The media has covered me as a stroke survivor who later founded Infinite Flow - An Inclusive Dance Company, and this is a true fact, but there is so much more to my journey, which led me to create Infinite Flow and lead a movement for #InfiniteInclusion.
Where it all began...
I grew up in Irvine, California during the 80s to 90s, and being one of the few Asian-Americans at school, I experienced bullying due to looking different. I moved to Tokyo in 2003 to attend Keio University thinking that I would finally fit in but that was not the case. I was Japanese by blood, looked Japanese, and spoke Japanese with no accents, but I was "American on the inside". I was "different", making friends was a challenge, and I often felt excluded.
I started dancing at the age of 6 and it quickly became my passion. At dance class, I found myself being the only person of color, but something about moving together with others to music was magical. Dance class was the one place I felt like I fit in and it became my happy place. During my teen years all I wanted to do was become a professional ballerina, but I simply didn’t fit the ballet mold. I pushed my way through to prestigious ballet schools such as the Kirov Academy of Ballet, but I didn’t have the talent to progress forward and I was rejected over and over again. Dance was the one place I thought was my safe haven, so it was devastating to be constantly pushed to the side.
At the age of 19 I was sexually assaulted by the last person I ever thought would hurt me...my ballet coach, who also didn’t believe in me as a dancer. I had no one to turn to and didn’t know what to do. After leaving his mentorship, my whole life became about proving him wrong and succeeding on my own terms.
But, I continued to believe that I was born to be a dancer!
While enrolled at Keio University, the “Harvard of Japan”, I “secretly” danced in college, giving myself a second chance to pursue a professional dance career. But, in 2006 during a contemporary dance class, I felt my elbows tingle, then collapsed and found myself paralyzed from the neck down unable to move my arms and legs. The next day I was diagnosed with 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. Little did I know, this horrific incident was going to inspire me to do something bigger than me and bigger than I could have ever imagined!
Surprisingly, 2 months later, I proved the doctors wrong and walked out of the hospital. However, I was still paralyzed on the inside. Since losing my mobility, the trauma from all the years of rejection amplified, and in my head I continuously saw my coach laughing at me and could hear him saying, “See, you are not meant to be a dancer. I cursed you with the stroke for continuing to pursue your stupid dance dream.”
Fast forward to 2010 when I discovered Ballroom dancing. Ballroom dancing healed me emotionally, something about connecting with another person through movement was beautiful, and brought a new vibration of joy and inspiration into my life that was currently full of isolation and fear. I got so addicted to partner dancing, I found a way to make it my new career.
In 2012 I moved to LA to to embark on a dance and entertainment career. But within navigating Hollywood, it was again audition after audition, rejection after rejection. I was told flat out that “No one wanted to see an Asian ballroom dancer on TV”. After hearing constant rejection, I was determined to create more opportunity for those who were different like me.
Two years later, I was still searching for my place as an artist when I accidentally discovered wheelchair dancing. I did some research, and was shocked at how underdeveloped the area of dance and disability was - for example, there was no inclusive dance group in LA - and when I learned that 1 in 5 people have a disability, which is 57 million Americans and 1 billion people worldwide, and that this population didn’t have equal access to dance, I knew that it was my destiny to do something about it.
I didn’t know how to go about making dance accessible to people with disabilities (PWD). So, I decided to find a wheelchair dance partner, which I did not find, but found a paraplegic athlete named Adelfo who was willing to give it a shot. Though Adelfo had no dance experience prior to meeting me, after a couple hours of dancing with him came a magical moment I will never forget - his wheelchair disappeared. It wasn’t “Adelfo, the wheelchair user”, but just Adelfo. Dance is an universal language and when you are dancing with someone you see beyond race, color, size, age, gender, ability, and disability.
That night I couldn’t sleep and all I can think of is if the world danced, everyone would be able to accept and celebrate each other’s differences, and there would be no war. I have to share this moment with the world!!!
A few months later in 2015, I founded Infinite Flow - An Inclusive Dance Company with a mission to not only make dance accessible to all, but also to use dance as vehicle inspire inclusivity. After feeling rejected and excluded as a dancer my whole life, I made it my life purpose to help each person discover the dancer inside themselves, and create a community where each person is welcomed. And we have thrived!
Since founding Infinite Flow, our team of professional dancers with and without disabilities have performed over 100 times, from school assemblies and corporate events for companies like Apple, Facebook, Red Bull, Porsche, and others. Infinite Flow’s dance videos have been viewed by over 50 million people just on Facebook alone, and to date, we have organized over 200 inclusive dance classes and workshops.
BUT THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING!
I have families with children with disabilities who travel 75 miles each way to take a 90 minute inclusive dance class, and I have received hundreds of requests from all over the world asking me to create an Infinite Flow in their region. But, creating satellite Infinite Flows still doesn’t solve the core problem. We must change the existing system and culture of dance and society. A culture where each person is valued, difference is celebrated, and building connection and community is the norm.
Whether you’re on the dance floor or in the workplace, inclusion is not what you think it is. It’s not about checking boxes by casting directors or HR, but a state of belonging and a culture of connection and collaboration. In an inclusive culture, each person is valued, each person’s talents and skills are maximized, and connecting and collaborating is encouraged and made simple. This ultimately leads to infinite growth and infinite possibilities.
My mission is to empower people through dance and storytelling to disable bias, get out of their comfort zones, build new connections, and create breakthrough innovations.
Join me for a dance of #InfiniteInclusion.