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In this episode of MarieTV, we do have some adult language. So if you do have little ones around, grab your headphones now.

Marie Forleo: Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and welcome to MarieTV and the Marie Forleo podcast. Let me ask you a question. Are you someone who has suffered a setback and questioned whether or not you’d ever be able to keep doing what you love? If so, my guest today proves that nothing is out of reach and if you keep listening to your heart and you keep getting back up, that you just might start to change the world.

Marisa Hamamoto is a stroke survivor and founder of Infinite Flow, a professional dance company comprised of dancers with and without disabilities. Her dream is to make dance accessible to all. She’s a performing artist and speaker adding massive creativity and inspiration to the world of diversity and inclusion. Marisa, thank you so much for making the time to be on MarieTV. How you feeling today?

Marisa Hamamoto: I’m good, Marie. Thank you so much for having me. You’ve been such a big influence in my life, actually when I started my business, which I will be talking about today. I binge watched your content.

Marie Forleo: Thank you.

Marisa Hamamoto: And for a while on my old computer that crashed, I had it, my desktop, had the screenshot from one of your presentations. And it said something along the lines of what would you do when you’re world class, you know?

Marie Forleo: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes.

Marisa Hamamoto: And so that was there for a while until my computer crashed. I’m a Copy Cure student. Redoing my websites right now. I actually purchased the Copy Cure, I think, when you first launched it back in 2016, ’17-ish?

Marie Forleo: ’15, yes.

Marisa Hamamoto: ’15. Okay, it was pretty-

Marie Forleo: Oh, this is so exciting. There’s all new stuff and there’s actually going to be more stuff. So for everyone who’s like, “Oh wait, what was that quote?” It was actually a question. How would you behave if you’re the best in the world at what you do, which by the way, Marisa, I’m so excited to dive into your story because you are incredible and you have been such an inspiration to our entire team. And just the more I have learned about you and researched about you, I’m like, “Oh my God, this woman is incredible.”

So let’s dive in. You know, you started dancing. We both have an incredible love of dance. We can talk about that later. But you were six years old and you shared that you didn’t quite fit the mold but that dance and being on the dance floor, I would assume, is the one place where you felt that you belonged and I share that. Tell us about your journey from that moment.

Marisa Hamamoto: Absolutely. So just in context of that, you know, I was born between a Japanese mother and a Japanese American father. I grew up in Irvine, California, in the 80s and 90s. Irvine is actually very diverse today, but at that time it was like we were still kind of like this family that was different. So at school, I oftentimes found myself as the only Asian American in a class and same thing with dance. But for whatever reason in dance class I felt like I belonged. At school, I got made fun of for bringing a Japanese lunch and being bullied for having these Asian eyes. I mean kids, I mean, it’s very interesting thinking about that kids can be so mean to each other. But in dance class, I also found myself as the only person that looked like myself, but something about moving my body to music was magical and I felt like I belonged.

And it soon became my passion. When I was a teenager, I saw a beautiful performance by the New York City ballet and said, “Oh my gosh, this is what I have to do. I have to become a ballerina.” So my whole world became immersed in becoming a ballerina, but you know  my body was just not made for ballet. Ballet it’s like there’s a certain formula, certain body requirement. My body just didn’t fit that, so I was told over and over, “You can’t be a ballerina. You can’t be a ballerina,” rejection after rejection. And you know, honestly, I didn’t make it as a ballerina.

At the end of my teen years, I was sexually assaulted and raped by one of my ballet teachers, a person that I thought would be the last person to do that. And he also didn’t believe in me as a dancer, so this left like a really big dent in my life and psychology for a very long time.

Marie Forleo: Did you leave the world of dance after that experience for a bit? Tell me about the transition. What happened after those experiences?

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah. Yes, there was a, there was a point where I did quit dance. I felt like, “Oh my gosh, this is BS. This is not, this is just not making me happy.” And the thing is, all the BS was not coming from dance itself, but the community of dance and the industry of dance and, yes, the sexual assault who nobody knew about was a huge part of this. Yes, I quit. I also got a minor injury. That made me quit, really quit. And then I moved to Japan to go to university there. And I kind of, I went to an all-academic university. No dance, no arts. It was just fully academic.

