To start out life on the war-torn streets of Sierra Leone and end up a rising star of the ballet world seems an impossible feat, but 20-year-old Michaela DePrince, who is currently a dancer in the Dutch National Ballet, has been proving the impossible possible her entire life. She and her mother, Elaine DePrince, recently co-authored a book to share her inspiring story with young readers and it has just been optioned for a feature film by MGM studios. “When I look back at all the things I’ve been through and everything I’ve accomplished,” Michaela reflects, “I realize, Wow, I am very blessed.”.
Orphaned at age 3 during the midst of Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war, Michaela was called the “devil’s child” by orphanage workers and ostracized for her skin condition, vitiligo, which leaves unpigmented spots covering her chest and neck. It was at the orphanage, as Michaela describes below, that she first discovered her life’s passion:
“I found the magazine lying on the ground outside the gate of the orphanage, I’d never seen anything like that before, so I took the cover off and put it in my underwear because I had nowhere else to put it… I kept the picture with me every day until I got adopted. It kept me going and believing and looking forward to something, because I was going through so much at the time. I thought I was just worth nothing and nothing’s going to happen. This person in the photograph symbolized hope for me.”
Soon after she was adopted by an American family who encouraged her blossoming talent in dance. At age six, the determined Mighty Girl won a scholarship to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of the American Ballet Theatre after competing against 5,000 other dancers in the prestigious Youth American Grand Prix. She was also one of the six dancers profiled in the 2011 documentary “First Position.” In 2012, at 17, she became the youngest dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem, and, in 2013, she took a position with the Amsterdam-based ballet.
This past year also brought a very special moment when Michaela finally found the dancer whose picture sustained her dream. Magali Messac, a French prima ballerina, is now retired, and the two dancers hope to meet this summer. “Michaela’s story — the magic of it, but equally the hard work and belief in her dream — is remarkable,” Messac says. “She will inspire other young girls to dream high and believe in themselves.” Michaela hopes to open a ballet school in Sierra Leone one day, so that she can provide the same inspiration to others that Messac gave her: “Sometimes you just need to make a little ripple to open the doors for others.”
You can read more about Michaela’s inspiring story in The Washington Post athttp://wapo.st/1SZUHtb