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A Special Ballerina Finds Her Way

Feeling that her right ballet slipper had slipped away, she quickly knelt and felt about the stage floor. After a long moment her hand felt silk and she slipped it back to her petite foot. Then the music faded up and full of grace she began to move to the melody, a sweetly blissful smile radiating from her lovely face. When she came to a precise motionless pose at the conclusion of her piece, even before the music fully faded out, thunderous applause erupted, and a dream was realized by this young artist who is nearly blind.


She is 13-year-old Zhao Yunhui, from Tianjin Municipality, and as the lead performer she took the first-place gold award at the Third Lotus Charm National Children's Dancing Contest, held in Beijing from October 3 to 6, 2005.


Of 152 entries, Yunhui's The Dream of a Blind Girl, representing the Tianjin Federation of Disabled Persons, was the only dance performed by a disabled person. Thus her performance drew particular interest and special acclaim.


In a pure-white dance costume, Zhao Yunhui, stepped onto the stage assisted by two of her fellow dancers. Then, now alone, to the accompaniment of the music she pointed her toes and moved like a graceful white swan. Despite her near total blindness, her years of painstaking practice enabled her to execute each move flawlessly while maintaining precise positioning upon the stage.



Zhao Yunhui, a sightless dancer.


"Yunhui is China's first blind ballerina," said Lu Hong, Yunhui's instructor, "It was not easy for her to achieve this level." According to Lu, who serves as head of the Tianjin Xiaochouwa Ballet Art Troupe, because she can not see the instructor's demonstration, Yunhui usually practices each movement more than 100 times, while her fellow dancers may only require a few practice runs to pick up a move. And more complex movements may require nearly 1,000 run-throughs.


Thanks to her dedication and extraordinary endurance, Yunhui has succeeded. In August 2005, at the National Art Performance of the Disabled, she obtained her first-ever top prize. Two months later, The Dream of a Blind Girl won her a second first-place honor.


A Hardship


Yunhui's mother, Wu Yaling, and her father, Zhao Chongnian, both workers at the Tianjin No.2 Tools Factory, are uneasy and sorrowful when speaking of their daughter's loss of sight. On a night in 1993, Wu was alarmed to discover that her three-year-old daughter was running a high fever. Herself then with seriously impaired vision, the mother could not make out the reading on the thermometer, and she did not realize that Yunhui's temperature was 42 degrees Celsius. That fever damaged Yunhui eyes and one year later the young girl was diagnosed with optic-nerve atrophy.


Wu Yaling was shocked and saddened by her daughter's affliction. She herself a victim of optic-nerve atrophy, thinking about what awaited her daughter, Wu cried daily, while her own sight declined until she was completely blind.


In addition to their daughter, the couple also supports Yunhui's disease-afflicted grandmother, and the family endures financial burdens. "While the financial difficulties could be overcome," Wu recalled, "Mental pressure was an endless torture." Because they missed the optimal window for possible treatment, the family had no choice but to rely on medicine to maintain the remaining poor sight of Yunhui. Fearing that complete blindness would eventually set in, they realized that Yunhui should learn some skill so as to live on her own labor as an adult.



Lu Hong (rear), head of the Tianjin Xiaochouwa Art Troupe, instructs Zhao Yunhui.


A Dream


When she was only six years old, Yunhui showed great interest in dancing. Whenever a performance was on TV, she would sit so close that her nose almost touched the screen. Wishing their daughter happiness, the parents wondered-when she needed the help of others to even walk-how could she learn to dance? And, with most of the family's income going to medical care, they could not afford the relatively expensive training in dance.


"A very time she pleaded with me, I could not bear to kill her enthusiasm," said Wu. So, upon hearing on the radio of the Tianjing Xiaochouwa Ballet Art Troupe, the parents decided to take their daughter to visit. The parents and daughter walked for three hours from their home to the art troupe's practice site. Once there, with tears in her sightless eyes, the mother expressed her daughter's heartfelt desire to Lu Hong, head of the art troupe, and he was touched.


"Come to our troupe and I will charge no fee," Lu said. "But I have never taught a blind child. I am not sure whether I can succeed." Hearing Lu's words, Yunhui was thrilled.


Ballet is not an easy art to master, even for the most gifted of sighted children. But over the past seven years, rain or shine, Yunhui threw herself into her training. And her father would take her to that training each day-on his bicycle. Most of her after-school time was spent at practice, and almost every piece of the family's furniture served as a drill apparatus. She danced wherever she went, whether on the street or on open ground. For physical conditioning she often slept with both legs bound in a stretched position. This was harsh, and the pain sometimes left her sleepless. But to pursue her dream of ballet, she adhered with no complaints.


Bicycling home from the dance troupe on January 14, 2001, Yunhui and her father were knocked to the ground by a passing car. Both were injured, but not severely. However, the parents then considered having their daughter forego dancing for her own safety.



Practicing at home, with mom's help.


"Please, mom and dad," Yunhui begged. "Please allow me to dance, and I will be careful." Realizing their daughter's determination, the parents consented.


A Success


It all paid off. After approval by the Ballet Grading Committee of the Beijing Dance Academy, in 2003 Yunhui passed the examination of National Dancing Grade 4, thus attracting the attention of the Art Troupe of the Tianjin Federation of Disabled Persons. In June 2005, the art troupe specially invited Lu Hong to create a dance entitled The Dream of a Blind Girl. With this successful transition from a little-known student of dance to becoming lead performer, Yunhui realized her dream.


"And in October 2005, Yunhui passed the examination of National Dancing Grade 5." Says Lu Hong, "Yunhui is no doubt the most diligent dancer in the troupe. Her great achievements are hard-earned."


(China Pictorial April 20, 2006)

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