In my back of the mind I was thinking about becoming a doctor for dancers and so I joined a sports biomechanics lab, started started learning about dance, not dance movement, but  movement, how the body functions in general. It’s interesting, but you know, here I am in Japan. 99% of people in Japan are Japanese. I’m Japanese. I speak fluent Japanese with no accents, but I grew up in America. And somehow people sensed that I was different. And again, I felt like this, this sense of being excluded and not feeling like I belong. So what did I turn to? I turned to dance. And it was the one place, I’m sure you can relate to this, it was the one place where I felt like I can just be who I was, you know. And so I just gradually, like, here I am, you know doing some really kind of grunting work in a biomechanics lab dissecting dance movement and then I would go at night go take dance class, vent it all out. And sooner or later I’m like, “You know what? I just want to dance. I’m I’m just sick and tired of just being stuck here.”

Then, you know, so I secretly,  just to sum it up, I secretly pursued my dance career during college. And senior year, so this is like 3-1/2 years of being in Tokyo, I actually felt like I had it together. My academics were good. I was taking dance class after school. I had a part-time job making decent money by the hour as a college student and I felt like I had kind of figured out myself. And I said, “All right, finish school in a half a year and get myself out of Japan, move to Europe, audition.” So I was like in the process of like just preparing for that, saving up money for that.

And in the middle of senior year, July 2006, in the middle of a contemporary dance class I felt my elbows tingle and I fell to the ground. Couldn’t move my arms or my legs. Lost sensation from the neck down. Was carried to the hospital and the next day I was diagnosed with spinal cord infarction, also known as spinal stroke.

Marie Forleo: Wow.

Marisa Hamamoto: It’s a stroke in the spinal cord that basically blocked the nerves from my neck down. And I was in the hospital for two months.

Marie Forleo: How utterly terrifying. I read you were paralyzed from the neck down. I hadn’t even known that such a thing called a spinal stroke even existed until I dug deeper into your story. Tell us what happened from there. You’re in the hospital for a few months. What’s going through your mind? How are you feeling? Where did it go?

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah. Just to go from the outcome first. I did walk out of the hospital two months later. It was kind of a miracle to tell you the truth. I was initially told, “You may not be able to walk or dance again.” And for me, it felt like a death sentence to tell you the truth. And before I got the diagnosis I, you know, I had this surreal experience of feeling like oh my gosh, I’m approaching death. And so…anyway, when I first got carried to the hospital this is in Japan. Emergency rooms are not as like prevalent in Japan. I mean, I hope it’s changed out there. But you know, I was kind of locked up a little bit in this room on my own and was first of all told to go home when I couldn’t move. And lying there, you know I had my contacts dried up in my eyes. And I remember seeing my family, one person at a time saying goodbye to me. And so I had this experience for a moment of oh, maybe I am dying.

And then when I got the diagnosis it was a whole nother … There was a part of me that was relieved that I wasn’t going to die, but another part of me was like, “Oh gosh, how am I going to dance?” Like, you know, and…my stay in with the hospital is kind of a blur to tell you the truth. It went by fast and slow. But initially, you know it wasn’t just that I wasn’t able to move my arms or my legs, my organs were paralyzed. So for example, my brain would say, I want to go pee, but nothing would come out. And not only that, I can’t even get to the bathroom on my own so I would call the nurse with what we call a nurse call button.

I’m lying here, the nurse call button is right above my head. I was able to move my neck and so I would call the nurse by bumping the button with my head. The nurse would come. She would like hoist me out of the bed, into a wheelchair and wheel me 10 feet away to the bathroom. Take me onto the toilet, pull my pants down, pull my underwear down, and then I would sit there. And have you been to Japan before, Marie?

Marie Forleo: I haven’t. It’s definitely on my list though.

Marisa Hamamoto: Okay. Oh my gosh, you’ve got to go to Japan. It’s one of the best countries in the world. So in Japan, I don’t know if you know about this, but Japan has really fancy toilets and they’re really-

Marie Forleo: I’ve heard about that.

Marisa Hamamoto: They’re really fancy bidets where next to the bathroom there’s like this like little button,  there’s these buttons and this device where you can press bidet. You can press water. You can press dry. And it’s gotten fancy. Some of the play music and the reason why they play music is because some women, especially women don’t want others to hear their sound.

Marie Forleo: Absolutely.

Marisa Hamamoto: Okay, cover it with music.

Marie Forleo: I get it.

