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Amplifying Asian Disabled Voices

Image Description: A graphic of a microphone in the bottom left hand corner with two, blue speech bubbles above. The words “Amplifying AAPI Voices” in yellow are at the top of the graphic. The background is salmon colored outlines by two yellow triangles in the top left and bottom right hand corner.

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month which recognizes the contributions and influences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the devastating implications of hateful anti-Asian rhetoric has been apparent. In the recent months there have been increasing instances of bias, violence, and hate crimes toward Asian and Asian American individuals.

Dance for All Bodies stands in solidarity with our Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander community who are experiencing racism and xenophobia. We condemn the discrimination, acts of violence, and incidents of hate speech that have occurred. We condemn the rhetoric and scapegoating tactics surrounding coronavirus that blames individuals of Asian descent for the pandemic. We are committed to providing a safe and supportive space for all members of the Dance for All Bodies community.

Asian Americans have long-standing roots in American history; helping to build the country in the face of persistent discrimination. However, the Asian American Pacific Islander community has experienced discrimination and racism throughout our nation’s history including but not limited to the Japanese internment camps, the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the events that led to the Filipino Farmworker Movement.

We cannot be silent when violence and hatred are experienced by individuals within our community. We must amplify the voices of our Asian and Asian American Pacific Islander community.

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander heritage month, we are recognizing and amplifying the voices of the Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander disabled dance community by highlighting the work of four dancers and dance companies: Cheng Tzu-chiang, Kenta Kambara, Tai Lahua of the China Disabled People’s Performing Arts Troupe, and Marisa Hamamoto of Infinite Flow.

Cheng Tzu-chiang

Image Description: Cheng Tzu-chiang, a tan skinned man with light brown hair, is photographed wearing a traditional dress of the aboriginal Amis tribe with red, yellow and green colors. He is seated in a wheelchair and his body is angled towards the left side. There is a shadow of his body that falls towards the right side as a light is shined on him towards the left.

Cheng Tzu-chiang is a dancer from Taiwan who utilizes a wheelchair. A member of the aboriginal Amis tribe, he uses his arms to move in sync with his dance partners, and performs handstands with his body and his wheelchair in the air. While dancing, his wheelchair becomes an instrument of insurmountable beauty, grace, and strength.

Tzu-chiang contracted polio at the age of 2, causing his legs to atrophy. Tzu-chiang was ostracized as a child due to his observed differences. While attending a school for students with special needs, Tzu-chiang physically beat a student with an intellectual disability. When called into the administration office, a teacher asked him why he engaged in violent outbursts and if he felt their love and tolerance. “Her words were a turning point in my life, which made me determined to change myself,” he reflected.

Tzu-chiang started to participate in wheelchair dance. Through dancing, Tzu-chiang found his confidence and self-esteem and a way to inspire others. Tzu-chiang founded a team with 12 individuals with disabilities from Taiwan in 2012.

Kenta Kambara

Image Description: Kenta Kambara, a tan skinned man with dark brown hair, is photographed standing upside down on his wheelchair with his upper body high up, as he uses his arms to hold himself up. He wears a white tank top with white pants. The photo is captured from the right lower corner, with a soft, smoky light hitting from the top. As he tilts his face to the left side, he looks apprehensive towards the upper left corner.

Kenta Kambara, a dancer from Japan, was born with spina bifida, a disorder that paralyzed the lower portion of his body. Kambara was in the third grade when his mother told him that he would never walk. “It was a huge shock and I remember crying. But that was the trigger to think about how to confront my disability and find different ways to achieve my goals,” he expressed.

Kambara is self-taught and began dancing 6 years ago. His signature moves are performing handstands on his wheelchair and spins on a collapsed wheelchair. Kambara has often felt embarrassed about his paralysis and has tended to hide this image of himself; yet through dance Kambara has found a means to portray his disability in a way that moves others.

Linked is a video of Kenta Kambara’s dancing.

Tai Lahua, President of the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe

Image Description: Tai Lahua, a fair skinned Chinese woman, is portrayed wearing a yellow traditional Chinese clothing. She wears a crown with yellow and red gems on it as well as a yellow crop top blouse with shiny embellishments and drops of small yellow diamonds over her mid-torso. She looks straight at the camera with a focused look on her face. She has her right arm bent at ninety degrees, her hand held close to her heart, with her palm facing the left and her fingers facing up. Her left arm is also slightly bent and points down in front of her body.

Tai Lahua is the President of the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe. Born in November 1976 in Yichang city, Hubei province, Tai began to lose her hearing at the age of two after an overdose of streptomycin to treat a high fever.

Her deafness was not realized until the age of 5. Realizing that she was different from her peers, Lahua became depressed and withdrawn. At the age of 7, Lahua began attending a school for the deaf. During music class, she experienced the vibrational sensation of music. Thrusting her body on the floor to experience the vibrations and rhythm of the sound, Lahua became intrigued by the elation feelings of dance. Lahua describes this experience, “I found a music made visible and colourful and a beautiful means to express my inner world.”

At the age of 15, she was selected by the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe as a dancer and began to receive professional dance training. The troupe is composed of 153 members who have intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, are blind/low vision, or are deaf/hard of hearing. They have performed in more than 100 countries and regions around the world and have given more than 2,000 performances. Their dances include Thousand-Handed Goddess of Mercy, The Spirit of the Peacock, and My Dream. Lahua has led the deaf and hard of hearing dancers of the troupe to performances at the closing ceremonies of the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens and the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Lahua is a disability rights activist putting forward numerous proposals for the disability community, including by not limited to providing special education and nursing subsidies for children with disabilities. As there is still a stigma associated with disability in China, Lahua states, “I hope people watch our performance with appreciation of beauty instead of sympathy.”

Linked is a video of the performance of the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe.

Marisa Hamamoto, Founder of Infinite Flow

Image Description: Marisa is photographed stretching and extending her body towards the right side as she holds hands with another dancer seated in a wheelchair, who extends his back body as he leans backward in his wheelchair and extends his left arm towards the back. The dancers are captured in a dance studio-like space, with white curtains in the background and a shiny dark brown floor. Marisa is wearing a pink tank top with a black skirt and her dance partner wears a black long sleeve shirt with black pants.

Marisa Hamamoto is the founder of the inclusive dance company Infinite Flow. In 2006, Haramoto experienced a stroke that caused her to become paralyzed from the neck down for the duration of two months.

As a longstanding dancer, Hamamoto researched dance and disability and discovered that this field is underdeveloped. She connected with Adelfo Cerame, Jr., a wheelchair bodybuilder and formed a dance relationship. While dancing with Cerame, Hamamoto came to the realization that she needed to share this with a wider audience.

In 2015, Hamamoto founded Infinite Flow. The Los-Angeles based dance company is inclusive in nature, employing both individuals with and without disabilities. When approaching choreography, the elements of dance are broken down and transposed for different bodies. Through this approach, dance is used as a way to dismantle stereotypes in relation to disabilities and expose audiences to inclusive practices.

Linked is a video of “Gravity” performed by Maria Hamamoto and Piotr Iwanicki of Infinite Flow.


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