Shattering stereotypes: changing the narrative around disability


Six months after suffering a rare form of stroke in 2006 that left her paralyzed from the neck down, Marisa Hamamoto walked out of the hospital. But the psychological scars remained.


“I was still paralyzed on the inside,” the trained dancer — one of People’s “Women Changing the World” in 2021 — says of the years of PTSD she suffered as a result of racism and body-shaming. She left the dance world completely for nearly four years. “I was scared to dance,” she says, “and scared to be in the presence of people. I had these nightmares of the entire paralysis happening again.”


A holiday party featuring salsa dancers reignited her love for dance and led Hamamoto to take up ballroom dancing. That’s when, by chance, she discovered the world of wheelchair dance as well.


“I did some research and learned that one in four people have a disability, and the arena of dance and disability is very underdeveloped,” she says. “I didn’t think it was fair that people with disabilities didn’t have equal access.”


Through social media, she connected with Adelfo Cerame Jr., a wheelchair bodybuilder, and asked if he’d like to try dancing with her sometime. Hours into their session, “I realized dance doesn’t discriminate,” Hamamoto says. “My soul was telling me I had to share this with the world.”