Marisa Hamamoto: Get back into the point. This device had a clock and every day I would stare at the clock going, “Wow, today it took 30 minutes to go pee, but I was able to go.” The next day, I’d be like, “Oh, it’s 29. Oh, it’s 28.” I started to realize that oh, this is taking me a long time for me to go to the bathroom, but every single day there’s a little bit of improvement here. And that was when I was able to change my thinking from I’m going to die, I’m not going to heal, my life is over to oh, there is progress here, so let’s think about the positive not the negative. Yeah, go ahead. Now, oh…

Marie Forleo: It’s fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing that detail too. One of the things that has been a current theme in my life is looking for what actually gives us, as human beings, that sense of hope and what gives that sense of meaning and fulfillment. Time and time again through conversations like the one we’re having now through the research it’s always about that progress. Can we see any type of progress or growth and when as a human being we see that everything starts to change.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yes, yes. And I definitely don’t want to make a claim that it was that positive thinking that led to-

Marie Forleo: Of course.

Marisa Hamamoto: … healing, because there are many stroke survivors who have different degrees of paralysis to this day. However, it kind of put me to the test. Either I can look at the negatives, continue to think negative or continue to think positively about the situation. I think, I think that has stayed to this day. I think there’s this, when you go through a traumatic experience, you know, there’s this heightened sense of gratitude for everything. And for me, those two months in the hospital was really about being grateful for what you do have and the progress that you can make and you are making and kind of put the other stuff in the back of the mind. You know at the same time, I will also admit the stroke and the paralysis was not just a physical paralysis. It was also an internal paralysis. 

And what I mean by that is initially when I got the stroke, and this is actually something that I don’t think I’ve ever talked about publicly before, there was a degree of shame that came about. And I thought it was my fault that I became paralyzed, that I did something bad. And it was the combination of me not being enough, me not being worthy, me not being, me not mattering to the world, as well as in the back of my mind I can hear that coach that raped me shouting at me saying, “See, I told you. You’re not meant to be a dancer, that’s why I cursed you with this stroke.” And it was like this, on one end I’m doing everything I can to embrace gratitude, on the other hand I was just really bombarded with a lot of shame that I had something wrong.

To be frank and honest, when my mom came and visited me and this is a really embarrassing thing to even share here, but I’m going to share it. My mom came like four days I think after all this happened from the States and she stayed at my apartment and my room was a total disaster. I had an apartment that was … I had…my room was kind of at the basement level. Tokyo’s like as humid as New York and so if you don’t keep your place ventilated it becomes moldy. My mom found mold. My room was a mess and my mom cried saying, “Oh my gosh, what are you doing?” You know, and it made me go, “Wow, you know, I’m making so much meaning out of something that … I just went way deep into a space that I couldn’t get myself out of.” So anyways, when I left the hospital, able to walk, I mean, I will admit I did, I did deal with PTSD for a while. The PTSD came from the fact that this all happened inside of a dance class, so every time I see some dance poster on the street of Tokyo I would like start to black out. I was just scared to just go even near dance and to dance period, so that was one.

I had nightmares consistently of the whole episode happening again. And you know, I just became scared to just live and that went on for about three years. And, so, you know it’s interesting I think up until that point I really thought that mental illness was taboo, but after having gone PTSD myself I said, “No, mental illness is real, it exists, and it can haunt you unless you get care.” Now, I didn’t know to get care. And again, you know, I also want to point out being in Japan and just the culture of Japan doesn’t allow you to really share too much of your emotions. I mean, I love Japan as a country, but I think sometimes as a culture, they’re, it’s almost like a punishment to share your feelings and your thoughts. And so being surrounded in that I didn’t quite take care of what I needed to take care of so it went on for a while.

But, you know, after I finished grad school, and felt like, and this is 2009, I felt like okay, let’s figure out life. I just happened to be at a holiday party late 2009 and at this holiday party, it was, I was probably one of the youngest ones. There was about 100 people, mostly Japanese people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Just a regular holiday corporate party. And during this party there was a Salsa dance couple that came on and performed. They were not great, but afterward they said, “All right, now it’s your time to dance.” And so they taught us this super simple six-step Salsa step and they got the entire room to dance, including myself. I’m looking around going, “Oh my gosh, the whole room is dancing here. Everyone is having fun.” And I mean, you have to understand, Japanese people are very reserved. You don’t really see too many Japanese people going out there and just screaming and being a fool of themselves.

