When in Doubt, Focus Out - Marisa Hamamoto

Samantha StoutNovember 04, 2020Ballroom Chat: Episode #29
Marisa Hamamoto ballroom chat

Marisa Hamamoto shares her journey and the struggles she overcame, from being an Asian American ballet dancer, sexual assault and rape in her teens and early twenties, suffering a spinal stroke and facing paralysis, and facing harsh rejection from the ballroom dance community and dance entertainment business. She and Samantha discuss the important questions ballroom dancers and studio owner should be asking of themselves, and steps that we can all take toward a more diverse, inclusive, and equal dance world.

Marisa Hamamoto is the creator of Infinite Flow and Scoops of Inclusion. Infinite Flow is a Los Angeles-based nonprofit and professional dance company composed of dancers with and without disabilities, using dance to promote inclusion and innovation. Scoops of Inclusion is a short film and learning platform led by multi-racial dancers with and without disabilities, empowering kids to celebrate differences and take part in creating a world where we each feel we belong.

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Show Notes

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Episode Transcript

Samantha: Welcome back to another episode of Ballroom Chat. I'm your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. Today, I'm joined by Marisa Hamamoto. She is the creator behind Infinite Flow an LA based professional dance company who strives to make the dance worlds more diverse, inclusive, and equal. She also recently launched Scoops of Inclusion, which is a, school-based program that incorporates those same principles. Before we dive into today's conversation, I do, just want to let you guys know that we do go pretty deep into some heavy topics.

So, if you are not in a place where you want to hear about, sexual assault and rape, this might not be the podcast for you. But I thought it was very important to discuss those topics because through those challenges, through overcoming a lot in her personal life, she was able to create such an amazing program for the dance community and to bring others into the dance community.

I just wanted to let you guys know upfront kind of what you're getting into with this podcast episode today. But without further ado, let's go ahead and talk with Marisa Hamamoto. Well, thank you so much, Marissa, for being a guest on today's podcast.

Marisa: Thank you so much, Samantha, for having me.

Samantha: So, for those that maybe are not familiar with you or with Infinite Flow, I want to talk a little bit about how you got into, kind of the dancing world and what your background is with dancing and specifically with ballroom dance.

Marisa: Sure, absolutely. So, I am a fourth generation Japanese American when I was born between a third generation, Japanese American father from Hawaii and a Japanese mother from Japan. I mentioned these things because my Japanese American and Japanese cultural heritage has played a big role in my life throughout. anyway, I was born in Japan. I grew up in Irvine, California, in the eighties and nineties. right now, Irvine has become very Asian, very diverse in, in many ways. however, when I was growing up, at least in the neighborhood I was in, the school I went to the elementary school I went to, I was one of the only Asians at that school.

Early on, when I transferred from private school public school from first grade to second grade, my first month in second grade, I realized that I looked different and a lot of kids had a problem with it. So, for example, I got made fun of for having Asian eyes. I will bring a Japanese bento box to school and then I will have a bunch of boys, like basically making fun of the fact that I was eating raw fish.

I mean, if you think about it, like bringing in a bento to elementary school, it was like, kind of like luxury, I think today. But anyways, on the other hand after school, I was taking ballet classes and in ballet class, I was also the only person of color. However, something about moving my body to music was this amazing feeling where even though I was the only person of color in that room, I felt like I fit it.

Like I felt like I belonged. And between the love of moving your body to music and. Just feeling like I belong. dance quickly became my passion. I grew up, primarily in the ballet world and pursuing a professional ballet career while I was a teenager. I'll be really honest with you.

I think even at that time, I don't think I even was exposed to ballroom at all. Like I think I was exposed to ballet, jazz, tap, Broadway, but not ballroom. And I think my, I think if there was any ballroom that it was exposed to, I thought, Oh, that's something that old people do. So, I had this perception of ballroom as something totally like different from what I see it today.

Yeah. anyways, in my, about ballet was. As a teenager, I, I pursued a professional ballet career, but I really didn't fit the ballet mold. And I was told over and over that my body was not made for ballet. and yeah, and I think my teacher was right. I really did not make it in the ballet world whatsoever.

In my late teens, I was raped by one of my ballet teachers who also didn't believe in me as a dancer. this is something that I've only been comfortable talking about in the last couple of years, but this incident, or incidents really, put a really big dent in inside of me. just my, not just it's it was, it was kind of like this big scar that I'd been carrying around my entire life.

