VH1’s latest scripted series, Hit the Floor, which follows the story of the Los Angeles Devils basketball team and their dancers, premiered this Monday to some pretty rave reviews. Who can hate on a show that has both Dean Cain and a bevy of hot cheerleaders in it? Of all the girls on this fictional squad, we only had eyes for Raquel Saldana, played by the gorgeous Latina Valery Ortiz. We caught up with Ortiz the day of her big premiere to talk preshow jitters, her dancing background and what it’s like to be so damn sexy! Catch Hit the Floor on VH1 Mondays at 9/8 c.
Playboy.com: You obviously have to be a pretty good dancer for this role. What is your dancing background?
Ortiz: When I was a kid my mom had me in ballet and jazz. And I’m Latino, so that aspect of dance is in my blood. But I was in The Nutcracker as a kid as well, so I definitely danced a lot. It was my first love as well. When I turned five I dressed up as a ballerina because it was all I wanted to do.
Playboy.com: Were you ever on the cheerleading squad in high school?
Ortiz: I was in middle school, actually! I was a part of this thing called Inner City Kids and it wasn’t for a specific team, it was more of an after-school program. We’d compete against different teams and stuff. It was so fun; I’ve always really liked cheerleading.
Playboy.com: What’s your favorite quality of your character on Hit the Floor?
Ortiz: She’s a fighter. She has so much going on in her life between custody battles for her son and re-auditioning to be a Devil Girl so that she can keep her job...There’s so much that happens to her, but she continues to fight and continues to find ways to keep it all together for herself and her son. I really admire that quality. I’d admire that quality in anyone!
Playboy.com: It’s really interesting how VH1 has created a social media experience that goes along with the show. Is it strange to see your character interacting online?
Ortiz: It’s so awesome! My mom actually texted me, “Raquel is taking her son to see his grandparents!” the other day. I was like, what?! Sure enough, it was on her Facebook. Then another time my brother noticed a spelling error in one of her posts so he texted me, “Raquel needs to work on her spelling…” [laughs] And I was like, “She was channeling her other assets, leave her alone!”
Playboy.com: Aside from the pretty skimpy outfits the girls wear while they’re cheering, what would you say to our male audience is the best reason to watch the show?
Ortiz: Oh my gosh, the best reason? There are too many! There’s so much for the ladies, like the dancing and our hot basketball players and of course the drama that goes on, since we all like a little bit of that. And for the fellas, we have beautiful women dancing around in next to nothing and the inside scoop on what it’s like for these basketball teams, the coaches and the trading that takes place. So they’re going to be happy too. There’s so much for everybody, and honestly there’s nothing on TV like this right now.
Playboy.com: What was it like working with choreographer Michael Rooney?
Ortiz: Words cannot describe the genius that comes out of that man’s brain. What he put together for this season is incredible. Every episode has a new dance, and it’s very intricate, hot and very technical. He’s such a sweet guy, too. I’m not a professional dancer like the other girls on the show, and he’s just so patient when he works with me. He’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
Playboy.com: You also do some hosting for American Latino TV! What do you like best about your hosting gig?
Ortiz: Oh my god, I love them. The fact that I can be myself is probably the coolest. I love that American Latino focuses on all different kinds of Latinos who started from the bottom and are now doing big things for themselves and for their families. It’s just so inspiring. I’m always really moved with the stories we do and the people that we talk to. I myself get inspired, so I could only imagine what it’s like for somebody who is watching that really connects with it. At least I hope they are! And it’s so different from acting because, as I said before, you get to be yourself. It’s a little scary because when somebody is watching you on a show as a character, maybe they don’t like what you did and that’s okay because it’s not you. But when you’re hosting it’s always you, so it’s a little bit more personal.
Playboy.com: What’s your favorite story from a set you worked on?
Ortiz: My favorite memory actually took place when I was a hostess at the Hard Rock Café where I worked when I first moved to Los Angeles. I’ll never forget when I was booked for the Jell-O part in Date Movie and I was at work and my manager had left me this message. That was my first big film out here; I had only moved like three or four months before. It was just such a surreal moment. I’ll just never forget that feeling. And then shortly after that I started working on the series South of Nowhere and it started my career. Thinking back to that time, I just never thought that all of this would ever happen.
Playboy.com: What’s your favorite…
Drink: Hot chocolate!
Food: Hands down, home-cooked Puerto Rican food. Either my grandma’s or my father’s!
Embarrassing moment: One of my very first embarrassing moments was when I was in The Nutcracker. We all had these hairpieces we had to wear. Long story short, the boy who I was partnered with in the show, who I had a little crush on, started giggling, and I suddenly see all of these ballerinas kicking a ball of hair around on the floor. I then realized that the hair on the floor was my hairpiece. I was so mortified. I cried and of course the boy was laughing at me and I was so embarrassed. It was so bad. The funny part really was the visual, was this hairball around the room.
Awkward pickup line: Guys are funny. Really, the most awkward thing is when I tell a guy I’m married. And then they’re like, “That’s okay, we can be friends!” even though moments ago they were clearly trying to be more than that. That’s always awkward. And you always feel weird; you don’t want to be rude but some men are very aggressive! You don’t want to be the bitch, but yeah.
Playboy memory: It was probably with my brother. If anything, I’m sure he told me what it was and I probably thought it was amazing because we’re so close we shared stuff like that!