Li Cunxin was born into Mao's communist China, and at the age of 10, he was selected to train in Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. And so began Li's dance career. He was 11 when he left home to begin a harsh training regime at the Beijing Dance Academy. Li hated dancing during his first two years and pined for his family. But fear of what he would return to kept him going. At first his grades were poor, but soon, under the guidance of a special teacher, his true potential was recognised and developed. Li's astounding determination and drive became apparent as he practised his turns at night by candlelight, and hopped up and down stairs with sandbags tied to his ankles to build his strength.
When he was 18 Li was offered a soloist contract with the Houston Ballet. After two years, Li defected to the West in a dramatic media storm which involved the then Vice President, Mr George Bush Snr. A few years later, he fell in love with another Houston Ballet dancer, Mary McKendry. They married in 1987, and in 1995 moved to Melbourne where Li became a principal dancer with the Australian Ballet. He quickly made an impression.
By now 34, an age at which many dancers have already hung up their shoes, Li was wondering how he would continue to support his two (soon to be three) children when his dancing career ended. Learning how to compound his money was his latest fascination, in 1997 he began studying at the Australian Securities Institute with a view to becoming a stockbroker. For his final two years with the Australian Ballet, this meant rising at 5am to start barre work, then racing to the stock exchange by 8am to study until noon. By the time he joined the rest of the company's dancers for afternoon rehearsals, he had already put in a full day's work.
Li's extraordinary and inspirational autobiography, Mao's Last Dancer, was published in 2003. A tale of talent, faith and determination, the book is a moving account of the moral complexities, personal costs and rich rewards of following one's dreams.
Currently in its 23rd reprint, Mao's Last Dancer is now sold in over 20 countries. It was awarded the Book of the Year by the Australian Booksellers Association, the Nielson BookScan (2004) and was named in Amazon.com's Break-Out Books list just weeks after its USA release.
In September 2009, a movie adaptation of Mao's Last Dancer, directed by Australia's Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Driving Miss Daisy), was released to great critical and audience success. The highest grossing film of that year, it holds the record for the 12th highest grossing Australian film of all time.
In July 2012, Li Cunxin resumed his involvement with the ballet world as Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet, and in 2013 was named Queensland's Australian of the Year 2014, and a Finalist for Australian of the Year.
An inspirational and motivational speaker, Li Cunxin's story is a beautiful account of his extraordinary journey told with honesty, dignity and pride.
Client Comments for Li Cunxin
- Riveting - how lucky we are. Without a doubt one of the best speakers we have had in many years, outstanding.
Australian Friendly Societies Association
- Li has left a lasting impression of courage and determination amongst those who listened to his moving story.
Townsville City Council
- Personally I found Li excellent to work with and a thoroughly lovely man with a great story.
- Great choice of speaker. Thank you for letting us hear the story. Inspiring for all, even those in business. Totally wonderful.
- Comments included: 'Inspirational', 'Outstanding, excellent', 'Very inspiring, great choice as a keynote speaker', 'It has been a long time since I have heard such a wonderful delivery presentation. FABULOUS', 'Very emotional', 'Brilliant session.' and 'The best presentation I have ever attended.'
- I would like to thank you for your contribution in making our conference such a success: you are in a class of your own. As your story was about courage, loss and challenge, it transported the listeners into your experiences and aspirations. Your delivery was powerful and effective and you certainly had the audience with you all the way, conquered, inspired and enriched. Your presentation was beautifully structured and tailored to our theme, and you skilfully intertwined a mixture of content, humour and inspiration. You are without doubt one of the better speakers we have heard and the standing ovation you received was testimony to this fact. Your contribution to the success of the PwC Conference was significant and for that we are most grateful.
- Li was a fabulous speaker - we had an audience ranging from the CEO and executive management right through our outdoor staff. Everyone loved the presentation and at the end we sold four boxes of Li's book! The feedback was that it was the best presentation we have ever had.
Banyule City Council
- Brought relevance to teaching and finished off really well. Extremely positive feedback was received.
Dandenong Primary School
- Li Cunxin was fabulous this morning; what a charming man and a really fabulous, emphathetic speaker. The event went really well; everyone left with a smile on their face and Li had a queue of people wanting another personal message in their books. One couple even went down to Borders and bought a hard copy for him to sign! The clients were absolutely thrilled too - the event exactly fulfilled their brief.
ICMS Australasia Pty Ltd
- Fresh and captivating presentation proof of the power of determination and taking the most of opportunities given to you in life. The delegates were totally transfixed by Li's powerful and uplifting story. Few speakers have his ability to engage an audience with a rich life story so beautifully told. One of the highlights in a highlight filled conference. So professional, so entertaining. Might still be light on his feet but his story is full of emotion and passion.
