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Born Mabinty Bangura in Sierra Leone during the civil war on 6 January 1995, Michaela DePrince is a Sierra Leonean-American ballet dancer.
Mabinty’s father was shot by rebels when she was three years old and her mother starved to death soon after. Suffering from a disfiguring skin condition, the superstitious staff at the orphanage where Mabinty ended up labelled her ‘devils’ child’, mistreating her and leaving the child malnourished. According to her account, "I lost both my parents, so I was there (the orphanage) for about a year and I wasn't treated very well because I had vitiligo," she said Monday. "We were ranked as numbers and number 27 was the least favorite and that was my number, so I got the least amount of food, the least amount of clothes and what not."
There at the Orphanage, she saw her first ballerina in a magazine page blown against the gate. It showed an American ballet dancer posed on tip toe. "I remember she looked really, really happy," Michaela said in an interview. She wished "to become this exact person." From the misery of the orphanage "I saw hope in it. And I ripped the page out and I stuck it in my underwear because I didn't have any place to put it."
Soon afterwards, she fled to a refugee camp, walking barefoot for miles after word came that the orphanage would be bombed. In 1999 at age four, she was adopted by Elaine and Charles DePrince from New Jersey, and taken to the United States, where she was named Michaela. Michaela arrived in the US traumatised by her war experience and ravaged with tonsillitis, fever, mononucleosis and swollen joints. She also suffered from nightmares. "It took a long time to get it out of my memory. But my mom helped me a lot and I wrote a lot of stuff down so I could recover from it," she said. "Dance helped me a lot"
Now Michaela's dreams have come true and she is an inspiring figure in the world of ballet that sees few leading black females in an ascent to stardom that has been atypically fast. At 17, she's already been featured in a documentary film and has performed on TV-show "Dancing With the Stars". She just graduated from high school and the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, and will go on to work at Dance Theatre of Harlem. Her family recently moved from Vermont to New York City to support her dance career and her sister's acting and singing. Michaela said she has been offered many opportunities to dance with companies in Europe and in the U.S.
On July 19, Michaela performs in her first professional full ballet, dancing the part of Gulnare in Le Corsaire, as a guest artist of South Africa's two biggest dance companies, Mzansi Productions and South African Ballet Theatre. "Because I've been through so much, I know now that I can make it and I can help other kids who have been in really bad situations realize that they can make it too," Michaela DePrince says.
Michaela hopes one day to return to her birthplace of Sierra Leon to open a school for dance and the arts. "I hope to inspire a lot of young children," Michaela said, "no matter what people tell you, you should focus on your goals and you should do what you want to do, especially if you want to be a ballet dancer."
Last Updated on Saturday, 28 March 2015 07:08
Written by Samira I. Hassan