How Isaac “Boots” Calpito Grew His Dance Routine for a Good Cause

Isaac Calpito at his Torch’D store in Wainscott
Isaac Calpito at his Torch’D store in Wainscott.
Barbara Lassen

There is something about Isaac “Boots” Calpito that makes you want to work out. Or, at the least, dance with him.

Maybe it’s the way he waves and works a large, physical fan into his fitness routines that draws you in. Or his sassy commentary as he creates a dance party with his killer choreography. Or simply that he is a fierce, free force. And a lot of fun.

His wildly popular, full-body dance workout called Torch’d and his new store Torch’d Shoppe in Wainscott, which opened in July, make so much branding sense because Calpito is hot, hot, hot.

Dubbed the “breakout star of virtual fitness” by The New York Times, he is firing on all four burners: fitness influencer, choreographer, brand ambassador and philanthropist — giving to charities in a year when people needed it most.

“I always say my grandmother taught me love and my mother taught me drive, and it was a real goal of mine to get out and do something and make something out of my life,” says Calpito, who is “exclusively in the Hamptons this summer,” renting a place in Sag Harbor.

“I spent many years out here in East Hampton with friends and clients, but this is my first time actually living in Sag and I have to tell you, I absolutely love it.”

He is certainly making the most of his time there, opening his Torch’d Shoppe and teaching his live fundraising fitness class at the Children’s Museum of the East End (CMEE) at the outdoor amphitheater on weekend mornings.

On Saturday, August 7, he was joined by Brooke Shields and Ali Wentworth for a special workout class at CMEE, where 100 percent of the proceeds benefit the seven charities involved in the East End Fund for Children.

His growing list of celebrities who he has worked with or trained includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Kelly Ripa, Vanessa Hudgens, Ariana Grande, Hugh Jackman. and Lisa Rinna.

But when Calpito decided during the pandemic to stream his intense Torch’d workouts for free every day on his Instagram Live, something kicked in — his audience of followers grew exponentially and globally.

Isaac “Boots” Calpito teaches a class.Barbara Lassen

“What’s beautiful about the Torch’d livestream is that you have everyone from Naomi Watts … and Lizzie Tisch … and Wendy Murdoch to tattoo mom from Kentucky, a grandmother in Okinawa, and a frontline worker in Gainesville, Florida — all talking and all laughing and it was an equal playing field — and that is who I am.”

And because he encouraged his followers to donate to the charity No Kid Hungry, Calpito, to date, has raised over $1.3 million for the cause.

“No Kid Hungry is a charity that has always been close to my heart, mainly because I was that kid,” says Calpito. “And with every blessing I’ve had in my life and with my career I can never forget who I was.”

Born and raised in Waimanalo, a small town in Hawaii, Calpito “grew up very, very poor,” he says. The oldest of four children, and the only child until he was about 10 years old, Calpito says he “had a different upbringing” from his two younger sisters and little brother.

“My mom was 16 when she had me, near 17, and my dad was 18,” explains Calpito. “It was just a different life, growing up on food stamps and very religious and sort of machismo island life. And I’m born, and I’m doing cattle turns and hedge kicks like Madonna on the beach — it was quite the anomaly.”

A dancer at heart, Madonna has clearly been an influence. He calls her his “saving grace.”

“I was always a performer,” says Calpito. “I couldn’t afford dance class, I would watch MTV … I would watch her (Madonna) videos over and over and over again, and I would say that she was my first dance teacher.”

She was a good teacher.

After hightailing it to New York City right after graduation at age 17, Calpito danced on Broadway for 11 or 12 years — “Mamma Mia” for six years at the Winter Garden Theater and in the original cast of “West Side Story” at the Palace Theater. He met, worked and learned from “titans in the business” like Arthur Laurents, Chita Rivera, and Stephen Sondheim, and choreographed and directed for pop stars stars such as Ariana Grande.

It was during his “West Side Story” run that he created Torch’d, mainly because he didn’t have time to go to the gym.

“There was no agenda to making this worldwide thing — it was more out of necessity,” he says. “When I started choreographing for these pop stars I would start rehearsal with Torch’d because I knew that it worked for me as a dancer and it made me a stronger dancer, and that took off.”