Anyways, ballet didn't work out. I went to college in Japan. kind of went to Japan, partly because I was interested, interested in my own, my own culture. I was, also wanting to escape dance, so I moved to Japan, but what happened was where I found home and belonging was again in dance. So, even though I was, you know, in the day, during the day time in college, taking on a couple of part-time jobs, you know, in the evenings, I would be at the dance studio again, taking dance class, senior year in high school. And in college I thought I had it together. I thought, you know, academically I was doing well, I actually was freelancing as a contemporary dancer.

I was, I was feeling like I was finally able to start embracing my identity as a dancer. and I said, okay, well, when I graduate, I want to just dance. Let me go, let me move to Europe, audition and get gone. But in the middle of the contemporary dance class, July 2006. I felt my elbows tingle, momentarily fell to the ground and found myself paralyzed from the neck down.

And the next day I was diagnosed with something called spinal cord infarction, also known as spinal stroke and was told by the doctor that I may never be able to walk or dance again. And definitely like up until that point, you know, I mean, not just up until that point, like just throughout my life, it's all, it's always been about, fighting about fighting to dance.

And so here comes another flight, except when I did get that diagnosis, I thought the fight was done. I thought that this was the end of dance and it was definitely, a moment where I really did feel that my life was over. Long story short, I did walk out of the hospital after a couple of months, I would say that I was a quote unquote miracle case, and when I, when I left the hospital, you know, physical paralysis had reduced. my hands were still a little numb to this day. Actually, my left hand is slightly paralyzed. My left side is a little bit, not a little bit less. I feel less sensation on my left side than my right side just altogether. So, I always try to ask my doctors to, poke a needle on my left side. Anyways.

Putting that aside. I. you know, even though I walked out the hospital, I was still paralyzed on the inside. And just in a nutshell, during my hospital stay, it was this combination of feeling like my life was over because I can't get into anymore, but it was also a time where a lot of trauma had come back.

So whether it was all the rejection from the dance, All the being me made fun of for my heritage, throughout school, or whether it was the sexual assault case from my ballet teacher, all these things really surfaced during the time that I was in the hospital. So, when I left, it was like, those things were still amplified. And on top of that, the doctor did say. "We don't know how long your condition that you are in right now is going to last. You might get this thing again, who knows". And so being like left on this like limbo situation, which is the worst when you don't really have an answer, I was scared that this whole episode was going to happen again because the incident also happened inside of a dance studio. Every time I saw like some kind of dance poster, dance advertisement, anything dance and, and Tokyo is like New York. You see posters of dancers all over the, all over the city. So, every time I see anything like that, I would literally black out. And one time I did black out from the middle of a really busy street and literally just fell to the ground. and so there was just, it was just, you know, I mean, at that time, I didn't know the word PTSD, but I look, I look at, I look at some of these blackout moments, as well as having nightmares of the whole paralysis happening again.

What I went through with PTSD, except we're in a country called Japan, which you're not allowed to express your feelings and mental illness is taboo. even more there than here. So, I didn't know to seek out, seek help. anyways, fast-forwarding, three and a half years later. and this is where finally ballroom jumps into my life here, three and a half years later.

So, this is 2000 late, 2009. What had happened between 2006 and 2009? I have finished my undergrad. I had gone to graduate school on a scholarship. not because I wanted to, but because it was the only thing I had, in the sense that, I was told by the doctor by me, not that I can't get on a plane. so, I couldn't go Europe. I couldn't go to the States. I couldn't go anywhere. I look back at the situation, now I'm grateful that I was able to go to grad school. And, I looked at, look at it from a, now I look at it as wow, you know, why was I not so grateful at that time? and it was such a big privilege to be able to have a place to actually go.

But anyways, either way, because I had been going through all this PTSD, it was a really tough time. And, but I got through grad school finished in 2009. And it was getting through grad school was such a, it was such a, not, not an academic challenge, but emotional challenge. I really did not want people to see. I didn't want to see anyone. So, I got permission from the school to do this school by not going to school physically. And anyway, so when I graduated, it was just this, this accomplishment that, I was able to personally celebrate. So, when that was done, I was like, okay. So, what's next? You know, I was finally able to give permission to finally ask myself what the heck do I really want to do in life?

And what kept on coming back was I just want to dance. And, and that's all I wanted to do, but I'm like, you know, I can't go back to ballet, you know, like not, it's just going to be like another big ass failure. the whole contemporary dance thing was, was I just was having a hard time finding my place and also finding my voice.

And, on top of that, at least the contemporary audience that I knew back at that time, it involved a lot of rolling, rolling on the floor on your spine. And I'm like, you know what? That's not going to happen with the stroke I had. So, when I was in the middle of soul searching for all of this, I at our facility holiday party, December 2009, this was a corporate just, just to kind of summarize what this was.