You don’t see that, but in this particular moment it was that. In fact, I was kind of the reserved one. And I’m looking around going, “Oh my gosh, why have I not been dancing? This is dance.” And so in that moment, I said, “All right, there’s got to be something for me here.” A week later, I went to my first Salsa class and it was, it took a lot of courage to get there. I had socially isolated myself up until that time. And without going into details, after the stroke, I was actually sexually assaulted two more times. By the time this all came around I was scared of human contact and human connection. And I remember going, “Oh my gosh, if I go to this class I have to touch people, that is scary” and it was scary. It was really scary.

After the two, three-hour class and realizing that, oh you know, this is just dance and this is human to human contact, this is a total natural thing here, I remember leaving that class going, “Oh my gosh, that was fricking amazing. I’ve got to do more of this.” Sometimes when you’re fearful of something it’s actually that thing that you got to do.

Marie Forleo: Yes, I agree 10,000%.

Marisa Hamamoto: So that, you know, salsa class eventually led me to discover ballroom dancing. You know partner dancing became like this kind of addiction of mine. And everything is figureoutable. I figured out how to make it my career.

Marie Forleo: Yes. Okay, so take us to that moment. You’ve shared that you found your voice as a dancer and your purpose as an artist by meeting just one person.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah, so yeah, you know, after I got my ballroom dance certification in Japan, you know, I realized that it was time to go back to LA. So I came back to Southern California, moved to LA, and I said, “All right, that’s it. I’m going to start my dance career all over. Super pumped up. All right, here we go.” You know, but again, I started to find that I didn’t quite fit the mold of the Hollywood dancer. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, here I am again. I thought I had figured it out and I guess I haven’t.”

You talk about how you were waiting tables and doing all kinds of things while you built your business. You know with me, I was also teaching dance. I mean, it’s still dance, but it was still kind of a way for me to get to the next step. And so I was teaching dance, mostly hobby adults. Built my own little business out of it. And, you know, in the meantime, I was getting nowhere as a dancer and entertainer.

Marie Forleo: How old were you at this point, if you don’t mind me asking? Roughly, ballpark.

Marisa Hamamoto: Hold on. I’m doing my calculate. Around 30. 29, 30.

Marie Forleo: The reason I ask that too is because at every single stage I’ve heard from viewers that are in their late teens who say, “But I’ve missed the boat, I’m too old.” And you know I started my dance career at 25 and I had those same fears. I’m like, “Oh, I’m over the hill because I haven’t been trained my entire life.” So I just wanted to put this in context for people. I’m a believer that you’re never too old. We just had an amazing guest on who’s 92.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yes.

Marie Forleo: She wrote her first book at 90. I just thank you for adding that piece. Please keep going.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah, yeah. No, no. And just to relate to your story I know that you mentioned it was very difficult to pick up choreography.

Marie Forleo: Yes. Like the worst.

Marisa Hamamoto: My whole life.

Marie Forleo: Yup.

Marisa Hamamoto: My whole life. And the thing is I still figured out how to be a dancer. For any dancers listening out there, you don’t have to be able to like pick up choreography on the spot to be a professional dancer. All right. Ok. All right. Sorry, moving on. Going back to the story here. I hit rock bottom. 2014, two years in LA, getting nowhere. Being told, again, also being told that we don’t need any Asian American ballroom dancers for this show and that show. I was like, “This is just bullshit. There’s got to be more than this.”

I really hit rock bottom and that’s when somehow creeped up these words. When in doubt, focus out. How can you use your talents, skills, and experiences you have right now to make a difference? And something told me that giving back and making a difference was going to unlock some things, but I didn’t know what that was. So I went on with my day just kind of being aware of what signals would come into my life and I accidentally discovered wheelchair dancing and I’m like, “What? It’s possible to dance without the use of your limbs? What’s up with that?” That was the last thing I thought when I went through my stroke. So anyways, then I did some research, found how underdeveloped this area of dance and disability was and I said, “You know what? Something is telling me I’m destined to do something here.” Again, just like the Salsa class gave me some signals, this was like telling me, “Marisa.” Something’s telling me, “Go here, go here,” and, but I didn’t know where to start.

So what did I do? As a ballroom dancer we’re always looking for partners and I said, “Well, let me find a wheelchair dance partner.” Looked around, couldn’t find a wheelchair dancer. Looked in the acting community, didn’t quite find anyone that was a fit. And then I looked in the athletic community and I found Adelfo, a paraplegic bodybuilder that only lived like maybe 30 miles away from me. And I stalked him on Instagram, Facebook friended him. Messaged him on Facebook. Facebook actually created a documentary on this, by the way. We connected immediately. We got into the dance studio. We met in person. I’ll be really honest with you, I was terrified. I was terrified to dance with Adelfo. There’s a part of me that was like, “Oh my gosh, am I going to hurt him,” and there was a part of him that said, “What the heck did I get myself into? I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here.” So going into that situation I was terrified. But, after a couple hours of dancing with Adelfo there was this magical moment where I realized that dancing with Adelfo was nothing different from dancing with anyone else.

Thaat dance doesn’t discriminate and when you’re dancing with someone you see beyond race, color, size, gender, ability, disability, you name it. It’s it’s a universal language-

Marie Forleo: Yes.

Marisa Hamamoto: … that we can all have a conversation around. And that night all I can think of was oh my gosh, if the world danced there would be no war and that idea was so big that I was like, “All right, I’ve got to do something about this.” And a few months later, that was when Infinite Flow was born.

Marie Forleo: Oh, you bring tears to my eyes because I have, that is one of the reasons that I love dance so much and I’ve always had it as a part of my life and I continue to find ways to make it a part of my life. Because, when people dance together … And often I’ve heard this, maybe you have too, especially as a teacher. When I was teaching, some people would come into class and go, “But I don’t have any rhythm,” and I’m like, “It doesn’t matter. A, I can teach you rhythm and B, dance is not about ‘doing it right’ per se.” It’s about movement and your soul and getting lost in the music and connecting with other people. So again, I could not want to underscore and highlight what you said about dance being this universal language. So-

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah. I love how you’ve used dance in your videos.

Marie Forleo: Yeah, I can’t not.

Marisa Hamamoto: I used to dance with you.

Marie Forleo: Yeah. It was funny. We’re filming this in 2020. We are in the midst of a global pandemic so I’m shooting from my home. And one of the things that we used to do in the studio is just like … There’s always music playing and the way that my brain works, especially around some episodes of MarieTV where it’s just me either answering a question or talking on a topic my brain goes to music and dance as a way to explain things or as a way to again show a different perspective on it. And I think that it also helps us to learn when we’re embodied, when we are moving our bodies. And I mean, there’s so much. You know this.

Marisa Hamamoto: Absolutely.

Marie Forleo: Neuroscience underneath it. Our creativity skyrockets. Our ability to see things from a different perspective. Our energy levels. Our ability to increase our memory and cognition. Like I mean, you could just stack and stack the benefits of it. But I loved when I was watching your videos for us and, again, our team too, just this notion … you know I love what you said. When you’re dancing with someone you see beyond race and color and size and age and gender and ability and disability. So Infinite Flow, tell us more about this, which is your company, right? It’s not a nonprofit, it’s a business.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah. Well, actually it is a nonprofit and it’s also a professional dance company.

Marie Forleo: Yes!

Marisa Hamamoto: Yes.

Marie Forleo: They’re both!

Marisa Hamamoto: Yeah. It’s interesting because a lot of ballet companies, I mean a lot of dance companies including the American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, some of these giant companies, are nonprofits. But anyways, regardless let me share with you what Infinite Flow is today and how it’s evolved. So Infinite Flow is a nonprofit and professional dance company composed of dancers with and without disabilities and our mission is to use dance to promote inclusion. The work that we do falls in three buckets. One is to change perceptions through performance and media. We put a lot of effort into our videos, because our videos lay an impact nowadays. I mean, I do go with quality over quantity, but whatever I put out there I make sure that there is a definite statement and message in there. And so we change perceptions. We also, I like to say that we build community. And you know the third sector that’s kind of still kind of new is that we want to build a bridge between ourselves and the rest of the world where we are giving tools, techniques, leadership, training to those who want to bring inclusivity and accessibility into their own businesses, which include dance studios, small businesses, et cetera. And this is an area that’s still new, but let’s face it, diversity, equity, inclusion, is more important than ever.

Marie Forleo: Yes.

Marisa Hamamoto: So yeah. I like to say it took me five years to get here to be able to like put what we do, which is dance into words. But I like to say that we take the concept of inclusion and diversity out of our heads into our hearts, bodies, and souls. I mean, I think, you know, I know that you’ve dived into some diversity work, but sometimes this work is really important for sure. But sometimes we get a little bit caught up in thinking about it. And also, I think with corporations oftentimes it’s about metrics and about results, but, no, let’s go back to who we are as human beings.

Marie Forleo: Yes.

