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Acclaimed dancer, author to address Houston students

Li Cunxin
Li Cunxin
Courtesy photo/Li Cunxin

Acclaimed dancer and author Li Cunxin will speak to students at The International School, a charter school located within Houston ISD’s Sharpstown High School, at 9:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 5.

Li, a Chinese native who became an international star in Houston from 1981-1995 and later a successful Australian businessman, will discuss the immigrant experience and how he overcame adversity in his native China.

The event is being organized by Writers in the Schools (WITS) to help the organization celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Li was born into utter poverty in a rural province of communist China , where he was selected to train in Madam Mao's Beijing Dance Academy at the age of 11. When he was 18, Li was awarded one of China 's first cultural scholarships to go to America .

Two years later, Li defected to the West in a dramatic standoff in the Chinese Consulate in Houston . Li ultimately became a naturalized U.S. citizen and went on to dance with the Houston Ballet as one of the world's best dancers, medaling at three International Ballet Competitions.

In 1995, Li and his family moved to Australia where Li finished his dancing career as a principal dancer with The Australian Ballet. Li now works as a senior manager at one of Australia 's largest stock trading firms.

The rich story of Li's life is recounted in his memoir Mao's Last Dancer, which was published by Penguin-Australia in 2003. Quickly rising to No. 1 on the Australian Non-Fiction Best-Seller List, Li's book was named in's Break-Out Books list, received the Christopher Award for Literature, the Book of the Year Award in Australia , and was short-listed for several other prestigious literary awards. Today, the book is currently in its 32nd reprint, has been translated into many languages, and is sold in 20 countries. In 2005, the Young Readers' Edition was released.

The major motion picture, Mao's Last Dancer, premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. The film received second place in the People's Choice Award at TIFF.

Ranked the top literary arts organization in Texas by the Texas Commission on the Arts, WITS has sent professional poets, fiction writers, and playwrights into classrooms in the Houston area to introduce new approaches to teaching writing in primary and secondary schools since 1983. WITS is also involved in national initiatives, such as mentoring other writers-in-schools programs, serving as a model for multidisciplinary arts educators, and designing curricula for use in schools.

The International School creates a college bound atmosphere for students and prepares them to compete in the global marketplace. Its rigorous curriculum requires students to take Advanced Placement courses, four years of foreign language, and complete an internship with an international focus to graduate. Students also participate in projects and trips that provide a worldwide perspective.