This was a corporate holiday party, with probably about a hundred attendees, all Japanese forties, fifties, sixties. I was definitely one of the younger ones in my twenties. and in the middle of this party, there was this salsa couple that came on performed. They were not great but afterward they got everyone up onto the dance floor and said, all right, now it's your turn to dance.

So, what did they do? They taught the six-step salsa step, the basic salsa. One, two, three, four, five, six, or one, two, three, five, six, seven, depending on where your, what your syllabus you're from. But anyway, they taught the six-step basic and everyone followed and not everyone in the audience got it, but for the next 10 minutes, it was like just 10 minutes of pure joy and freedom from the audience.

Samantha: That's amazing

Marisa: and you got to understand that Japanese people are not the type of people who get up and make a fool out of themselves and just dance. They're just not, we're just not even, even to this day. I'm not, I'm just not that, but in this room, everybody was just dancing and just, just, it was just pure joy. And I was amongst, you know, one and I looked around going "holy shit, this is dance."

Oh my gosh. For the last three and a half years, I've been, I've been. Contemplating how am I going to be able to dance again or being scared to dance, yet here I am doing the six-step basic salsa step. amongst all these amateur, you know, drunk adults. And, I was like, wow, this is dance. And in that moment, there's a part of me. That's like, wow, why am I not the person leading this number one? Number two, it was like, okay, there is something for me here, I don't know what that is. But there was something for me here. So, I went online, did my research and I found a weekend salsa kind of like three hour, like beginner class. And I signed up for it and going into this, I was very terrifying. A couple of reasons, without going into the details, I had been sexually assaulted two more times after, after the stroke. So that's three. That's three, three times that I had been sexually assaulted by men. and knowing that I have to now be in contact with someone and someone that I don't know, it was terrifying. So that was number one. number two was, you know, I was really, I was, I was afraid that I was going to have these blackout moments again.

But I went in there saying, okay. If I can get through the first half of this with the non-partner work, it's a success. So, let's just go. And if the partner stuff is just way too much, then I'll just leave. And so, anyway, I went. I got through the entire three hours here and I remember going out of there going, wow, what was that?

That was fun. And something about. And I remember like, you know, learning the basic salsa, holding someone else's hand and, and, you know, and these are like non-professional, adults that, and half of them can barely have rhythm dancing arm-in-arm and even though it was clunky, it felt comfortable. Something about this was felt natural. So. When I, when I left, I was like, wow, this was amazing. And sometimes when you are like, you know, I realized, I look back and sometimes when your fear for something, it's actually that thing that you actually got to go and do. And that's exactly what happened that day. I went back a couple more times and then, I got so addicted and I said, know what? I'm going to make this my career. Now at that time, I didn't know that there was salsa, tango, ballroom. All the partner dancing, at least on YouTube, all looked the same

Samantha: sure

Marisa: and so, and then, but once I saw a video of Joanna Leunis and like Michael Malitowski doing International Rumba basics. And actually, I looked back at that video and its actually off time completely. But at that time, I didn't know any of that. So anyway, when I saw this video, I was like, Oh my God, I want to do this. And so. Somehow, that led me to go, okay, I'm going to figure out how to make this happen. Long story short, I called up 50 or it's about 40 or 50 dance, ballroom dance studios in Tokyo.

And just asked to just be an apprentice and like apprenticeships don't really happen at these studios and be like, huh, what the heck are you talking about? What do you have experienced? And I'm like, I know a little bit of ballet, and. Anyways. It was just again, no after no, but I was just so adamant to find something that thankfully, a couple of studios said, well, why don't you come over and try?

And then I, one of them were like, you know, you know, why don't you come and study? So, they let me just, you know, train, get my teacher certification.

Samantha: Okay. So,

Marisa: sorry. And then if you, if you want me to connect that to Infinite Flow, so I moved to LA in 2012 and, and then, you know, 2014, I had hit a wall. you know, if I were to summarize what happened here, 2012. Yeah. I moved to LA you know, wanting to pursue the entertainment industry, but again, I was, I hit some walls again, and some of these walls again, kind of came back to, not necessarily talent, but, you know, what I looked like. That I was Asian American and on a number of counts, I was told that, Oh, we don't need an Asian ballroom dancer.

We don't need an Asian salsa dancer. on top of that, if I were to connect this to the ballroom dance industry, I'll be really, really frank and honest with you. I was never able to find a competitive dance partner and, Yeah. I mean, yeah, starting my starting a ballroom dance career at age 29, I believe 28, 29 is probably a little late, but I remember going on all these websites trying to find partners and a lot of dancers wouldn't even meet me because I didn't have, I didn't have any results

Samantha: I do want to talk about, and it can either be a conversation that's just between us or I can include it in the podcast. When you mentioned that you had that period between 2012 in 2014, where you kind of felt like you were hitting a wall.

