The Power of High Expectations

This month in College of Adaptive Arts 10th Anniversary of creation, we’d like to honor a very special professor this month in honor of LGBTQ Pride Month in June. Professor Jay Torres is an exceptional leader in the special needs community as well as the community at large.

College of Adaptive Arts was privileged enough to meet Jay in 2014 through a connection from the Director of the School of Dance. She visited a class one auspicious fall evening soon after we were forced to exit our original site due to a significant rent increase. The time was right for everyone to find each other, because Jay joined our staff soon afterwards. The College of Adaptive Arts’ students have blossomed, the School of Dance has blossomed, and Jay Torres has absolutely blossomed into an incredibly exceptional and exquisite human being.

Isabella Jay Torres gets a group hug from her adult students with disabilities following her Latizmo dance class at the College of Adaptive Arts in San Jose, California, on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Latizmo is a combination of urban hip-hop, and salsa dancing created by Torres. (Gary Reyes/ Bay Area News Group)

Jay is an individual who has faced some keen complexities in life.  Having suffered significant abuse as a child, having entered into jobs to fulfill the wishes of others, and having experienced a bout of homelessness, Jay found College of Adaptive Arts. She confided later that she had never worked with special needs individuals before this time.

This turned out to be a profound blessing, because she treated her students just like any other student studying dance, with the highest expectations, constant guidance, and support, and lots of lots of repetition. She has never once felt sorry for her students, and in turn, her students pour their heart and soul out during her Latizmo classes, so hungry and eager to learn more and more complex choreography and dance moves. Finally these adults found someone who truly believes in them and does everything within her power to bring out the very best in the students.

I witnessed these expectations first-hand this past quarter on a Wednesday night during a Latizmo Dream Team touring practice. She had asked for an extra half hour of practice for the quarter to get the students ready for some wonderful touring opportunities including at the sjDANCEco dance festival and the Redwood City STEAMFest. During one of these lengthy practices, I overheard Professor Jay state, “That was o.k., but I know you can do better.” Other comments throughout the class included “You are a professional dance team, and I expect you to perform as such.” And “That was good, now do it again!”

I observed lots of lots of dedicated, exhausting, absolutely fulfilling practices.  Once she came over and started conversing with me during class while the students performed the entire, intricate dance routine entirely on their own. It was absolutely magical, and I could feel the pride of the students knowing that their professor cares and believe in their abilities through and through.

Another magical moment when was the Latizmo Hip Hop Dance Troupe had the opportunity to perform at Great America one summer for Disability Awareness Day. One of her students, below, was initially considered a shy, nonverbal student who had a hard time in the beginning even coming into class, let alone speaking into a microphone. After a year of relentless dedication and support, this student spoke into the microphone to a crowded audience the 3 bedrock tenants of Latizmo, Patience, Passion, and Perseverance.

Why Jay chose a positive path forward is a truly humbling and astounding testimony of the human spirit. This professor radiates love, compassion, and the highest expectations. It is the highest honor to have her as part of the College of Adaptive Arts family of Mountain Movers. Indeed, Professor Jay has created such a rich and engaging space of opportunity and possibility to allow her students to Move Mountains once regarded as insurmountable and impossible. And it has been with sincere patience, passion, and perseverance.

Learn more about Professor Jay Torres and Latizmo Hip Hop Productions Here: