A spirit not to be denied

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Ma, Li was a beautiful promising professional ballerina when she lost her right arm in a car accident in 1996. She was only 19. Her handsome boy friend walked away from her. She tried to kill herself only to be saved by her parents. Her love for her parents gave her the strength to live. She learned how to live her life independently. She learned how to write Chinese beautifully and how to do many things including combing her hair, which she had to cut short from the waist-length to shoulder-length. She learned to cook and to wash clothes … In a few months she opened her small bookstore.

Someone asked her to coach a Children’s dancing group. From that point on, she realized she could not forget dancing. She still loved to dance. She wanted to dance again. So she started to do some of her old routines. But by her losing an arm, she also lost her balance. It took a while before she could even making simple turns. Years later in 2001, she was invited to compete at the 5th national special performing art competition for handicaps and won the gold medal. That success gave her the hope to return to her beloved stage.

In 2002, a handsome 20-year-old young man (Li, Tao) madly fell in love with her. She ran away from him for fear of being hurt again. After she disappeared in Beijing, Tao searched her up and down despite his parents’ strong objection and ridicule. He finally found her dancing in a bar. They have never been separated since.

They were very broke when SARS was spreading because all theaters were closed. In 2004, he got a license to be her legitimate agent and was trying to help her develop a unique performance. In a cold snowy night, when the two huddled in an underpass to wait for the sunrise in order to catch a bus after a long day at a movie shooting site working as extras, she suddenly had the urge to dance in the snow with him. She had used her dance to tell him her story so many times before and this time, after their “dance” ended, he suddenly realized that THIS should be her unique performance.

In September 2005, she ran into a 21-year-old young man (Zhai, Xiaowei). He was being trained to be a cyclist for the national special Olympics. He had never danced before. He climbed on a tractor when he was 4 years old and fell off it and lost his left leg. His dad asked him, “The doctor will have to amputate your leg. Are you afraid?” He couldn’t comprehend what would be so different so he said no. His dad said, “You are going to face many challenges and difficulties in life, are you afraid?” He asked, “What are ‘challenges and difficulties?’ Do they taste good?” His dad laughed with tears, “Yes, they’re like your favorite candies. You just need to eat them one piece at a time!” (Then his dad ran out of the room in tears.)

So he’s always very optimistic and athletic with a great sense of humor. He had tried high-jump, long-jump, diving, swimming, and just settled on cycling. His coach believed that he would be able to get 2-3 gold medals in the national special Olympics games. He initially didn’t understand how he could “dance,” so Li invited him to see her performing “Hand in Hand” with another male actor. He felt that he saw a perfect soul dancing on the stage and agreed to give it a try.

Li & Tao treated him like their younger brother and they stayed under the same roof during the more than 1 year of intensive training and practice. One would not be able to imagine the kind of challenges and difficulties they faced. He had NO dancing background and she is a perfectionist. The two broke up a few times because he had no concept of using muscle, control his body, and a few other basic things about dancing. When she became frustrated and lost patience with him, he would walk out. Eventually they came back together and started training. They hired a choreographer to design routines for them. She would fly high (held by him) with both arms (a sleeve for an arm) flying in the air. He could bend horizontally supported by one leg and she leaning on him, etc.

Much determination has gone into the making of this performance. Just for that one “drop” move at 3:41 of the clip, he landed her on the hard floor more than 1000 times!!! To get the move right, they started at 8 a.m. and got the first successful move shortly after 8 pm! All they did was to train and to practice from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. day-in and day-out until the three of them ran out of money in early 2007 …

The rest is history. In April they were one of the finalists among 7000 competitors in the 4th CCTV national dance competition. It is the first time a handicapped couple ever entered the competition. They won the Silver medal with the 99.17 high score and not to mention the highest audience popular votes. They became an instant national hit.

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