You know, I, I also came into ballroom late in my career. I don't have any titles to my name or anything like that. And I also don't have a professional partner that I'm working with. I feel like the likelihood of finding a professional partner when you are an adult really comes down to who are you coaching with and what studio are you in?

And if those two don't line up, then the chances are like astronomical that you're actually going to find a partner. So, I, I totally relate to that feeling of like, well, this is what I feel like I'm called to do. This is what I want to do. But the next step in this career path is to get a partner and I can't seem to find a partner.

So now what in the world do I do? So, I just wanted to share that, that that is a, a,

Marisa: keep that in there, girl, keep that in there. It's you're not the only person that's going to resonate with that, you know, so that's two of us right here,

Samantha: so, yeah. so Infinite Flow comes in after, returning to LA, becoming a performer and a teacher. you mentioned that in previous interviews, I should say, you mentioned that Infinite Flow is really tied to your discovery of wheelchair dancing. what about the way that wheelchair dancing is presented was kind of had that aha moment or that light bulb moment for you where you're like, this is something that I could get into?

Marisa: Let, let me connect this all with ballroom, just cause I know that your audience, I'm not talking to a non-ballroom audience where if I say a Rumba walk, they're not going to understand what that is. okay. When I first discovered ballroom dancing or when I first discovered salsa dancing, if I go back to that class, I got to experience this really magical feeling of something about this six step salsa step, which is, would you repeat the, repeat the rhythm? This was something that didn't really exist in that way.

Okay. Maybe we'll do like 32 changements. But never is it where you're on this rhythm and there's this cycle like, and, and, you know, this appears in all of the dances, waltz, tango, foxtrot, cha-cha, rumba whatever it might be. And something about that was just very healing to me. You know, you got to understand, I'm a stroke survivor, PTSD.

My body inside and out is just like a wok. This rhythmical exercise was just really emotionally healing, spiritually healing, physically healing. And so, I got to really experience the benefits of this, I guess I'm just going to call it partner dancing for now. On top of that, you know, kind of speaking on behalf of myself being a sexual assault survivor, where I really became terrified of human contact, through the art of dancing, in contact with someone I was able to really like understand that, Oh, having human to human contact is something that is natural and beautiful. And, it doesn't have to always be to sexual assault, you know? By the time ballroom came into my life I, I had never had like a real relationship and the only sexual experiences or sexual assault, basically, except for maybe one, but we're not going to go into that. Anyways, so then I entered the ballroom space with just really embracing the benefits of ballroom if I were to put it in the terms. However, even in Japan, when I entered this world, it was this competitiveness. it was about whose A-class, who was C-Class who's B-Class, it was about business. It was about money. It was about all these other things that I was initially not didn't consider going into this field. Now, I honestly love watching ballroom dance competition.

It was fun. I mean, I didn't care about like scores or who goes where I just loved seeing dancers just express themselves and just like really dive in. I mean, it was just really fun watching competition. So, I've also went into that whole competition mindset as, Oh, I just want to, I just want to, get the best out of my own self, you know, whatever that is.

But I didn't realize that so much competition was so, so much was placed on what class you are. And in Japan, you know, I don't know how it is right now, but, and, you know, I love Japan for many reasons, but at least with their dancesport world, it's like the male dancer wears the class. It's like if you're, if you're an A class male, and if you're a C class female, if decided to dance together, guess what?

The C class female jumps to A, but let's say vice versa. You know, let's say it's a C class male, A class, or a, like a formerly A-class female dancer. And they just start partnering, guess what, that female A class dancer goes back to C, you know, and some of the stuff was just like, not making sense from that perspective. but ultimate, so that was like, I guess my time in Japan was kind of like this first, entryway as to some of the things that I questioned about the ballroom world. now, then when I moved to the States, I will say that I was actually really, inspired by the fact that unlike Japan, In this country, social dancing was like the primary thing that people want to do.

People don't like, people don't come to the dance studio saying, "Oh, I'm going to, I want to go to a competition". You know, they go, "you know what? I just want to be able to dance” and go to the weddings and be able to dance with my grandkids and, and all this. I mean, it's, it's always about social.

And, and so. And being, you know, going from just knowing the international styles to the American styles, this was also really, really, really like heart opening in the sense that the American dance style was so much more, so much more, it was so much better for social dancing. Like you can, you can, you can learn how to do a couple of Rumba, Rumba boxes and underarms turn in one lesson, and you can repeat that a hundred times social dancing, like you can't do that with international stuff.

