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. This was my first act of inclusion.
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 related to the color of my skin and the shape of my eyes. 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.
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 spinal cord disease called spinal cord infarction, and was told by the doctor that I may never walk or dance again... I was miracle case, and two months later I walked out of the hospital. And though I suffered severe PTSD and could not take myself to the dance studio for a few years, I was determined to find my path as a dancer again. In 2010, I discovered ballroom dancing, and it brought a new vibration of joy and inspiration into my life of isolation and fear. Thanks to ballroom dancing, I healed from my trauma emotionally and made partner-dancing my career.
I moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to expand my dance and entertainment career. As I built my profile as dancer, teacher, 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 it 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 60+ times, taught 150+ inclusive dance classes and workshops, instructed 200+ wheelchair users, and we have global brands such as Red Bull, Facebook, Apple Inc, and Ovation TV as partners. Current ongoing programs include Infinite Flow's professional dance troupe; weekly community wheelchair dance classes; Infinite Flow Kids (a kids performance group); community outreach; and our newest program is #DanceForInclusion (initially #InfiniteInclusion) - a program focussed specifically on advocating on inclusion through dance and innovation. (See our pilot flashmob HERE). Receiving many messages from people around the world for us to come to their regions, I am in the process of figuring out how I can train more dance educators to run inclusive dance programs.
It's been an exciting startup journey, with much activity and publicity. However, hearing from many wheelchair users around the nation (and globe) asking if we would start a program in their region, and hearing mothers cry over the phone because their child in a wheelchair was not welcomed at their local dance school, I realized that there was a need for change beyond what I initially set out to do. Infinite Flow was not just a dance company, but a SOCIAL MOVEMENT FOR INCLUSION, and we have a mission to empower people to #BeINFINITE through dance and human connection.
I look forward to growing the company and moving our mission forward to mass market inclusion and accessibility through dance and innovation. 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 (Jan 2017)