Today is the grand rehearsal.. that was her first waking thought. That evening, she would be performing at the National Stadium, before an audience of 10,000. She’d had the spotlight turned on her several times in the last 26 years but this six-minute act, she knew, was special.
tracing China’s rich heritage through one of its earliest trade routes, was the only solo performance in the four-hour extravaganza planned for the opening night of the Olympic Games. It was her moment.. and this time the whole world would be watching.
The day passed in a blur of activity and heightened excitement. And finally, it was show time. Peeking from the wings, she could see the expectant faces of her parents in the audience. Her father.. the retired judge. Her mother.. the doctor. And she a classical dancer. Destiny sure played some strange tricks. Yet, they had always been there for her.
Her father had driven her on his motorcycle to dance classes through torrential downpours. Her mother had taken the train into the city every other weekend to keep her company when she enrolled in middle school. In two weeks, when the curtains went up on the Games, she’d make them prouder still, she told herself with a smile.
Hey, they were playing her tune. It was time to take a bow. Gracefully, she glided on stage. And as the audience watched, wide-eyed and wonder-struck, she twirled.. she swirled.. she flitted through the air in a flurry of slender limbs.
Every move was perfectly choreographed and executed, including a flying leap towards a moving stage. There was no room for human error after four years of relentless practice. What no one had anticipated was a mechanical malfunction. The stage that was to have cushioned her fall moved away. And she pitched into darkness.
She slid down a shaft, crashed into a steel rod and splintered her vertebrae. The audience watched in mute horror as their golden girl was lifted from emptiness and rushed to a military hospital, ambulance sirens screaming.
That’s a switch
Two weeks later, the Games were flagged off in a riot of colours and culture.. without her. Her place was taken by another dancer. Few outside the country knew about the switch.
She spent the next six months in hospital battling darkness and despair. Then, returned home in a wheelchair.. paralysed from the waist down. The doctors had not held out any hope. Her injuries, she’d been told, were too severe. She would never dance again.
Her dream had shattered that balmy, July evening under the arclights.. or had it? Even contemplating a career in TV broadcast, she continues to believe in the impossible. Miracles happen.. may be one day.
PS: This is the true story of Liu Yan, a celebrated Chinese classical dancer, whose act was to have been the
highlight of the Beijing Olympics Games last year.