Founder's Story: Paralysis to Professional Dancer
During my senior year as a dance major at a performing arts high school in California, none of my classmates chose me to be part of their work for the end-of-the-year Student Choreography Showcase. I was hurt and felt left out. As I stood alone in tears in front of the casting notice on the department bulletin board, I then realized that there were 10 other dancers in the lower grades who were also excluded. I didn't think it was right or fair, so I wiped my tears, took out a pen from my backpack, and added the names of all 10 dancers names into the cast of my own work. I was already an inclusion advocate during my teens.
I grew up in Irvine, California during the 80s to 90s, and being the only Asian-American at school and after school activities including dance, I occasionally experienced some bullying due to being different. I moved to Tokyo in 2003 to attend Keio University. I moved to Japan thinking that I would finally fit in among a people that was the same color as me, but that was not the case. I was Japanese by blood, looked Japanese, and spoke Japanese with no accents, but I was "American on the inside". I was "different", making friends was a challenge, and I often felt excluded.
For as long as I can remember dancing has been my passion. During my teens, all I wanted to be was a professional ballerina, but I simply didn’t fit the ballet mode and it was no after no, rejection after rejection, and unwanted abuse along the way. But I didn’t give up.
In 2006, while a senior at the university, I suddenly became paralyzed from the neck down during a contemporary dance class. The following day, I was diagnosed with a rare stroke called spinal cord infarction, and was told by the doctor that I may never walk or dance again. Though I regained most of my mobility fairly quickly, walking out of the hospital after 2 months, I was still paralyzed on the inside. At the end of a dark tunnel of 3-4 years, I discovered ballroom dancing. Ballroom dancing brought a new vibration of joy and inspiration into my life of isolation and fear, and so much that I decided to make it my career.
I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to expand my dance and entertainment career. As I built my profile as dancer, dance educator, and entertainer, I started to wonder if I would have really found my path as a dancer again had I not regained my ability to walk.
I discovered wheelchair dancing in 2014, and after doing some research, saw that the area of dance and disability was very underdeveloped. My gut told me that it was my destiny to fill the gaps, and so came about Infinite Flow in March 2015. With the keywords INCLUSION, BREAKING BARRIERS, BEAUTY, and INNOVATION in mind, I ventured out to develop a professional wheelchair ballroom dance company, with the goal of creating the "Alvin Ailey of inclusive dance", and placed equal importance on community outreach along the way.
Though we are still young and trying to figure it all out, in the last couple years I brought Infinite Flow's pro dance troupe to perform 80+ times, taught 200+ inclusive dance classes and workshops, and we’ve had the opportunity to work with big brands such as Red Bull, Facebook, Apple, Kaiser Permanente, Refinery 29, and Porsche.
It's been an exciting startup journey, with much activity and publicity. However, hearing from many people with disabilities around the nation (and globe) asking if we would start a program in their region, I realized that there was a need for change beyond what I initially set out to do. Infinite Flow is not just a dance company, but a SOCIAL MOVEMENT FOR INCLUSION. We use dance as a vehicle to mainstream inclusion and eliminate the stigma associated with disability. And Jan 1, 2018, we changed our name from "Infinite Flow - A Wheelchair Dance Company" to "Infinite Flow - An Inclusive Dance Company".
I look forward to growing the company and moving our mission to use dance as a vehicle to mainstream inclusion and eliminate the stigma behind disability. If you would like to get involved in being part of or building Infinite Flow, please contact us at InfiniteFlowDance@gmail.com or 949-267-8751. Many Blessings!
Marisa Hamamoto, Founder (Nov 2018)