While taking class in 2006, Marisa Hamamoto felt a tingling sensation in her elbows, then suddenly collapsed to the floor. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, a rare spinal stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down. Despite being told by her doctor that she may never walk again, let alone dance, Hamamoto miraculously walked out of the hospital two months later.
Since her stroke, Hamamoto has found a new lease on life. She has channeled her indomitable will to overcome adversity into a dance company that marries her love of ballroom dance with her passion for social activism. Los Angeles–based Infinite Flow is the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company in the U.S. Over the past four years it has become a torchbearer for social change, performing worldwide and offering workshops and school assemblies to educate audiences about accessibility and inclusion.
When she started the company in 2015, Hamamoto focused solely on wheelchair ballroom dance, in part to distinguish Infinite Flow from other inclusive dance companies, like AXIS Dance Company. Today, however, her company has roughly an equal number of disabled and nondisabled dancers, and the repertory contains hip hop, contemporary dance and other partner-dance styles, in addition to ballroom techniques. Dancers identifying as disabled exhibit a spectrum of physical, intellectual, visual and auditory disabilities.
Although her company has created opportunities for dozens of dancers with disabilities, Hamamoto’s vision for Infinite Flow extends far beyond that mission. “My number-one target is the nondisabled, mainstream audience. It’s a broad audience. Infinite Flow is not just about serving people with disabilities. It’s about using dance to inspire inclusivity.” Through lecture demonstrations, performances and workshops, Hamamoto and Infinite Flow have been able to share the value of inclusive dance with thousands. Highlights include Apple, Facebook, Red Bull, Refinery 29 and NBC’s “The Today Show.”
Infinite Flow, proud bearer of its own hashtag, #InfiniteInclusion, has gained a lot of momentum in the past few years, due in large part to Hamamoto’s strategic and sophisticated use of technology, social media and commercial dance style. This year she is launching a program to bring Infinite Flow’s assemblies to 100 K–6 schools free of charge, and is also looking to gather a group of dance studio owners who are serious about integrating dancers with disabilities into their existing programs. She hopes to partner with studio owners eager to make the systemic change of making dance studies both accessible and inclusive for disabled dancers.
“I get phone calls from the parents of kids with disabilities who were denied at dance studios. All over the world, I get this,” she says, pointing out that 1 in 5 people have a disability, and the dance community has yet to reflect that. “Let’s stop thinking about people with disabilities as ‘other.’ I think there needs to be a shift of mind-set in how the world sees disability. My goal from a community perspective is for a person with a disability to have a choice,” she says. “They could join the wheelchair dance group, or they could go to their local dance studio and take class there. It’s about having that choice.”
Mark Your Calendar
Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.