Marisa Hamamoto: Let’s take all this stuff and put it back into our bodies, our hearts, and souls. And you know, and we do that through dance. We do that through performance and we do that through sharing our stories. When you connect with people through their stories that’s when you really develop this bond in addition to kind of experiencing people, whether it’s in the same space as you or on, in a video or on stage and you watch a performance.

For me, the infinity sign represents two people dancing in harmony and eternity or two very different people dancing in harmony and eternity. So it’s like a symbol of inclusion. Yeah, you know, we’ve done a lot, but I will also say because I know that there’s a lot of B-schoolers and a lot of people that are starting off listening to this. I’ve changed my mission statement 10 times. It really started off more as, I don’t want to say a charity. But it started off with, you know, one group serving another and just to easily put it, able-bodied, non-disabled people giving opportunity to disabled people. It kind of started off that way, but then the world around me started calling us inclusive and honestly I didn’t even know what that word meant. But when I looked up that word I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we are so not inclusive at all.” At first, it was just manual wheelchair dancers dancing with standing dancers. But the moment I realized that yeah we are, if the world is telling us that we’re inclusive we’ve got to be inclusive.

I brought in a deaf dancer named Shaheem into the picture about a year and a half into starting what we do. And he totally just changed the way I saw dance in the sense that, “Oh yeah, you know he gets it. He’s deaf. He’s not in a wheelchair.” But, he opened my mind to go, “Dance is dance.” And that’s when the world kind of came in. We celebrated this, kind of, new way of looking at it with a big flash mob.

And then, since then, it’s just evolved one way after another. And it’s still a work in progress, but one thing I know for sure … Actually, two things I know for sure. One from more of a place of inclusion is that inclusion is about us not them meaning that, you know, inclusion is not about one group serving another, but each of us taking part in doing the good work and making this world a more inclusive place. And the other thing is and this is more for, you know, people that are building their businesses or thinking about building their businesses.

When you connect your passion with purpose magic happens. So in my case, you know,  I was once this rejected dancer who was told over and over, “You can’t be a dancer. You can’t be a dancer. You’re not made to be a dancer.” But once I connected my passion for dance with a purpose of creating inclusion, which was authentic to me, it’s like the worlds that I didn’t even know opened. Not only that, the biggest gift is I find fulfillment in my work every day. And it’s definitely, the pandemic has definitely … I mean, dance has been shut down during this time. But I think it’s just this continuous idea of let’s keep connecting passion and purpose together and when in doubt, focus out, that has kind of really kept me going even during this time.

Marie Forleo: Oh, yeah. 100%. I also want to underscore what you shared about how your mission and your vision and what you do keeps evolving. I think that there is this myth around ok, you’ve got to get your mission statement and your vision, but you said you were this. It’s like, “No.” The world, and we as humans, is in constant evolution, right?

Marisa Hamamoto: Yes.

Marie Forleo: A constant state of becoming. A constant state of looking in and looking out and saying, “Who do I want to be now? How can I serve best now, given the ever changing state of the world?” So thank you for sharing that because it’s so important. I think that sometimes our minds and even our culture can have us be in these little rigid boxes.

Marisa Hamamoto: Absolutely. Mm-hmm.

Marie Forleo: That was part of what I found myself struggling with even at the start of my business. Like, well, are you a coach? Are you a business coach? Are you a life coach? Are you a dancer? Are you a writer? And I’m like, “Look, I don’t fit into boxes and I never will, so don’t label me.” And so I love also what you shared too. Let’s talk about Scoops of Inclusion because I think some of the most just moving things that I was seeing from your work, also the work that you’re doing in schools and that you have done in schools. And when young kids see these incredible performances from a diverse group of dancers and it just, their hearts are open, their minds are open, and it becomes normal that it’s not this versus that. It’s oh, everybody takes part in this and this is what our world looks like. I want to say one thing that you shared because I think it’s important, especially as it relates to schools. That our brains process images 60 times faster than words and when you see the beauty of inclusion you see its potential.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yes. Yes. Yes. Sorry, I’m processing everything that you just said here-

Marie Forleo: Of course.

Marisa Hamamoto: … for a moment. So first off, yes. I’ve gone with the flow. I mean, we’ve been talking about evolution of missions and visions. I’ve gone with the flow. I’ll be really honest with you, Infinite Flow has performed over 100 times and most of this was people reaching out to me, you know, including these big brands, Apple, Porsche, Red Bull, Facebook… Basically within the flow of just inquiries coming in, about three years ago an elementary school in Culver City, California, approached us saying, “Hey, we love what you’re doing and it’s always been challenging to find disability awareness program, programming. Can you come out to our school and hold a school assembly?” I said, “What’s a school assembly and what are we supposed to do?”

