- Title: CHINA: ATHLETICS: Disabled chinese dance their way into Paralympics stage
- Date: 21st February 2008
- Summary: TAI TUTORING DANCERS (SOUNDBITE) (Sign Language with Mandarin translation) WEI YUJIE, 16-YEAR-OLD, DANCER, SAYING "The biggest challenge for us is that we can't hear the music. We need to practice a lot and learn how to coordinate. We have to use our hands and feel the music's beats to learn."
- Embargoed: 7th March 2008 12:00
- Location: China
- Country: China
- Topics: Lifestyle,Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA6IQ58Q1BMA5Q4EK51PPHIYHJA
- Story Text: It takes perfect coordination to pull off a dance when you can't hear the music. For the 21 hearing impaired dancers of the China Special Art Troupe, it is a challenge which is met with seeming ease. The lead dancer, Wei Yujie, is only 16 years old and is from southern China's Jiangxi Province.
Wei is one of only a few dozen people selected out of thousands of hopefuls to train with the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe, a collective of some 88 dancers, musicians and artists who have made their triumph over adversity into an acclaimed stage show.
Its contingent of deaf dancers performed their signature "Thousand-hand Guanyin" dance -- a visually stunning movement where the performers' arms sway and flick behind a lead dancer -- in front an audience of millions at the closing ceremony of the Athens Paralympics Games.
Tai Lihua, the lead dancer of the "Thousand-hand Guanyin", is the director of the troupe. In a silent world, the dancers need to rely on their conductors who can hear music to give them gestures.
Instead of listening to music, the dancers turn up the volume of the stereo speakers and feel the vibration coming trough. The repetitive process enable them to memorise the beats by heart.
But sometimes the dancers breathe on the back of their fellow troupe members' necks to let them know when to flick an arm or twirl a hand in time to the rhythm of the music.
Wei Yujie is training to be the lead dancer of the "Thousand-hand Guanyin" dance.
"The biggest challenge for us is that we can't hear the music. We need to practice a lot and learn how to coordinate. We have to use our hands and feel the music's beats to learn," Wei said.
In between the dancers prances Luo Xiangjun, a 25-year-old from China's southern Guangxi region. Luo's dexterity is impressive, but hardly surprising in China, where gravity-defying acrobatics have been an art form for centuries.
Luo Xiangjun, however, has no arms. He lost them after he touched a high-voltage cable when playing as a seven-year old.
Luo's aim is to be able to perform for the Paralympics in Beijing.
"No matter whether it's China or anywhere else in the world, disabled people are a weak group. We want to perform on the Paralympics stage to demonstrate to the world that we disabled can live a good life too,"
Since forming in 1987, the troupe has performed in more than 40 countries and has raised about five million yuan ($700,000 U.S. dollars) for disabled people's charities, according to organisers.
The training is hard, but the dancers all feel fortunate and grateful to act as ambassadors for Chinese culture, in a country where few disabled people have jobs or even access to aid like prosthetic limbs.
With little difficulty booking gigs for both commercial and charity events, the group also has no problem finding recruits among China's 90 million people with disabilities, said Tai, who lost her hearing at the age of two after receiving a tainted injection for a fever.
Beijing organisers hope the Paralympics will improve conditions and raise awareness for the country's disabled people, but even in China's sprawling capital, only 7 percent of the city's nearly one million disabled residents have gainful employment, the China Disabled Persons Federation said last year.
Outside of big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, millions more face discrimination and poverty across China's vast countryside, where education levels are lower and resources scarce.
But Tai says she is ready for the challenges which lie ahead as she prepares to take her dancers to the United States for a tour to promote "My Dream", a home-grown film documenting the troupe's rise to the world stage.
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