So, I will say that when I, you know, from a ballroom dance perspective, I was like, wow, I really love this. And I will say that one of my first professional dance partners Esteban Conde, who I'm still good friends with, to this day. he was a salsa dancer and he. well, he exposed me to two things. One was salsa, social dancing, and the other part was like building a business from scratch. I have to say shout out to him, you know, but, anyways, he introduced me. He'd be like, you got to just go out and dance with people, just go and dance and like, Like, this is not, this is not textbook. This is not like selling lessons, just go and dance with a bunch of people, go to the club.

And so that's exactly what I did, you know? and so for a while, I, my first year back here and I was working at working under a Matt Brown. Lisa Christiani. I love you both. I miss you both, in case you listen to this. you know, while kind of being exposed to the American ballroom dance studio at night, I would go and salsa dance.

And this was an incredibly, incredibly yeah. time of discovery in the sense that, do you know, I would get to the salsa clubs, you know, whether it was at Steven's Steakhouse or at the Granada, these are like, just very like very, let's just say street salsa. I would say 80% of the room is Hispanic. You don't hear much English. Everyone's just dancing again. I was brought back to this joy of dancing partnership. So, what I discover through just dancing with so many people is that you start to find connection with like the people that you would least expect that finding that connection. I mean, one of the dancers, one of the dancers I love dancing with.

I mean, he was probably about 30 years older than me. I head shorter than me had a really, really rough hands, didn't speak English. And I mean, but you know, we just loved dancing together. Not only that we would find each other going around to all these different salsa, salsa nights. And then we would just go through like five, six dances.

And to this day, I don't know his name. And that's, that's kind of like where I'm like, you know, after a while I started asking people's names. But anyway, being exposed to Esteban's world of salsa, and just salsa, the salsa kind of social dancing. I won't, I want to be really, really honest. I'll be really honest with you. I grew up in conservative, Irvine, California, you know, when I was growing up, we had some issues with Hispanic gangs. So, from a diversity, equity, inclusion standpoint, I grew up with kind of having bias towards Latino, Latinas, Hispanics. for the whole salsa thing, where after a while, I started making friends within people that were Hispanic through the dancing and that community.

I was able to really embrace Latinos. And, and I'm also proud to say that when I was running a lot of salsa classes, over a third of my students were Latino. there's, there's this power of dance where you, you know, beyond you get to kind of experience people beyond their labels.

Samantha: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

That kind of idea, obviously is a staple of what you're doing with Infinite Flow and Scoops of Inclusion. But for, listeners that are either studio owners or instructors that either have biases they are aware of, or maybe that they are not yet aware of, but you're listening to this podcast or you listened to the episode with Tony Nunez and you're starting to take a look at who your clientele base is, who, who is taking lessons, who you're dancing with and you're going, Hmm, there's an issue here.

I should probably figure out a way to make it more inclusive and have a more diverse population that I'm working with, is the first step just go out into a community that is not your own and find a social club or find a dance? Or is there another way from a business perspective that these studio owners and these dance instructors, myself included, can say, we know what it looks like, but our doors are open? Please come. We're welcoming. We want you to be part of our dance community.

Marisa: yeah, you're asking a really good question. if I were to connect my experience, salsa social dancing to Infinite Flow for a moment before I answer your question. when I hit a wall, 2012, I moved to LA got stuck. to 2014, I hit rock bottom as an entertainer. At that time, I was pursuing well, it was more so pursuing more the commercial dance industry, and out came the words "when in doubt, focus out". how can you make a difference with the talents and experience you have right now? And that was when I accidentally discovered wheelchair dancing. One thing led to another and soon I met Adalfo who's a paraplegic bodybuilder, that lived about 30 miles away from me. He had zero dance experience. I just randomly hit him up on Facebook saying, Hey, this is who I am. I, and let me go back. When I initially discovered wheelchair dancing, I didn't know some, something like that existed. I was like, what was a way to dance without the use of your limbs?

And having been a stroke survivor who couldn't move their limbs for, for a short period in my life, I was drawn to that. One thing led to another led me to Adalfo. And I just like, you know, as ballroom dancers, we're finding partners. I said, all right, well, let's just, let's just dance. You know? I mean, and I just hit him up on Facebook.

