“There isn’t anything I can’t do, I just find a different way of doing it, which is why I never feel truly limited or disabled,” said Mia Schaikewitz, a dancer, reality TV show star and motivational speaker, during an interview in Santa Monica.
Schaikewitz, with her gentle, affable demeanor and dreamy blue-eyed charm, is a private person, yet her life’s work is about showing up in the public arena. It’s all part of the wonderful complexity of this endearing and powerful woman, who is both artistic and athletic, challenging herself creatively and physically by skiing, swimming, kayaking, and as a member of the professional dance company Infinite Flow.
Schaikewitz has long been drawn to sports, and she was a promising athlete on her high school swim team. However, in 1993 at the age of 15, Schaikewitz experienced a rupture in her spinal cord—an Arteriovenous Malformation, or AVM—leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
After some inner recalibration to her new reality, the indomitably-spirited Schaikewitz moved forward. She attended the University of Florida where she became the first woman in a wheelchair at the school to rush and pledge a sorority, and she graduated with top honors in media production.
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Ohh yea I’m backkkk IG!! There’s no place like home…and not home! I’ve got some good stories from afar and one now on my blog about this contraption on my wheelchair called the Free Wheel. Thanks to it I was able to traverse obstacles and keep up with my buds in the holy land and beyond. Also great to see #ReadingRainbow show is back too filming at #masada with @levarburton !! #neveradullmoment #flashbackfriday #imback #freewheel #wheelchairtravel #livingspinal #sincerelymia #pushgirls #etgarim #honeymoonisrael #lifeontheroad
On instinct, with only the feeling of “this is where I’m supposed to be,” Schaikewitz moved to Los Angeles after graduation and worked in the recording industry as a graphic designer.
In 2012, her feeling proved spot-on, when she struck up a friendship with Angela Rockwood, an actress, model, producer, and quadriplegic, who would lead Schaikewitz, to become one of the costars on the Sundance Channel’s hit TV show “Push Girls.”
The show’s premise was to follow four vibrant and ambitious wheelchair bound female friends, navigating careers, family, and relationships, living ordinary and yet extraordinary lives. The heartfelt show inspired audiences internationally and won the Critic’s Choice Award for “Best Reality Series.”
“Being a part of ‘Push Girls’ gave me hope that wheelchair users can and will be more represented in the entertainment world, which helps to break negative stereotypes. I learned from the success of the show, people in society are ready to open up their minds about what they have preconceived notions about.
“They relate to the show because it’s not about the wheelchairs, it’s about the people who happen to use them. Audiences are able relate to us as human beings because the only difference we have is that we use wheels to move instead of feet.”
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With each Emmy year we celebrate more diversity and acceptance in TV-influencing the media as a whole. Let’s continue the growth in representation & inclusion to promote acceptance and tolerance for all. #PushGirls @ 66th Emmy Awards Dynamic & Diverse Celebration #SAG-AFTRA #diversityinthemedia #makingadifference
In addition to her dynamic career pursuits, Schaikewitz is dedicated to raising AVM awareness and is an advocate for diversity inclusion in the workforce and media.
“Most people think having a disability means being limited in what you are able to do. I believe disability really means ‘different ability.’ When you have a desire to do something, you can find a way, even if means doing it differently from what the standard way of doing it is,” says Schaikewitz, offering wisdom we can all appreciate.
“Disability is really just a colloquial term we have used to describe people who have different ways of doing things, it’s not that they are incapable of doing what they love,” and for Schaikewitz, that includes dance.
Schaikewitz performs with the revolutionary dance company, Infinite Flow, since meeting its founder, Marisa Hamamoto, a professional ballroom dancer and stroke survivor, at the Media Access Awards in 2014.
The professional dance troupe, comprised of talented differently-abled dancers and dance influencers, are breaking stereotypes and redefining dance in order to inspire inclusivity, believing, as stated on the their website, “that diversity and inclusion yields creativity and drives innovation.”
“Inclusivity is making sure nobody is treated like an outsider in any situation. When our society is practicing inclusion, we are accepting everyone as a human being despite what makes us look different on the outside,” Schaikewitz said, explaining her passion for inclusion.
“It is important to me to feel represented in humanity. I feel that a lot of the pain, anxiety, and depression that people experience comes from feeling lonely, misunderstood, or excluded from society. I think being inclusive can heal the word, making it a happier and safer place for everyone.”
According to Infinite Flow’s website, Hamamoto has organized over 200 inclusive dance classes and has brought professional dancers with and without disabilities to perform at over 100 events. A performance may include a wheelchair ballroom dance duo, a differently-abled hip hop dance crew, or an ASL interpretive dance work with deaf and hearing performers, aligning with the goals of each event or film. Their goal is to leave audiences and viewers inspired to expand their thinking and push their own boundaries.
“I believe the audiences come away with the realization that no matter what challenge you have, you can overcome it and find a way to do what you love,” says Schaikewitz, “As a dancer in Infinite Flow, I have the freedom to express myself and to be innovative in dance, which is a constant reminder that there are only limitations in the mind.”
What’s next for Schaikewitz? “My goals revolve around breaking down barriers and fears around disability. As I continue to take many actions around this, I also hope for more chances to make an impact via the mass media to reach even more audiences.”
Videos of Mia Schaikewitz and Infinite Flow have been viewed by millions of people on YouTube and other social media sites.
Infinite Flow will perform on June 23 at the Apple Store in Santa Monica on 3rd Street Promenade from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. and will include a Kids Tech Accessibility Workshop from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. For more information contact Marisa@InfiniteFlowDance.org.