2008-07-09 03:46:54 GMT 2008-07-09 11:46:54 (Beijing Time) Xinhua English
BEIJING, July 9 -- Ma Li first learned about Li Yue from a newspaper. She was surprised to find Li's story was so much like her own: they both considered dancing to be the most important thing in life but had lost limbs.
Ma lost her right arm in a car accident, while Li had to have her left leg amputated after the May 12 Sichuan earthquake.
So Ma knew exactly what the 11-year-old girl was going through, and the ballerina traveled to Xi'an Tangdu Hospital, where the quake survivor was undergoing treatment.
The 31-year-old arrived at Li's ward on May 25, clad in a black short-sleeve shirt so the young girl would immediately connect with the stranger on a surprise visit.
At that time, the distraught girl was refusing to cooperate with doctors. So Ma shared with the girl her own story - how she gathered the courage to take to the stage after her accident and how she won second place at China's Central TV Station's 2007 National Dancing Competition (NDC).
She also gave Li some of her stage photos and dancing DVDs, and was overjoyed to see a new glimmer of hope shine in the girl's eyes.
After she returned to Beijing, Ma called Li every day. A week after visiting the girl, Ma received a surprise SMS; it was a photo of Li standing in front of her wheelchair without any support. Clad in a red skirt, the young girl appeared happy. Below was the message: "Dear Sister, I can stand up!"
Ma was moved, and the woman who had never shed a public tear began sobbing as she rode in a coach from a benefit performance for quake-affected regions in Hong Kong.
"I felt happy for her," she recalls through tears.
"It doesn't matter if she is able to dance in the future; the most important thing for her is to have a good attitude toward life.
"Being disabled is not terrible, because we can still lead wonderful lives, as long as we don't give up ourselves."
Beautiful and petite, the ballerina with a tiny waist has a knockout figure. She often wears a white blouse, one of the sleeves of which is filled with her prosthetic right arm - a homemade appendage she fashioned from towels and sponges and stuffs in her pocket.
"All of my clothes must have pockets, and I wear long-sleeved shirts throughout the summer, no matter how hot the weather is," she says.
"When I dance onstage, I can use movements to compensate for my physical disability, but in everyday life, I want to appear perfectly normal."
Ma was a surprise to her family, as her mother gave birth to her at age 47. She grew up as a tomboy, starting kung fu studies at age 6 before shifting to calligraphy and painting. At age 12, she fell in love with dancing and later enrolled in dance studies at an art institute in Zhumadian, Henan province.
Former ballerina Li Qian, who had been diagnosed with leukemia, took note of the Ma's talent and began tutoring her ballet in her spare time.
Ma recalls one chilly winter night when they went for tutorials in a shabby gymnasium and she couldn't pull off the dance moves for lack of enthusiasm. She was pleasantly surprised Li didn't blame her but instead removed her jacket and began demonstrating the movements.
After finishing the routine, an exhausted Li ordered Ma to repeat it.
"I felt so ashamed, because she was a cancer patient, but she was scrupulous enough to do every movement," Ma recalls.
"She taught me a very important life lesson that day: When you're performing, forget about everything except for being a dancer."
In 1995, Ma entered the Qingdao Song and Dance Troupe. A year later, when the then-19-year-old returned to Henan for holiday, misfortune befell her.
After the accident, she had a lot of trouble coping with the loss of her arm. She sobbed often and refused treatment until she was one day told she might be able to receive an arm transplant and be able to dance again.
"Now, I know that what the doctor said is impossible. But I would rather have believed it at that time, because it rekindled my hope and carried me through the darkest times," she says.
Upon being discharged from the hospital, Ma faced the challenge of relearning to do everything using only her left hand. She became frustrated and was often ill tempered.
Her mother became concerned when Ma one day locked herself in her bedroom and ignored her calls for breakfast. When the 70-year-old hobbled up the stairs and knocked on Ma's door, there was no response. So she stood on a chair to peer through Ma's window.
Upon seeing the warmth of her mother's face, Ma's rage withered and a sense of relief blossomed in her mother.
Ma jumped from the bed, rushed to open the door and held her mother tightly.
"I eventually realized I didn't live only for myself. I should also live for those who care about me," she says, holding back tears.
It took her nearly half a year to get used functioning using only her left hand. She developed a determination to do things for herself rather than rely on her parents. So she took various jobs, trying everything from selling clothes and fruit to opening her own bookshop, which she named Facing Sunshine.
She won local fame in 2000, when a newspaper published her story.
A year later, she was invited to dance in the 5th National Theatrical Festival for the Disabled - an offer she had mixed feelings about. She desperately wanted to return to the stage but was scared of displaying her disability in public.
To help her overcome her anxiety, the festival's organizer invited her to visit a rehearsal in which many disabled people were preparing for the show.
"It was sad watching them, but I felt they weren't just singing or dancing but rather were expressing their feelings from deep in their hearts," Ma recalls. "And I thought: If they can do it, I can do it."
After a six-year hiatus, she reentered the world of ballet with a one-month intensive training course. However, she found it difficult at first to maintain balance with only one arm. She practiced in front of a mirror day and night, injuring herself many times.
One day, when an editor surnamed Wang was watching her rehearse, she fell on the ground, revealing a patchwork of bruises on her shoulder. The man cried out, and she told him: "Dancing is my lost dream, and I'll pay any price to reclaim it."
The dance The Daughter of the Yellow River, in which Ma performed as a lead dancer, took first prize at the festival.
Since then, Ma has never looked back. She relocated to Beijing six years ago and founded her own cultural company in 2006.
She says her drive to compete with dancers who weren't disabled in the NDC was driven by a need for respect.
"It's not our fault we're disabled," she says. "We live in the same world as everyone else and have the same ability to express our feelings and embrace the beauty of life."
Today, there's great demand for her performances, and she tours the country giving shows, about half of which are for public welfare causes.
And recently, she began recording her first album and is also considering shooting a film based on her life story.
"I just want to prove that I can do everything," she says.
(Source: China Daily)