‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ Li Cunxin inspires workers at CareSouth

MOTIVATOR: Former elite ballet dance Li Cunxin inspired CareSouth staff at their conference at UOW's Innovation Campus. Picture: Robert Peet
MOTIVATOR: Former elite ballet dance Li Cunxin inspired CareSouth staff at their conference at UOW's Innovation Campus. Picture: Robert Peet

One of the world’s most renowned ballet dancers has used his life story of struggling to overcome adversity to inspire advocates for the Illawarra and South Coast’s most disadvantaged.

Li Cunxin, widely known as Mao’s Last Dancer, spoke at the “Ignite and inspire” conference for employees of CareSouth – who offer support and care for children, young people, families and individuals, who have been referred to them by government and other non-government agencies.

“Use it as a source of your own motivation or learn from my own misfortunes,” he told the crowd at the Innovation Campus.

“Often you learn from the darkest moments of your life.”

CareSouth staff hurriedly rushed to meet Li Cunxin at the conclusion of his speech at their "Ignite and Inspire" conference at the Innovation Campus on Wednesday. Picture: Robert Peet

CareSouth staff hurriedly rushed to meet Li Cunxin at the conclusion of his speech at their "Ignite and Inspire" conference at the Innovation Campus on Wednesday. Picture: Robert Peet

Mr Cunxin described his childhood in a poverty-stricken village in China through to the torture of being part of the Beijing Dance Academy under Chairman Mao’s rule, to nearly being killed inside a Chinese embassy in the US.

A key theme throughout the speech was how love and nurturing helped him to not give up.

Often you learn from the darkest moments of your life.

Li Cunxin

Rhonda Miller works in CareSouth disability support programs and said she could relate a lot of Mr Cunxin’s life back to many of the people they come into contact with.

“Even though he talked about … resilience and believe in yourself and looking at the glass half full all the time, I sort of equated that to some of the kids that we have in care and how we can instil that in them,” she said.

“Not only kids in out-of-home care, foster care, but kids with disabilities [and] how to look at their strengths and motivate them and encourage them to want to achieve … and how we should be able to support them to do that.”