I was particularly moved by this story, a little four year old girl clad in a vomit stained dress just hoping for adoption left a sorrowful image in my mind. As I read her story however, I knew I couldn’t feel sorry for her, but happy that I was privileged to hear her story.
World renowned ballerina Michalea DePrince has had a colorful life, one which is not void of despair and hopelessness on one hand and then pure glamour, perseverance and hope on the other hand.
She was just a toddler in Sierra Leone when she lost her father due to civil unrest and her mother due to fever. She had to grow up fast and at just 4 years old was pretty nervous about getting adopted.
Adults at the orphanage called her ugly and “devil child’ because of her vitilgo which is what broke her confidence about ever getting adopted.
When she told her story to Glamour magazine recently she recalled that she must have been “a little sassy” because she remembers saying to the kids and adults in the orphanage ‘I don’t care. I’m going to be someone.’
Well she meant it, because today she is somebody, Michaela is one of the few classic black ballerinas in the world and if that isn’t amazing enough, MGM will be doing her memoir, Taking Flight.
“When I look back at all the things I’ve been through and everything I’ve accomplished,” she says, “I realize, Wow, I am very blessed.”
Michaela hopes to inspire little black girls everywhere because she is a true testament that circumstance does dictate where you end up.
How did she get started in ballet you ask?
Outside her orphanage one day, the wind had literally blown a magazine onto her face; the cover showed a ballerina en pointe. “The dancer looked beautiful and happy—that’s what caught my eye,” Michaela remembers. “I wanted to be happy.” And when she met her new mother, Elaine DePrince, that tattered photo was the first thing she handed her.
The DePrinces brought Michaela to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to raise her as one of their 11 children (nine of whom are adopted) and quickly put her in dance class. “There was so much love right away,” says Michaela. “I had never been surrounded by something like that.” It wasn’t long before she knew she couldn’t live without ballet, even as she was reminded she didn’t fit the dancer stereotype.
Her career in ballet was not easy, often times she found herself in the position of being ‘the only black girl not being chosen’ for roles. Her mother spent hours dying her ballet costumes to match her dark skin but she was still overlooked.
She was body shamed, called ‘too athletic’. At age 14 things changed, she finally won a role and starred in a documentary called “First Position” and received a scholarship to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at The American Ballet Theater in New York. She is now 20 yrs old and a member of the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam.
“Sometimes you just need to make a little ripple to open the doors for others,” she says. “I still find it amazing how that magazine cover came at the perfect time, just as I was almost losing hope.”
Last year she actually found the dancer in that photo, Magali Messac, a French prima ballerina who has since retired; the two hope to meet this summer.
“Michaela’s story—the magic of it, but equally the hard work and belief in her dream—is remarkable,” says Messac. “She will inspire other young girls to dream high and believe in themselves.”
Her ultimate goal is to open a ballet school in Sierra Leone.