Li was born into utter poverty in Mao’s communist China and at the age of 11 he was selected to train in Madame Mao’s Beijing Dance Academy. The 7 years of harsh training regime at the Beijing Dance Academy taught him discipline, resilience, determination and perseverance. Li’s astounding drive and relentless hard work made him one of the best dancers China has produced. When he was 18, Li was awarded one of the first cultural scholarships to go to America, and subsequently been offered a soloist contract with the Houston Ballet. Two years later, Li defected to the West where would soon be acknowledged as one of the best dancers in the world. In 1995, Li and his family moved to Australia where Li danced his last three and half years as a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet. Li made a successful career transition from ballet to finance in 1999. He is a senior manager at one of the largest stockbroking firms in Australia.
Li Cunxin, author of Mao's last Dancer, pays tribute to Peggy van Praagh and how some of her aspirations match his own: perseverance, resilience, determination and courage.