The energy is high this morning. Marisa Hamamoto just finished performing with Mary, a 12-year-old with Spinal Bifida, and a student of hers from Infinite Flow – A Wheelchair Dance Company, launched in January this year located in Sherman Oaks, Ca.
Her Motto: Everyone Deserves to Dance! Everyone Can Dance! Dance is Transformational! We All Have a Dancer Inside of Us!
Her cause is close to my heart, as a former ballroom dancer, pre-accident. The opportunity to talk with her from Florida about her passion and purpose has me feeling excited and hopeful.
I learned that her company became a nonprofit in April 2015, and in the last seven months, has proven themselves as experts in disability dance instruction. They began by offering free workshops, and now everyone wants them to do workshops for their groups.
Her example is a powerful lesson of how persistence, determination, and an unrelenting passion can create realities from the dreams you envision. Her story is a truly inspiring one for all of us who want to follow our passions. If you are lucky enough to have found yours, she can inspire you too.
How did this new path reveal itself? Like they often do if you just follow your instincts and let yourself follow your internal guides.
The Critical Step – Being in the Right Place at the Right Time
Marisa first came across wheelchair dancing at the Abilities Expo held in Los Angeles in 2014.
She saw a commercial promoting the event, and a light bulb went off. She thought, “Oh my God, this is it.” She wanted to find a way to share her love of dance with those she could give a renewed opportunity to feel the joy and sense of freedom dance can provide.
In the past, she taught those with Parkinson’s disease, in Orange County, while teaching ballroom dance, but never to those who primarily used wheelchairs.
While at the expo, she gave her card to Wheelchair Dance Organization. She was contacted later and asked to teach a few classes in San Diego.
Then in August 2014, she just happened to book a role in a short film as a wheelchair dancer., and in October 2014 instructed her first wheelchair wedding couple. Marisa then decided to find a wheelchair dance partner she could perform with and continue to master this newly formed craft. She discovered Adelfo Cerame Jr., a paraplegic, with whom she connected via social media. Adelfo is a professional bodybuilder, so he is used to exposure and performing, and he was perfect for her to train in dance.
So she embarked on this new vision to create a wheelchair dance company.
Marisa knew if she were going to create this organization based in LA, media and entertainment industry would need to be an integral part of it. She decided she should attend the Media Access Awards. So she went to awards, where she met Mia Schaikewitz, one of the stars of the Push Girls Sundance Show. They immediately hit it off and became best friends, and soon Mia joined Adelfo and Marisa in the dance studio.
Infinite Flow is still at the beginning of this new journey, with weekly wheelchair dance classes, a professional Wheelchair Dance Company that rehearses twice a week, and calls to perform at events and parties.
Now here is the shocking part of this story: 9 years ago, Marisa dealt with paralysis herself. She was paralyzed from the neck down…while alone, dancing in a studio. More on that later in the story.
Claim your destiny
Marisa was a trained ballet dancer, who had been fighting to dance and get auditions. This was a hard road, but she kept on believing and no matter how much rejection she faced, she knew her destiny. “I was told I ‘wasn’t fit for ballet.” She went to high school and college in Japan and was academically inclined, yet she connected all her research papers and studies to dance. While performing and earning high marks academically, she continued to dance outside of school.
When she was a senior in 2006 and had just gotten a big scholarship to graduate school, she was dealt a major setback. A sudden paralysis caused by a spinal cord infarction at the C-6 level. Yet she did not let this deter her and continued to visualize herself dancing. “I was lucky that my paralysis was temporary, and I able to get back on my feet after two months.” For 3 and a 1/2 years, she was scared to dance again as the sudden onset of paralysis happened inside a dance studio. She was traumatized and would get nightmares. She powered through without seeking professional help and finished her graduate degree. Yet she had to figure out how to dance. Then one night, she discovered salsa and ballroom at a New Year’s party in Tokyo. That was it. In the Japan culture, getting up and dancing was not what people do; people tend to be self-conscious. “I think there is something for me here.”
So she trained in ballroom in Japan for a year at a famous ballroom dance studio. She felt she was not able to mix well, culturally, in this environment, as she grew up in CA and didn’t feel comfortable there. For her, it was restricting. Her parents live in LA, so it was a good time to go back home where she could grow more.
She went on to become a successful dance instructor, yet she felt there was still something missing from her life. While she was not comfortable sharing her story for a long time, due to her PTSD, she found many people wanted to hear her story of transformation and evolution.
Then, she starting watching “Dancing with the Stars” and took note of the way they told stories. They would feature inspirational dancers, overcoming cancer, etc. She was moved and touched by these stories. She thought that maybe she could share her story with her own students. Then she added one line in her website bio, and then those at corporate events and parties would ask her to share her story. Inside, this didn’t feel right. “What about the people still in the wheelchairs”? This really started to bother her, so she stopped sharing her story again. She knew dancing had an amazing healing effect, and she was compelled to do a google search “paralysis dance.” That is how the Abilities Expo came up….a wheelchair ballroom dance expo. “Look it is next weekend! I felt it was God.”
Here is how fate played out even more. Her former dance partner, Brian’s Mother Sandra Fortuna just happened to have created the first ever ballroom wheelchair dance syllabus. Coincidental? Sandra believes nothing is a coincidence.
Sandra is “a genius” and is a well-respected ballroom adjudicator and coach in universal ballroom. Her journey began one day when a man in a wheelchair rolled in and asked for lessons. She didn’t know what to do and began to research. No syllabus for this was available, so she wrote it. It took her time. She founded the company, American Dance Wheels.
“I am able to put my heart and soul into this because of Sandra”, who she met for the first time recently, when she traveled to visit her and train. “It is a shame that she hasn’t been in involved in the last 8 years, but she is coming back as well and working with Infinite Flow.”
Marisa has learned to appreciate everything and not take things for granted. “It is easy to get caught up with the lights and action of LA. Having a place to be reminded of who you are and what you stand for, giving talents to something good and philanthropic” is what she is all about. She calls herself a “Dance Advocate” that everyone needs in their lives. “Confidence transforms people lives.” How very true. If it can begin in a ballroom, then let the dance begin!
When asked about her personal life, she remains private about any possible relationships. She does say, “I need to push now, pay attention, and prioritize.” This is a good lesson for all of us on the road to making our dreams come true.
The fact we are talking is not by accident. We are a firm believer in that. Marisa wants you to define your purpose in life and claim your destiny. She claimed her destiny to dance.
What is your Destiny?
Cover Image of Marisa by: Photographer S Csoto
Coming soon to PUSHLiving.com!
Individual Stories on those who Dance and how it has transformed their lives.
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