Photo courtesy Wiki commons
Dance was her life.
Ma Li, of Henan Province, China, was a 19-year-old professional dancer when a car accident in 1996 resulted in the amputation of her right arm, abandonment by her boyfriend, and her descent into depression.
Rescued by her parents from a suicide attempt, she began, gingerly, to live again.
She got an artificial limb, and sold fruit and costumes at the market, and later opened a bookstore.
In 2001, she was invited to compete as a dancer at the Henan Disabled Persons' Federation (HDPF) Art Festival. Hesitatingly, she entered. She won the gold medal, and was inspired once again toward her dreams of dancing.
In 2002, Li Tao, a handsome 20-year-old fell in love with her. She was unwilling to trust a relationship again, and she ran from him, disappearing from his world. But he searched until he found her again, and they have been inseparable ever since.
Li Tao became her agent in 2004, and they were trying to develop a way to showcase her unique talents while they worked as extras in the movies.
Early one morning, they were huddled together in an underpass in the cold, snowy, darkness before dawn, waiting for a bus after a long movie shoot. Ma Li suddenly had the urge to dance her story in the snow with him, and it was then that he realized that her own story was perfect as the vehicle for her unique performance.
They began developing her performance piece, Hand in Hand.
In 2005, Ma Li met Zhai Xiaowei, a 21-year-old athlete who was training to be a cyclist for the national special olympics. His left leg had been amputated at age 4, the result of a tractor accident. Even though he had no dance training, she felt compelled to invite him to dance with her.
He was put off at first, and didn't understand how he could possibly dance.
But when he saw her perform Hand in Hand with another male dancer, he said he saw "a perfect soul dancing on the stage" and agreed to give it a try.
After two years of intense training, the duo entered China's 4th CCTV Dancing Contest in April, 2007.
"We were afraid we'd be rejected by the organizers when we submitted the footage of our dancing," Ma said. "But to my surprise, they called back and seemed really interested in us."
It was the first time a handicapped couple entered the contest.