Lourdes Mack loves to dance, act, ski, play basketball and surf. And she’s done it all with her trademark enthusiasm and her bright pink wheelchair. Mack was born with spina bifida, a medical condition that damages the spinal cord and nerves. But Mack doesn’t want to talk about that – or her wheelchair. She’d much rather talk about playing a nun in Santa Monica High School’s recent production of “The Sound of Music.”
“It was so much fun,” says the ninth-grader, the only actor in the production who uses a wheelchair. “I loved it and everybody was friendly, especially the seniors. They didn’t look at the chair. They just looked at me.”
Mack feels equally at home at Infinite Flow, a wheelchair dance company she has danced with for almost two years. The Sherman Oaks-based nonprofit launched in 2015 as the first professional wheelchair ballroom dance company. It also offers inclusive classes for children with and without disabilities. Through Infinite Flow, Mack met 12-year-old Aline Arslanian, who shares her passion for dance and acting and has become a close friend. The two love to joke around, talk about boys, laugh and just have fun together.
When Arslanian, a “standing dancer,” first heard about Infinite Flow, she was curious and wanted to give it a try. She immediately loved the studio and the diversity of the dancers. “Just because someone is in a wheelchair doesn’t mean you have to be afraid to say hello,” Arslanian says. “I just went up to Lourdes and introduced myself and look at us now.”
It’s that camaraderie that Lourdes’ mom, Nicte Mack, loves most about programs that bring together children and adults with different abilities. Mack’s older daughter, 19-year-old Diana, has Cohen syndrome, an inherited condition that causes developmental, intellectual and physical disability. “What I want for my kids, and for all kids who have challenges, is for them to be treated the same as everyone else and receive the same respect,” Mack says. “We don’t ask for anything more, but we don’t want anything less.”
For Arslanian and her family, the Infinite Flow experience has been transformative. “Through Infinite Flow and the friendship between Lourdes and Aline, we have all grown and learned so much,” says Arslanian’s mom, Jan Yoss. “The inclusion of everyone and meeting people who are following their passion and excelling at it despite their challenges are valuable lessons.”