We met a couple of days later and then I was terrified to dance with him, and he had absolutely no idea what he was getting himself into. He didn't know how to count music. He had zero experience. Well, after a couple of hours of dancing with him, there was this magical moment where we're dancing. Arm-in-arm, you've got to understand, I had zero experience with, you know, this whole wheelchair dance in general.

and basically, there was this magical moment where I realized that dancing with Adalfo was nothing different than dancing with anyone else. And dance doesn't discriminate. And when you're dancing with someone you see beyond race, color, size, age, gender, ability, and disability. And you know that discovery was such a big thing that night, that night, all I could think was, well, if the world danced, there wouldn't be war. And a few months later that became Infinite Flow, that's my origin story of Infinite Flow.

And to this day, I always remember that. for me, I feel like if I were to talk to ballroom dance studios, you know, in the industry for a moment, I think the first step for any ballroom dance professional listening is really ask yourself, what is your purpose? Let's take away the competitions, the money, the, your titles, let's take all of that out for a second.

You yourself as a dancer, and as a dance educator, instructor, dance, coach, whatever you want to call yourself, why do you do what you do? Why? Is it because you want to share the of dance to as many people as possible? You want to draw out the potential of people through dance? I mean, what is that? What is that why? What keeps you going like, you know, when you, when who know, cause I mean, this industry is not easy in the, in those moments where you're not ha you're not, you're not, you're not doing well. Whether it's financially or physically, or, you know, maybe dance title-wise, whatever it is, what keeps you going like, and. And, and why, you know, if we're to say as a dance educator, why did, why do you want to share dance? you know, so really get clear on that purpose. And like, I have a feeling 90%, there's nothing about, nothing about people's identities that come in. There's nothing in there that says, Oh, I'm going to only teach white able-bodied people.

Or I'm only going to teach, heterosexual females. Like there's some, there's probably none of those things that come in, you just want to probably spread dance in your own way. and if that is your purpose, then okay, then now it's like, let's put the process into it. And maybe the process is something that, you know, someone like me should, you know, maybe even approach me and I can teach you that process for people with disabilities.

But I think the first step is really, really define your purpose. You know, if your purpose ends up being, Oh, I only want to teach this type of people. Just recognize it and ask yourself if that's good or bad. And if you think it's good. Okay. Then maybe, you know, you can be in your own world and definitely don't call me but you know, if it's your goal is to spread love through dance and however shape or form you can then let's keep an open mind.

Samantha: Yeah. I love that.

Marisa: I will say also with, With ballroom and with ballroom dance studios. you know, I, I love them all. I love ballroom dancing. I will also admit that I did not do well in the business of ballroom. I had a very, very difficult time selling lessons at $120 per lesson. I had a very difficult time selling Pro-Am like packages at $1,500 plus however many dollars per entry.

I had a hard time doing that because I grew up on scholarships, learning dance. And not that I, I think that, you know, we should just adopt the scholarship model. We've got to make money in some way, shape or form, but for me, it was very difficult to say, Oh, no, you're not going to be able to do that because you can't afford it.

So, I think one thing that just to really, considering, I don't have the answer to this, something I'm trying to try to answer myself is, in order to create access and equity, it's not just technique. It's also the business structure. You know, if your goal is the shared love of dance to as many people as possible, how can you tweak your business models so that you can do that?

and I, and I'll be really honest with you. I don't know what the answer, this is probably something, a discussion that is, that needs to happen amongst a hundred of us together, you know? and then I will also say that, you know, at the same time, I will also say that, I think what has sometimes happen if we talk about disability is sometimes people with disabilities, let's just say wheelchair users, just because it's easy to visualize. It gets categorized as this separate thing within a studio, instead of it being integrated. Now there's, there's some challenges here, part of it's the technique, and I'm also guilty of, of not quite figuring out how to integrate it altogether, but I will say that, I will say that, you know, in terms of our choreography of performances, we can be able to integrate everything. Why? Not because I am a genius dancer, but because my heart is there. I just figure it out because that's what I want to see. That's what my dancers want to also just be in one pot. It's not like, Oh, here's the wheelchair, disabled people. And then here are the non-disabled people. No, no. We just kind of put it together as one and we just figure it out.

You know, we're all on the same page when it comes to this stuff. so, I think, I will say that I'm due for teacher training and that's something that I didn't want to launch this year before the pandemic happen, whatever. So, some of this is definitely technique that just needs to be solidified. And I do feel like I. I have learned, discovered, so much that it is my turn now to share, and I felt the confidence to be able to share that too. But more than technique, it's really about looking at your why and looking into your heart. And if you have excluded a group of people, whether it's socioeconomically, racially, Disability wise, LGBTQ wise, and that's not who you are, then just sit with that for a moment. Sit with that. What does that mean? What, what, what kind of, what does that mean to you? Are you holding up to your values? Yes. No. And then naturally, if your heart is really there to be inclusive, you're going to figure it out. You're going to really figure it out, but you got to kind of sit there and sometimes you've got to sit there and sit with, sit with those kinds of deep thoughts. Sometimes it just means taking a pause. And honestly, during this pandemic, it's a great time to just kind of, kind of go, okay, let me rethink this.

