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Michaela DePrince: From Teen War Orphan To Dance Theatre Of Harlem Star

This week the Dance Theatre of Harlem made it’s long awaited return after a 9 year hiatus with a performance at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center.  But for one of the dancers, it’s been a long road from Sierra Leone to Harlem.  18-year-old Michaela DePrince, the youngest member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, was born into strife, in the midst of West African nation Sierra Leone’s civil war. Her father was shot to death, and her mother struggled to feed her family.

“Once he was shot we had nothing,” she said, “so my mom ended up giving all the food to me. And so she ended up starving to death and I ended up in an orphanage after that”, DePrince told CBS News.

To make matters worse, DePrince suffers from vitiliagio, and was ridiculed by other orphans. They often referred to her as a “devil’s child”. DePrince was four years old when she was adopted by Charlie and Elaine DePrince. 

“I knew that Michaela had what it takes when she was only four-years-old and she memorized the entire choreography of the Balanchine “Nutcrakcer,”” said Elaine DePrince.

When Michaela was 15 years old, she won a scholarship to train at the American Ballet Theater in New York, but she recognizes the fact that being a black ballerina can be limiting when it comes to the roles being offered.

“When I was younger, it was hard for me to get roles just because of my color,” said Michaela. “But it’s getting easier slowly. Even though it’s 2013, you’d think this wouldn’t be a problem.”

Wednesday night, Michaela danced the lead in an excerpt from Swan Lake. She’s definitely come a long way.

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  • Chic Noir

    What a wonderful story. IIRC, Michaela was featured in Teen Vogue a few years ago.

    Another young Black lady making moves is Pretty Yende. Google Pretty Yende ladies and Mr. James.

  • ChaCha1

    Sad beginning, but beautiful story. She dances beautifully, too. I’m going to show my daughter this.

  • talaktochoba

    besides clearly possessing ALL of her mother’s incomparable African beauty, daughter is quite full-figured for a prima ballerina…the insane jealousy that package obviously creates around traditionally hyper-insecure people in the dance world doubtless amplifies the racism she faces;

    should daughter tire of dancing, i can see her face grace the cover of Italian Vogue–another factor which must not sit too well with the other girls, either, or their moms…

  • RenJennM

    Powerful story. I wish her all the best.