Wheelchair dancer wows Straits Forum crowd
Cheng Tzu-chiang, a wheelchair dancer from Taiwan, uses his strong arms to move in sync with his dance partners and dynamic music.
His team gave an impressive performance during the weeklong Straits Forum in Xiamen, Fujian province, which wrapped up on Monday. The forum is annual gathering aimed at enhancing grassroots communication across the Taiwan Straits.
On the stage, he sometimes leaned his body back, supporting himself on the ground with one hand before pushing back. He can even do handstands, with his body and wheelchair in the air.
Throughout the performance, the wheelchair does not hinder his dancing, but becomes a unique instrument in a display of incomparable beauty combining grace and strength.
"I never thought that the imperfection of my body would help me become a life warrior," said the 35-year-old member of the aboriginal Amis tribe, who was born and raised in Taitung, in southeastern Taiwan.
Cheng contracted polio at the age of 2 and his legs atrophied. He could not walk normally and had to use walking sticks.
To encourage him, his mother called him Tzu-chiang (self-reliance). But he did not have a happy boyhood. He was ostracized by other students because of his withered legs and became a rebellious student who often skipped classes.
In sixth grade at primary school he was transferred to a special school for children with mental or physical disabilities but became even more rebellious.
Cheng once beat a mentally disabled student so badly that the student was unable to eat for three days. He was full of hatred and resentment for the severe and abusive criticism he received from teachers in the student affair's office.
"I shouted at them: 'Why do you treat me like this? I also get bullied by others,'" Cheng said.
He said one teacher came to the office when she heard of his outburst and hugged him tightly, asking him: "Why are you becoming such a bad student. Don't you feel our love and tolerance?"
"Her words were a turning point in my life, which made me determined to change myself," he said. "Later, I happened to watch a wheelchair dance performance. When I sat in the wheelchair for the first time, I felt as if I had two legs that could move freely and fast."
Cheng started learning wheelchair dance and wheelchair sports, including basketball and badminton.
"At first I was unwilling to practice dancing because I thought it a girlish thing," he said. "But my trainer kept encouraging me and telling me not give up. The hard practice of wheelchair sports and dance sharpened my body and mind."
Through dancing, Cheng found his confidence and self-esteem.
"Once an old woman in the audience told me that my performance could touch a lot people," he said.
"I gradually realized that wheelchair dance is not just a performance, but a way to inspire others."
Cheng later improved on the traditional form of wheelchair dancing, which was passive, and added more dancing styles, such as hip-hop, and gestures to his performance.
"In practicing the upside-down movement, I got hurt a lot," he said. "My head and waist hit the ground. But I didn't want to give up.
"I hope the audience applauds not out of pity or compassion, but because my performance is irreplaceable and unique."
Cheng founded a team with 12 other disabled people from Taiwan in 2012, and they often perform on the Chinese mainland. When Cheng performed on the stage at the Straits Forum, many people from both the mainland and the island applauded him.
"Some have lost their legs, some cannot hear, some live in darkness forever, but we're not afraid of learning or a challenge," Cheng said. "What we are afraid of is that we do not have a stage like normal people, and we fear the opportunity will not come to us. But the stage is actually created by ourselves.
"I hope to open a training center in the mainland for disabled people," he added. "I want them to know that we can also chase our dreams through hard work."