Samantha: Yeah, yeah. I, I think obviously you made it a lot of wonderful, wonderful points in there and, and ask a lot of poignant questions of those of us that are in the industry to really take a critical look at why we are doing this, how we're doing this and what the unintended consequences of how we have structured our business in the industry might be. And I think you're right, I think there is a change on a grander scale that needs to happen within the industry, but it's going to take a lot of us coming together with a lot of voices at the table to make that happen. And hopefully having a lot of these small conversations will create a push from within the community to say, okay, now we need to sit down, and we need to really figure this out because it's time. And enough of us are talking about it. One-on-one or two on one within our own small communities that. That we do need to now make the next step towards change. I know we are short on time today. There is a lot that I would like to get into. as far as the PTSD that you brought up, about just, how influencers within the community can either support or dissuade people from dancing who truly feel passionate about dancing. We will save that for hopefully a future episode. talk to me a little bit about Scoops of Inclusion, what the new program is, how people can get involved. And just what kind of the, the mission statement behind it really comes from.

Marisa: Sure. So, Scoops of Inclusion is a short film and learning platform, celebrating diversity and empowering kids to become inclusive leaders. this short film and project came out of the global pandemic. I'm not going to preach the choir dance industry, ballroom or not, has been shut down. Infinite Flow is a professional dance company that uses them, you know, that uses dance to promote inclusion and innovation. I will say that I have stepped foot away from the ballroom dance industry though. I, I still dance, but putting that aside, one of the things that we do as a company is, we'll go to schools and for school samples. And, basically, what happened was, school assemblies go back three years ago, a Culver city school approached us for school assembly.

We didn't know what a school assembly was. They said it's okay. Just come in dance and share your stories. That's what exactly what we did. And it became a very big hit and sooner or later in the last three years we've gotten over a hundred inquiries. yeah, I quickly found out that schools that didn't have funds to bring us, even though we have really lowered our prices, the bare minimum schools still didn't have funding.

So last year, around this time in the fall, I had crowd funded so that we can sponsor the school assemblies. And my dad passed three weeks into this whole thing. so, the campaign was got cut short, but in, during those three weeks, I got, we got ourselves onto Good Morning American, raised a little bit of money. we were about to hit, hit. We were about to go to a few schools, but the pandemic hit. So, all these assemblies got canceled. during the summer I started to get some emails from schools saying, are you going to do virtual assemblies? And I said, well, I don't know if I want to do that, but I really thought about it. And I really thought about everything that happened around happened during the summer. And I will say that, you know, it doesn't matter what business you're in, diversity, equity, and inclusion is important. And for me, we can educate young minds if they, if it's young people, young people, children, get exposed to inclusion at an early age, it stays with them their entire life.

So, I said, all right, we're going to take our program online. So, I did was I took some of the crowdfunding money that would happen. And I said, okay, either we can save this, go back, go to schools in person. Or we can create a short film and have this short film be accessible to all kids, families, schools, and basically anyone around the world at no cost.

I weighed the two options and I said, let's go, I'm creating an online short film. That's what we did. it was three months of everyday 16 to 18 hours, the project kind of getting get got bigger and bigger. but it's a beautiful film. And if I were to kind of, go back to our conversation of, to the ballroom dancing industry, that this film will touch hearts.

And if you're having, if you're, if you're one of those people, like have no idea what the heck Marisa is talking about. Diversity inclusion, what the heck is that? Just go to Scoopsofinclusion.org. You can find our film right there, watch it, you know, you'll see it. There's a lot of great dancing in there too. So, it's not just a bunch of dialogue. but this is, you know, I, and I'll save, save why we called it Scoops of Inclusion. It's Again, this is a program for kids, but you know, we've had about, I think a total of it's only been a couple of weeks since we premiered this, I think we had about 1500 people watch this so far. And the feedback that we've gotten, and this is like, I would say 70% are kids, 30% are adults, something around that. The feedback that we've gotten has been tremendous. And then we hit many, many, many different nuggets of diversity yet, or diversity and inclusion. But it's like, well, this is for kids. It's fun. It's creative, it's uplifting. you know, it's, it's like I have kids in the cast. so anyways, yes, it's free. It's free. You can make a donation if you want to. But, other than that, I would say, I do feel I need to be more involved with the ballroom dancing industry. Let me end with that. I feel like I've strayed away from it because I will say that I'll be really honest with you.

