Woman Opens Dance Company Where Wheelchairs Take Center Stage, Inspired by Her Own Paralysis Journey
"It doesn't matter if you are using crutches, wheelchair, power chair. You can always dance," said Coach Piotr Iwanicki, who teaches from his wheelchair.
Dancers at this Los Angeles community don’t have to worry about having two left feet as long as they are nimble on their wheels.
“We have dancers with and without disabilities dancing together,” founder Marisa Hamamoto told InsideEdition.com “Our mission is to empower people through dance and human connection.”
Hamamoto explained her dance company doesn’t focus on disabilities. Instead, it focuses on what their dancers can do.
“People with disabilities lived with the stigma that they can’t do this, they can’t do that, they can’t dance, they can’t walk, they can’t talk,” Hamamoto said. “When you dance with a partner, you really forget who you’re dancing with. You forget their age, you forget their ability, disability, ethnicity, height, weight, you know, forget all of that. You start to see people and feel people as people, not a person in a wheelchair.”
In addition to providing inclusive dance classes, Infinite Flow also hosts performances where they showcase choreographies and programs able-bodied dancers and disabled dancers can execute together.
“It doesn’t matter if you are using crutches, wheelchair, power chair,” Coach Piotr Iwanicki told InsideEdition.com. “You can always dance.”
Iwanicki, 33, of Poland, teaches dance from his wheelchair.
He was born with spina bifida and discovered his love for dance in his 20s.
“When I’m on the dance floor, nothing matters at all,” he said. “Dancing is all my life. It’s my passion.”
Competing on a wheelchair, Iwanicki has won six World Championships, five European Championships and countless other prestigious titles, but stopped competing when a serious surgery left him hospitalized for six months.
Years later, Hamamoto reached out to Iwanicki about her project, and he was brought onboard.
“She’s so passionate about Infinite Flow,” he explained. “It takes off all the limits and it proved that people can be together all the time, it doesn’t matter if they are able or disabled bodies, and that’s what Infinite Flow [does].”
Just 10 years ago, Hamamoto was given the devastating diagnosis herself.
She became suddenly paralyzed from the neck down while participating in a contemporary dance class, and doctors later diagnosed her with spinal cord infarction, a rare neurological disorder that is comparable to a stroke in the spine.
“I was told by the doctor that I may never be able to walk again” Hamamoto said. “Honestly, I thought my life was over and thought my dance career was over as well.”
It was nothing short of a miracle that she was able to walk out of the hospital two months later, but she continued to battle post-traumatic stress in the years to come, especially since doctors predicted it could happen again at any moment.
It was in that time she began exploring partner dancing, especially ballroom and salsa.
Through the intimate bond formed between two partners, Hamamoto said she was able to heal from her traumatic experience.
“[In partner dancing,] people are physically touching each other and dancing with each other,” she explained.
She then discovered wheelchair dancing in 2014 and wanted to make the style more accessible.
"Regardless of whether you have a disability or not, Infinite Flow has a place for each person," she explained. "We all face challenges and dancing's a great way to kinda let go, let loose."
Through exercise, touch, and focusing on what's possible, Hamamoto now hopes her studio will help others get in touch with their bodies and be inspired to dream big.
"There are no limitations," Hamamoto said. "The possibilities are endless and I think that’s the message that we’re naturally emitting out."
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