Marie Forleo: I love it! Yes!

Marisa Hamamoto: They said, “Oh, you don’t need to prepare. Just come and dance and just talk to the kids and share your stories.” I said, “Okay.” So I, you know, we packed up and went to the school, did exactly that. We did our usual repertoire, except we dressed up conservatively, I would say, and then we shared our stories. And somehow, this became a big hit. Sooner or later the school told other schools and I started to get more inquiries for school assemblies while getting a lot of bigger invitations to corporations and big events. And I found out through this process that schools actually don’t have much funding for school assemblies. And even though I reduced down our prices to the bare minimum-

Marie Forleo: Sure.

Marisa Hamamoto: … they still couldn’t afford it. And it broke my heart that I had to decline so many schools and so last October I launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money so that we can sponsor more school assemblies because, Marie, I can’t tell you, these school assemblies are like … The kids scream. They are fully immersed and afterward there’s a long line wanting autographs, you know, from us. I mean, they see us as celebrities. Again, this is my team of dancers using wheelchairs, blind, deaf, et cetera. They’re coming up and going, “Oh my gosh, I want your signature.” You know, and I knew that we had to figure this out. We had to figure out how to get to more schools. So I did the crowdfunding campaign, got ourselves on Good Morning America. Got a $10,000 check from Capezio. Had a speaking performance engagement with Farmer’s Insurance. They gave us a surprise $20,000 check and then three days later my dad died and that was when the campaign ended.

But, you know, basically I was like, “All right, that’s a little bit of money. We’ll use this, you know, to go to more schools.” Right before the pandemic I had a line up of schools to go and sponsor assemblies and really excited to be able to finally, you know, kind of use some of our crowdfunding money into work. But yeah, the pandemic basically said, “All right, no more assemblies, no more school in person. All schools online.” And basically, you know, we also, all of our performances and events also got canceled as well. And at first, I was like, “You know, I’ll just put this to the side. You know when the country opens up I’ll deal with the schools.” You know, but, you know after having a summer that was really about social justice and really about like diversity, equity, and inclusion … came really to the surface. I said, “Oh gosh, we need to jump into this now.” Here it goes. When in doubt, focus out. How can you make a difference right now? I had also hit the rock bottom on a personal level for personal and professional level losing work. I don’t know. My dad’s funeral was right in the middle of the pandemic too virtually.

Anyway, a lot of that just caused me to go rock bottom. So within that, I said, “You know, let’s take our school assembly program online.” Schools are still going to be online for a while it sounds like. I got notice that colleges were taking their classes online and from our youth group parents, yeah, we started to learn that schools will not be going back in person, at least for another semester, maybe two semesters, depending on the region. And so what we did was we created a program called Scoops of Inclusion. Scoops of Inclusion is a short film empowering kids to celebrate differences, contribute their strengths and really be part of creating a more inclusive world. It comes with, it’s for…It’s made for kids, schools, and families. It’s going to come with lesson plans. Any teachers out there it’s going to be easily integrated into the classroom. We’re going to do all that legwork so that teachers who are under really high pressure can relax a little bit. It’s going to be at no cost. And yeah Scoopsofinclusion.org. And yeah this is all about teaching kids about celebrating differences. And it’s really interesting, Marie. I have so much to share about this. I’m like trying to pick and choose what to share. 

Just to kind of give you a little bit about what this short film is about, the characters in this video are all part of my dance company and my youth group. And the two main characters are Scarlet and Henry who play themselves. Actually, everyone plays themselves. Like their identifies and everything is kind of authentic to themselves. But Scarlet and Henry are real-life twins, nine years old. Scarlet uses a wheelchair, has cerebral palsy. Henry is “non-disabled.” And in real life, Scarlet and Henry have changed schools four times because of the lack of inclusivity at schools. And in the story, you know just to make a little fictional, they’re visiting, they’re taking a tour of their ninth school, which is called the School of Us and it’s a radically inclusive school. In this short film they go on a tour of the school alongside co-class presidents, Kai and River. River is someone who identifies as gender fluid. River goes by the pronouns they and them. So anyway, they go on this tour. They visit Adelfo, a paraplegic athlete. They visit the newspaper club where my blind dancer Natalie is kind of like heading that program. They visit the science lab where these two gay dancers, Mark and Antonio, lead this. 

