Some people walk while other people roll, but at the end of an Infinite Flow workshop, they are all swinging.
Infinite Flow is a nonprofit, professional dance company that employs dancers with and without disabilities, where dismantling stereotypes is as important as the performances.
A recent workshop at the Atomic Ballroom in Irvine had about three dozen participants, young and old, rotating through partners as they learn various swing dances for about two hours. This workshop was organized in conjunction with Global Accessibility Awareness Day, but the dance company will host other events and workshops throughout the year.
Founded in 2015, Infinite Flow has a dozen dancers and counting, who have performed at more than 180 events, from school assemblies to corporate gatherings at Apple, Facebook and Kaiser Permanente.
Alfredo Aviles, 52, danced salsa and bachata at local dance halls, including Atomic Ballroom, until a 2016 car accident put him into a month-long coma and left him with limited mobility and using a wheelchair. During his six-month hospital stay, a friend put Aviles in touch with Marisa Hamamoto, founder of Infinite Flow.
“She told me not to worry,” Aviles said. “That I could continue to dance and it would help my balance.”
The day Aviles was discharged, he said he headed immediately to OC Salsa, a dance hall in Costa Mesa where he was welcomed with open arms and cake.
“I was dancing until 2 a.m.,” he said. “My family was so mad at me.”
He continued going three times a week.
When Aviles dances he feels the music, he said. “It’s like I get an electric shock from head to toe. Is that bad?”
Hamamoto understands the feelings dancing can bring.
When she saw a performance by the New York City Ballet as a young girl, she said she was inspired to dedicate her teenage years to becoming a ballerina.
“As a young girl who just loved to dance, I couldn’t help but think to myself, ‘Wow, I want to do that one day,’” Hamamoto said. “By the time the performance ended, I had made up my mind that I wanted to become a professional ballerina. What didn’t connect was that no one on that stage looked like me. There were no Asians. There were barely any people of color. But I never thought at that time that my ethnicity would be kind of a hindrance to building a dance career.”
As much as Hamamoto was driven to become a professional ballerina, the dance industry was anything but welcoming, she said.
“I just kept on being told, ‘No, you don’t have the right body for ballet; you’re not talented enough.’ And as I received these no’s, there was always a part of me that pushed back because even at the age of 6 when I started dancing, I had discovered the fact that I felt like I belonged in dance class,” she said. “I knew that dance was a universal language that belonged to everyone, yet. Yet it seemed like the industry wanted to say that dance is only exclusively for certain dancers. It was this duality that was very painful.”
By the time she was going to college, Hamamoto decided to put dancing aside as a hobby and pursue a career in the medical field to become a doctor for dancers. Attending university in Japan came with its own unique set of challenges.
“As a Japanese American that grew up in the states and going to school in Japan, even though I looked Japanese and I spoke Japanese fluently, I felt like an outcast all over,” Hamamoto said, adding that once again she turned to the one place she always found belonging – a dance studio.
“Here I am in Japan finding a connection to dance all over, and that reignited my desire to pursue dance professionally. So, I secretly pursued a dance career alongside my academics and some part-time work,” she said. “And I had made a decision that after my undergraduate studies, I would go to Europe and audition and try to do this dream all over.”
Then, during her senior year of college, Hamamoto had a stroke during a dance class. At the acute stage, she was paralyzed from the neck down, losing both mobility and sensation. Her time in the hospital was a blur, but two months later, she was able to walk out.
“The stroke had triggered a lot of trauma beyond the stroke. Definitely, when I left the hospital, I was scared that the stroke might happen again because that’s what the doctor said,” Hamamoto said. “But the stroke had triggered a lot of other things, other trauma. Because the stroke happened inside of a dance class, a lot of the trauma that came back was related to that.”
Returning to the United States, Hamamoto began teaching ballroom dancing full-time at a studio.
“I was always on the search of the ideal dance partner whether it’s for competitions, performances or teaching,” Hamamoto said. “My thought process was, ‘Why don’t I find myself a wheelchair dance partner?’”
She reached out to folks in the athletic community, and met Adelfo Cerame. At the time, Cerame was a bodybuilder who uses a wheelchair. Having never danced with someone who used a wheelchair before, Hamamoto said she was at first fearful.
“But after a couple hours, there’s this magical moment where I realized that dancing with Adelfo was not much different from dancing with anyone else. This magical moment was really profound.” Hamamoto said. “That moment of wanting to share this connection was so strong that it led me to create Infinite Flow.”
Her mission for Infinite Flow, is to use dance to promote inclusion.
At her recent workshop, Hamamoto told the varied group to “use whatever you’ve got,” recounting a story of a dancer whose mobility was limited to two fingers.
“The dancer would dance to the choreography with her eyes,” Hamamoto said. “That is actual dancing.”
“For me, the infinity sign represents two people dancing in harmony and eternity. It’s a symbol of inclusion,” she said. “Something about partner dancing reminds us that we’re all human. We all exist on this place called Earth. We are all here to live a good life. And we get to share this incredibly special moment together, dancing.”
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