Infinite Flow came out of a lot of trauma and some of that trauma and less from the ballroom dancing industry. Very similarly to you, Samantha, like, it was, it was heartbreaking and trying to find dance partners and, and it was, it sucked, you know, being told, Oh, I don't even want to meet you for a tryout because you didn't have any titles.

And it's like, what the F is that? You know, like that whole thing. I think there, I can count on a couple incidents where, you know, in a situation where someone just didn't want to partner an Asian girl, You know, and, and, you know, and this person had a lot of Asian students. And so, for him, it just felt really odd to have a professional dance partner, to some of the discrimination that happens in the, in this industry. when I got into more of the showbiz, it was a whole nother story in which, you know, I, I was met with a lot of ego, But met with a lot of just unwanting to practice, just doing the bare minimum to get paid and do a gig. And all the gigs were basically coming from me. and you know, I, I will say that, trying to find a dance partner to just regularly work with, I found it in wheelchair dancers, you know, so. I think to, to save my own kind of like, you can only focus on so much at a time. And for me, like, I didn't want to get too much caught up into the competition of dance sport and to save myself from that, I did take a step away so that I can focus on. Providing access to dance, because guess what, you know, there are many people who do not have access to dance.

And for me solving this problem is a lot more important to me than going out and getting the title. And, but now, you know, now that I've been doing this for five years and I discovered so much, and I've learned so much, I am finally, and I'm a lot more confident with what I'm doing. That's another thing, but I do feel like it's time for me to share.

I think after this pandemic is over next year, 20,2021. I am planning on building our first kind of teacher training program, but all I will say with this, this, this, this is not just checking off boxes. This isn't to just, okay, let's just learn the wheelchair dance syllabus. This and that, no, it's not. It's not just about wheelchair dance, y'all, this is about like creating equity and access to everyone, you know? And, it's not just about learning a syllabus, checking off and doing it. It's really getting to the heart of what you do. And, and from inside out creating spaces, I think. One of the things I'll say as a social entrepreneur is my goal is always systemic change. Meaning that it's not just about creating, putting band aids, we want to relieve, it's the problem of the system. And if I were to do that in a dance sense, it is where it is. It is about. And again, I don't know the answer to all this stuff, but. There's a system that's been built within dancesport and within ballroom room. We've got it kind of, I don't want to say break it apart, but we've got to add to it to make it home. I don't think it's necessary to always think to tear things apart. You know, I think sometimes it's just not adding. and I will also say one more thing. I'll say about all this is. I'm a certain type of entrepreneur, a certain type of a dancer term type of artists. And I do the way I do things the way I do it, because that's what I believe in. And so, my, my belief is always going to go towards inclusion, integration. instead of creating separation, instead of it, like, if you're talking about like a ballroom dance studio, instead of having the disabled program, the non-disabled program, happy with those two programs as just one program, that's where my brain goes.

I will say from talking with many disabilities, that there is a benefit also to having groups where it's very specific. Spinal cord injury survivors who liked to play, whatever it might be. Sometimes these specifics support, support groups are also important. So, I definitely don't want to like neglect that either.

I will say that. again, if we talk about purpose, the purpose of a dance studio and purpose of a dance educator, like, look at that first, ask yourself are you really living up to that? And if you're not, then guess what you got some room to grow and that's cool, you know? Yeah. It sucks if, you know, you hit a wall and there's no room to grow.

Samantha: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you. So, so, so much for coming on and talking with us today, there are many more conversations to be had, so hopefully we can set up a future episode that bring you back on.

But I think, hopefully our listeners are taking a lot away from this episode and, And just thank you so much for everything that you're doing, working towards inclusivity, diversity and equality, because I think that is, that is something that is a long time coming in the dance world and we need to see more of it. So, thank you so much for being a guest.

Marisa: Thank you so much, Samantha, for having me.

Samantha: I'd like to give a massive, thank you once again, to Marisa for being a guest on today's episode, if you want to find out more about her, about how you can, follow Infinite Flow, or if you were interested in bringing Scoops of Inclusion to a school system near you, you can find those links in the description box below.

I've been your host, Samantha with Love Live Dance. You can find this and all of our podcast episodes at ballroomchat.com and you can find us across social media at Ballroom Chat on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you've not already done. So please do consider subscribing or following this podcast and even giving us a review on your favorite podcast platform of choice. You can also support this podcast by becoming a patron at patreon.com/ballroomchat. As always stay safe, stay positive, and we hope to see you dancing.