Michaela DePrince has been labeled the “war orphan-turned ballerina.” Of course, we all like a sob story that ends in triumph, but for Afrikan Goddess the one thing that stands out about Mabinty Bangura’s (her given name) story of triumph are her parents. They took a sick refugee from Ghana and turned her life around. What an inspirational story of unconditional love, miracles and a testament of what the human spirit can do to change the lives of others. In the spirit of Christmas, this special feature is dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. DePrince of Vermont and now living in New York City, even as we profile the life and triumph of Michaela DePrince of Sierra Leone.
Looking at Michaela DePrince today, one can only wonder how she ever got labeled as “number 27” in the Sierra Leonean orphanage where she spent her growing years. She is a beautiful girl! Number 27 was the number reserved for the least liked, least loved, and least important person in the orphanage – that number 27 assignment brought with it abuse from the very people who were supposed to care for her.
Michaela dePrince was born in Sierra Leone on January 6, 1995. All she has of her biological parents are childhood memories. Her father was shot to death when she was only three years-old, and her mother starved to death almost immediately afterwards. She was later abandoned at an orphanage, but that orphanage would also turn out to be her blessing in disguise. Despite the harsh treatment she received at the hands of the women who cared for the orphans, Michaela knew she would someday live her dream of becoming a ballerina. She knew it the moment she first came across a picture of a ballerina on a magazine cover. She quickly ripped the picture off and hid in her underwear, vowing to one day move and look just like the woman in the picture.
She made that dream come true, and today, she is soaring high on the international stage as a world-class ballerina. She is nicknamed the Ballet Princess because of her love of classical ballet and her last name, DePrince. Just watching her on her tippy-toes, dressed like an angel and spinning gracefully with her arms above her head, you wonder how anyone could ever have been cruel to her. But thank God, kindness was never very far away.
Michaela was adopted by an American couple, Charles and Elaine DePrince, in Ghana in 1999 when she was four. When Michaela and Mia (Mia was Michaela’s best friend at the orphanage – she was number 26 – they were adopted together by the DePrinces) talk about their parents, they’re usually referring to their adopted parents, the ones who rescued them from the horrors of war and starvation and cared for them and loved them to success.
Inspired by a video of the New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker, Michaela began taking ballet lessons when she was four and a half years old. Her mother Elaine encouraged her to work hard if she wanted to achieve her dream. She was trained at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, and at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre. According to Michaela, “I feel like I grew up at the Rock School, because I began taking lessons there before I was five years old.”
In the summer of 2012 Michaela was invited to join the American Ballet Theatre and the Dance Theatre of Harlem performance company. She chose the Dance Theatre of Harlem for the 2012-2013 ballet season. Her first opportunity to dance internationally came when she was invited to the Netherlands in November 2011 to dance the role of Palmyra in the DDD production of Abdallah and the Gazelle of the Basra in the Netherlands.
In July 2012, she finally got her shot at a professional debut in a classical ballet. She was invited to South Africa to dance with the South African Manszi Ballet Company where she danced the role of Gulnare in its production of Le Corsaire. Michaela described the Le Corsaire as “a very difficult but magnificent ballet.” Who knows what’s next for this determined ballerina? There are still roadblocks she must overcome where her skin color is concerned, but Michaela DePrince lived through parts of a civil war, endured harsh treatment in an orphanage, lives with the skin condition virtiligo, and witnessed the brutality of war rebels in ways she says she does not wish to recall, so, what’s a little racial ignorance to this rising swan?