One Arm, One Leg, Two Big Hearts

Dancers Ma Li, she with one arm, and Zhai Xiaowei, he with one leg, complement each other beautifully in a moving ballet performance. A perfect example of making the most of what you’ve got to work with.


Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei

According to the accompanying story on YouTube, Ma Li was a promising professional ballerina when she lost her right arm in a car accident in 1996 at the age of nineteen. After her boyfriend left her, she tried to kill herself, only to be saved by her parents. She learned to live with her disability and soon opened a small bookstore.

Five years later in 2001, she was invited to compete at the fifth national special performing art competition for handicapped performers and won the gold medal. In September 2005, she met twenty-one-year-old Xiaowei, who was being trained to be a cyclist for the national Special Olympics. He had never danced before.

Xiaowei had climbed on a tractor when he was four years old, 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?” With tears in his eyes, his dad laughed and said, “Yes, they’re like your favorite candies. You just need to eat them one piece at a time!”

Xiaowei 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. Remember, he had no dancing background . . . and she is a perfectionist. Just for the one “drop” move at 3:41 of the clip, he landed her on the hard floor more than one thousand times! To get the move right, they started at 8 AM and finally nailed it shortly after 8 PM!

In April 2007, they were one of the finalists among 7,000 competitors in China’s 4th CCTV national dance competition. They were the first handicapped couple to ever enter the competition. They won the silver medal with a 99.17 score and the audience popular vote. And Li and Xiaowei became an instant national hit.

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14 Responses to “One Arm, One Leg, Two Big Hearts”

  1. Kim Wencl Says:

    Wow! I’m speechless – that was beautiful.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:


  3. fnis Says:

    Amazing Phil. It’s wonderful how the human spirit can overcome adversity. They are two fantastic and inspiring performances.

  4. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad you enjoyed them, fnis!

  5. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Glad you were inspired, Valerie!

  6. valerie moss Says:


  7. jopet Says:

    wow! so beautiful and moving! thank you so much for sharing this Phil. i am deeply touched and inspired.

  8. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You are most welcome, Jopet! I enjoy building a repository of inspiring stories for people to visit whenever they need a boost.

  9. luisada Says:

    c’st merveilleux – bravo bravo

  10. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you, luisada! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  11. Erin Says:

    When Mom first sent this to me, I got choked up. It was so moving to see people dance so beautifully and dispel the “handicapped” persona and show that they are just differently abled. I didn’t even realize the ballerina only had one arm until almost the end!

  12. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m glad you liked it, Er. I knew you would since you appreciate beauty and grace and heartfelt performances!

  13. LUCILA em Los Angeles Says:

    Higher than our thoughts can reach are God’s ideals for us! Our extremities are His possibilities. Many times our plans fail that His plans may succeed.

    He Loves us and carries us through our imperfections. And he can turn our weakest moments into strong, powerful blessings. When we feel weak, and submit to God we are made strong!! He gives us the strength to overcome! He can make beauty out of despair, Our extremities are God’s opportunities.

  14. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Amen, LUCILA!

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