They go to the, where do they go next? They go to the dance class where Lionelle who’s got autism teaches dance. And then they go to Mia, who’s an art teacher, also a paraplegic. And then they go to Shaheem. Shaheem, who is a deaf dancer and is the music teacher. And also, sorry, lastly Kima or Dmitri who is a Russian refugee and an amputee dancer who also fled Russia due to homophobia. Anyways, it’s pretty jam packed with a lot of our stories and authenticity. Why it’s called Scoops of Inclusion? You’ll have to see the film to kind of know why, but basically the big through line of this short film is building an inclusive ice cream party.

Marie Forleo: Yes!

Marisa Hamamoto: It’s fun.

Marie Forleo: Love it.

Marisa Hamamoto: It includes dancing. I mean, we dance throughout. I will say on the behind the scenes end shooting this within COVID-19 restrictions was definitely a big, big, huge challenge, but we did it. I learned a lot about leadership along the way. This was actually the first time where I had a right hand that I was able to literally hand off saying, “You figure this out. I trust you.” You know, so I felt like I was able to step up my game as a leader, but definitely we shot this thing where we had five days of shooting on set, but in the meantime we had a third of the cast shooting from their homes. Either they had tested positive for COVID or they were just not comfortable coming on set. And for me, it’s just against my values to go, “Oh, okay, if you don’t want to come on set you’re not part of this.” It was against my values. So again, everything is figureoutable. We figured it out. We figured out how to make this all work. And thank you to Stephanie, my right hand, who did a lot of the logistics kind of, you know, figuring out. We made this happen.

Right now, as we record this podcast, it’s under postproduction. We’re really excited to deliver something good to the world.

Marie Forleo: Marisa, congratulations so much on not only Scoops of Inclusion, but just for your incredible spirit of determination and resilience and honesty and open heartedness about every aspect of your journey. You are such an inspiration. I’m so excited for our audience to not only check out Scoops of Inclusion, but all of your work, because I have a feeling it’s going to inspire them to trust those little whispers in their heart and to keep looking for the joy and to ask that great question when they feel that sense of self doubt. When in doubt, aim it out, look out, focus out, as you said.

Marisa Hamamoto: And dance.

Marie Forleo: And dance! And dance.

Marisa Hamamoto: Yes.

Marie Forleo: Anything that you want to leave us today before we wrap it up?

Marisa Hamamoto: I guess just knowing that I’m still … I mean, first of all, five years ago I remember thinking when I first found MarieTV and was literally binge watching over the weekends I said to myself, “One day I’m going to be on MarieTV.”

Marie Forleo: Yes!

Marisa Hamamoto: And here we are.

Marie Forleo: And here we are!

Marisa Hamamoto: So this is a little bit of a dream come true. I think one thing I want to tell, especially women … Well, not just women, but anybody that’s really starting a business and there’s a part of them that’s like, “I know that this is going to change the world,” keep believing in it and keep like that belief is going to drive you. In a way, it’s kind of like, I think there’s this sense of, as you say, everything is figureoutable. Take action, just go for it. But then there’s also the sense of kind of letting things go and letting things happen too. I feel like those are the two things that I’ve been always kind of going back and forth with.

For the first time I think during this pandemic I had to confront self care and self worth and self value. I can’t say that I’ve got that down perfectly, but one thing I’ve learned along the process is that you’ve got to fill your cup first to fill the cup of others. And so, when something is not working in your business I think go to yourself and say, “Hey, am I being healthy? Am I eating healthy? Am I exercising? Am I actually taking care of myself?” And so that’s been kind of a constant kind of thing that I’ve been asking. So yeah, that’s kind of it. But if anybody wants to get ahold of me I guess … Well, definitely check out scoopsofinclusion.org. Myself and Infinite Flow we are available for performances and speaking engagements. Infinite Flow’s website is infiniteflowdance.org. 

Marie Forleo: Beautiful. Thank you so much and I know for myself, for our entire team, and I’m sure for our community, we cannot wait to cheer you on as you continue to grow and soar and create even more change in the world. You’re amazing. Thank you.

Marisa Hamamoto: Thank you so much, Marie. I really, really appreciate you having me today.

Marie Forleo: Come on now, how awesome was that conversation? Marisa is just a delight and she is so, so inspiring. I want to thank you so much for being here and until next time, stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world really does need that very special gift that only you have. I’ll catch you next time on MarieTV and the Marie Forleo podcast.

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