Houston Ballet Dancer Inspired by Daughter

A former Houston Ballet dancer has a crisis of a very personal kind.

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For Houstonians the name Li Cunxin is synonymous with a dashing ballet dancer with an equal measure of artistic grace and athletic strength. Principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, Li grew up in Communist China before defecting to the United States. A super-star career followed, but the fairy tale and promise of a happily-ever-after life took a sad turn with the news he received when his daughter Sophie was but 18 months old. Sophie was profoundly deaf.

To any parent, learning of this disability would be a devastating blow, but to Li and his wife Mary, both dancers who relied on hearing music, the news left them in shock.

Mary and Li turned to the Center for Hearing and Speech in Houston. The Center is one of two in Texas that specializes in Oral-Deaf education. Mary gave up her dancing career to spend full-time at home with Sophie using some creative techniques to help her hear.

Although Mary persisted working with Sophie until she was 4 years old, her efforts were for naught because of the degree of Sophie's hearing loss. It was about this time that Mary and Li heard of a new technology to aid the deaf, the Cochlear Implant. Cochlear implants are electronic devises surgically implanted to stimulate nerve endings in the inner ear in order to receive and process sound and speech. Ten years ago the implants were not approved in the United States for young children, but they were available in Australia. Li and Mary were dancing with the Australian Ballet at this point and were able to have Sophie fitted with an implant.At 15 today, Sophie leads a fairly ordinary life. She receives high marks in school, and like her peers is overscheduled with dance and piano lessons. Not only can she carry on conversations in English, she is also learning Chinese so she can communicate with her relatives in China.

Li says he's inspired by his own daughter's success and her positive attitude towards life.