the end of that first live, I saw, “Thank you from Guatemala.” And I was like, "That's weird. That's cool." And I was like, "Maybe I'll do it tomorrow. I have nothing else to do." So, I did it the next day and there were 200 more people on it. And then I saw, “Thank you from Paris. Thank you from Mexico.” And I was like, "Okay, this is dope." And I literally started doing it every day. By the end of the first week, we probably had [more than] 1500 viewers…
ALINA CHO: … in one week.
ISAAC BOOTS: So, we had people all over the world and Jessica Chastain, Kelly Ripa, Lisa Rinna, and then it became this weird, fun thing.
ALINA CHO: Community.
ISAAC BOOTS: That and I think it was clear there was no hierarchy, that I was shouting out Jessica Chastain and Naomi Watts as much as I was shouting out tattoo mom from Kentucky, and a frontline worker in Florida. We were on the same playing field.
ALINA CHO: But the thing that really got the attention of a lot of people was the charitable aspect…
ISAAC BOOTS: That happened about eight days in. I reached out to No Kid Hungry because it's a charity that I've always felt connected to.
ALINA CHO: Well, you were that kid.
ISAAC BOOTS: I was that kid. I can never forget that. Schools were closing and I know that a lot of kids rely on school [lunches to eat].
ALINA CHO: Didn’t have meals.
ISAAC BOOTS: And the goal was $1000. It was just, “Let's do a little something.” I was like, “If everybody gives like five bucks, great.”
ALINA CHO: And what happened?
ISAAC BOOTS: And in 24 hours, we were over $10,000. And that's when I was like, "Okay, we have something cool happening." And it just kept growing and growing. We did a livestream with Kelly Ripa and raised $125,000 in 45 minutes.
ALINA CHO: I mean, you’ve raised $1.4 million to date.
ISAAC BOOTS: It's a beautiful thing. We can always make money. I have way more in my life than I ever thought I could.
ALINA CHO: Can we talk about the reaction that people have to you? After class, the selfies, the, "I have to meet him," it must feel good.
ISAAC BOOTS: I'm very appreciative of it.
ALINA CHO: Why do you think this is happening? They're sobbing.
ISAAC BOOTS: I think a lot of people don't feel seen. And I think anyone who knows me knows that I have felt unseen in my life. And I want everyone around me to feel appreciated and important.
ALINA CHO: So, women come up to you, and men, I guess…
ISAAC BOOTS: The men come up to me and say, "You know, Isaac, I've been hearing your name for the past year every day, but I have to thank you because my wife's ass looks amazing."
ALINA CHO: And then, the women?
ISAAC BOOTS: I think we created a community where they felt like they had a friend.
ALINA CHO: Anything else?
ISAAC BOOTS: I'm just so glad that you were able to come and experience this.
ALINA CHO: Oh, I'll be back. I have to wait until my ass calms down, but I'll be back.
ISAAC BOOTS: I love it.