- Already we have many people and organizations that are preparing to return with their teams to the 2008 Conference. All of the speakers complemented each other, however, I would particularly like to thank you for your session and for the informative and powerful message that it brought to the delegates. Again, thank you for your participation in this wonderful event and I wish you well with your future personal and professional plans.
The Proteus Leadership Centre
- Li Cunxin is an absolutely wonderful speaker. His life journey is truly inspirational and is something from which we can all learn. Li spoke eloquently and from the heart stirring participants' emotions to the point where quite a few shed tears. His story touches on the inner strength needed to achieve excellence against all odds. 'Mao's Last Dancer' both in person and via the written word is a joy to behold. Li Cunxin's presentation would be very well received by all walks of life, occupations and professions. Li Cunxin dared to be the best and the world has been enriched by his magic!
Australian Friendly Societies Association
- Outstanding, his personal journey was so touching and he was so accommodating with our delegates. Highly recommend such a great close to our conference.
New South Wales Minerals Council Ltd
- Li spoke passionately about his story and was perfect for our event. It was refreshing to be with someone so humble and gracious.
- Li was fantastic; he even tied his very unique story into the theme of the conference and related some of his anecdotes back to the client.
- We received lots of positive feedback about Mr Li Cunxin and guests were genuinely captivated during his presentation and got a lot out of it. I believed that he appealed to both male and female attendees at our dinner event. He is undoubtedly one of the most expressive speakers that I have heard and I certainly thought he added great value to our event. I had previously read his book and he certainly matched my expectations.
The University of Queensland
- It didn't matter that I was familiar with Li's previous work, it felt like I was hearing it for the first time. I was also very impressed with Li's attention to detail and how he linked his story to the award theme. He was a highlight to the night.
- Li presented his amazing life story with poise, passion and dignity, infused with humour. Even though Li must have told his story many times before, his pain, battle and torment were still evident and his dramatic and passionately told story had a great impact on many of those present. Feedback sheets from the conference were overwhelmingly positive insofar as Li's presentation was concerned. Li very generously signed copies of his book and spent time acknowledging all those who spoke with him. He was a delight.
Anglican Diocese of Melbourne
- You could hear a pin drop in the room - always a good sign.
Sonic Healthcare Limited
- He is a wonderful sincere person with a fantastic story to tell, I wish him every success in the future - I think he's earned it!
- Li Cunxin was outstanding. His presentation was amongst the best we have ever heard at our school.
The Peninsula School
- Li was fantastic and I would recommend him to any organisation. His story is so deep the complete 170 audience was completely silent throughout his entire presentation. Thanks for recommending him!
- The World Presidents and their spouses are of course, an exceptionally critical audience. The reaction of this group to Li's enthralling and riveting presentations was simply astounding! Li reduced much of his audience to tears and as the participants left the auditorium, many said it was the most moving and absorbing presentation they had ever heard! This reaction was borne out when the final ratings appeared - Li scored 10.0 out of 10 in one presentation (unheard of) and 9.9 out of 10 in the other, making him easily the highest rating speaker (out of a field of some 40 presenters) at the University. China University became the highest rating event ever produced by WPO and Li's graphic presentations were certainly a major contributor to this rating.
World President's Organization (WPO)
- Without a doubt one of the most powerful and invigorating presentations we have seen. Extremely impressed by Li's impact, style, personable nature and overall attitude.
- The feedback we received on your presentation was amongst the best we have ever received on any speaker over the past few years. Our participants were very moved by your story, with many commenting that it was one of the most inspiring presentations that they had ever heard... thank you again for making a huge impact on our conference and our staff.
Goldman Sachs JBWere
- Li was a very personable and inspirational speaker, his relaxed style was a great way to finish a very business orientated and structured conference day.
- Li was simply the most outstanding speaker I have heard in the many years of attending Rotary District Conferences - and indeed any sort of conference! The fact that he received a spontaneous standing ovation from people who never give such ovations is testament to his incredible impact on his audience, and the feedback we have received from many of the attendees reinforces this. Li was such a delight to work with from an organising perspective, and his humility and humanity sat magnificently with the principles of Rotary. There are no accolades high enough for the warmth and beauty of Li as both a speaker and a human being. It has been a privilege to come to know him.
Rotary Club of Australia
- Riveting - how lucky we are. Without a doubt one of the best speakers we have had in many years. Outstanding.
Australian Friendly Societies Association (AFSA)
- Without a doubt one of the most powerful and invigorating presentations I have seen. Extremely impressed by Li's impact, style, personable nature and overall attitude.
- Li's performance was most impressive and inspirational. He is probably the best speaker we have ever engaged at the City of Whittlesea. His story is fascinating and he presents it with great passion, humility and dignity.
City of Whittlesea
- Mao's Last Dancer
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