Dancing to Freedom: The True Story of Mao's Last Dancer

Overview

In a poor village in northern China, a small boy named Li Cunxin was given the chance of a lifetime. Selected by Chairman Mao’s officials from among millions of children to become a dancer, Li’s new life began as he left his family behind.

At the Beijing Dance Academy, days were long and difficult. Li’s hard work was rewarded when he was chosen yet again, this time to travel to America.

From there his career took flight, and he danced in cities...

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Overview

In a poor village in northern China, a small boy named Li Cunxin was given the chance of a lifetime. Selected by Chairman Mao’s officials from among millions of children to become a dancer, Li’s new life began as he left his family behind.

At the Beijing Dance Academy, days were long and difficult. Li’s hard work was rewarded when he was chosen yet again, this time to travel to America.

From there his career took flight, and he danced in cities around the world—never forgetting his family, who urged him to follow his dreams.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Li Cunxin tells his own inspiring life story, beginning with his youth in a small Chinese village, always hungry but hoping for a better life. When, at age eleven, he is one of the few chosen to be trained as a dancer, he must leave home for the Dance Academy in the big city of Beijing. He is lonely, but is helped by his friend and teacher through the difficult training. One day, a visiting ballet master invites him to study in America. By the time he is twenty-one, he is traveling all over as a star. He still misses his parents, however, and is thrilled when they come to see him dance. He has fulfilled his dream of long ago. The visual story is told mostly in double-page scenes, using traditional Chinese ink and watercolors for the time in China and oil paints on canvas for later life abroad. Spuvilas's sensitivity to the cultural differences contributes effectively to the emotional content, contrasting the more spiritual aspirations of the young dancer with the substantive career of the mature performer. Spudvilas visited the locations she has illustrated; her images of both the characters and the settings are convincing. A note adds information on the political background of the story. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal

Gr 3-5- A poignant memoir of a boy caught in the difficulties of life in Maoist China, this is the author's own story of how he was given a chance to break the bonds of his bleak life and become an international star. First told for adults in the bestseller Mao's Last Dancer (Berkley, 2005) and now available in a Young Readers' Edition of the same name (Walker, 2008), this picture-book version is an inspiring tale of the willingness to make the most of one's opportunities, even when it entails tremendous personal sacrifice. Li and his family lived the life that most ordinary Chinese endured during Mao's reign: substandard housing with little to eat and less to hope for. When his teacher recommended him for the Beijing Dance Academy, he got his chance to break free, but he had to train far away from his home and family. Li's intense training paid off, as he was offered the chance to dance with the Houston Ballet, and his greatest dream was realized when his parents were finally able to come to the U.S. to see him perform. This fascinating, heartfelt story is perfectly matched by Spudvilas's masterful paintings. The somber grays and blues of the first part of the story underline the bleakness of Li's life, giving way to bursts of color when he defects to America. The figures are beautifully drawn, with infinite care given to details of expressions and surroundings, resulting in a realistic portrayal of the people and places.-Nancy Menaldi-Scanlan, LaSalle Academy, Providence, RI

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802797780
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 7/22/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 40
  • Age range: 5 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 11.40 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Li Cunxin was born in 1961 in northeast China. The sixth of seven sons from a poor rural family, his life changed forever when he was chosen to study ballet at the Beijing Dance Academy. Following a scholarship to train in America, and a dramatic defection, he became principal dancer for the Houston Ballet. Later, Li married fellow star dancer Mary McKendry and moved to Australia where he was a principal dancer for the Australian Ballet. Li now lives in Melbourne with Mary and their three children, Sophie, Tom, and Bridie. His life story was originally published as Mao’s Last Dancer, which became an international bestseller.

Anne Spudvilas is one of Australia’s foremost picture book illustrators and painters. In 2006, Anne traveled with Li to China to visit Li’s village, his family, his friend The Bandit, and the Beijing Dance Academy. She then studied traditional Chinese brush-painting to bring authenticity to her illustrations.

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