His focus on his Torch’d business may have shifted him away from Broadway, but the theater is in his DNA.

And in a Madonna-Like-A-Prayer-full-circle-moment, Calpito danced with Madonna on live television, on LIVE with Kelly & Ryan — 20 years after moving to NYC.

“It was a religious experience,” Calpito recalls with a laugh. “Kelly and I are great, great friends—we send the clip to each other once a week.”

Isaac Calpito’s Torch’D fitness class at CMEE in Bridgehampton.Barbara Lassen

We caught up with Isaac Boots via phone to talk Torch’d, his career, and how he transformed his life.

What was it like to leave Hawaii and come to New York City?

It was exhilarating because I was just so excited to be in New York and to make something happen. … I had nowhere to live and like 30 bucks. …

There was something beautiful about Chelsea and the Eighth Avenue culture and Big Cup and the gay restaurants, particularly as a 17-year-old gay boy moving from Hawaii to try to achieve a dream — to dance on Broadway or dance with Madonna.

How did you break through?

I was naïve and fearless and knocked on doors that I had no business being at. … I auditioned every day, I didn’t even know how to audition, I had no agent. … I would basically sneak into these auditions and go to the front and just go for it, and I think they were either impressed with like my ballsiness or they were just annoyed and just finally let me in.

I feel like my entire life has been a series of making goals, reaching the goals and learning so much once I reach those goals — so I’m a perpetual student — just staying open and never being complacent.

The free livestream really took off.

I said, “I want to create a direct link for my Torch’d community” and wanted to make sure that any money goes straight to immediate funding for getting meals to kids across the country, and we did it. … We made it sort of easy and sort of foolproof … to donate instantly on my live.

My friends Lisa Rinna, Vanessa Hudgens, Kelly Ripa and Lizzy Tisch were really instrumental in getting the word out more and doing livestreams with me from their homes and raising like $40K a pop in a 45-minute workout — Kelly and I actually raised $125,000 in 45 minutes, which is amazing. And we were able to leave this past year doing something worthwhile, and I’m really happy about that, and it’s translated into me opening my Torch’d Shoppe in Wainscott, which I’m really proud of.

How is the new Torch’d Shoppe doing?

It’s been doing so fabulously well. … I’m really grateful … every sale of not only my classes but a portion of the shop goes to support the Children’s Museum in Bridge and seven local charities that deal with abuse prevention and mental health and after school care and food pantries.

It’s a beautiful venue that’s not just a store that sells my merch and my apparel, but also my collaborators and sponsors (such as Fred Segal, Brian Atwood) and brands that I believe in— skin care to athleisure to one-piece design to jewelry — and a real celebration of art and photography. …

Wayne Hollowell is a great artist who did a great Grey Gardens retrospective — I commissioned him to do something as a tribute to the Hamptons. Who doesn’t love the Beals?

What’s a typical Isaac Boots day?

It’s non-stop work, which I love. I do one-on-one training, a pretty full client list hour on the hour, either Facetime or Zoom sessions with clients all over the world. I have my daily Instagram Live (@isaacboots), it’s free, and I invite people to donate.

I have a new initiative with NYU Langone for the frontline workers and the nurses to create mental health wellness programs — there’s a real pandemic with nurses going on in having to deal with the stresses of what this past year was.

What’s next in your world?

I’m only interested in doing things that have a bigger purpose — children, LGBT youth, LGBT rights and animals are really what I sort of want to devote myself to.

I have a global community, so I want to bring this marketplace — this experiential venue — to LA, to Miami, to Chicago to Europe, South Africa. … I want everyone to experience this because it’s a beautiful experience.

What ultimately drives you?

Connection and inclusivity — it’s very important to me. I’ve worked with the best of the best, I’ve performed on world stages. … I’m not a snob, and snobbishness and elitism is repulsive to me.

Yes, I’m invited to very fancy things and, yes, I have the luxury of, you know, having and wearing a Gucci cardigan whenever I want, but at the end of the day I’m a little boy from Waimānalo, sitting on my morbidly obese grandmother’s lap eating Spam—and having the best time doing that. [laughs] That’s important to me.

This story originally appeared in Dan’s Papers.