Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
Our Y,G&B profile this week, says Elizabeth Glieck in a November 7, 2014 New York Times posting is, “proof that a girl from the unlikeliest of places might someday jet all the way onto center stage.
She is young, gifted and Black. Michaela DePrince studied at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kenned Onassis School in New York.
Named the youngest principal dancer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem, she is now a professional ballerina with the Dutch National Ballet in Amsterdam, one of the top classical ballet companies in the world.
In 2011, Michaela starred in the ballet documentary “First Positon” and has also appeared on Dancing with the Stars, Good Morning America, Nightline, and on BBC.
The Huffington Post in 2012 named her as one of their “18 Under 18 Teen’s List of the Most Amazing People of the Year.”
But in her first four life years, her dream to become a professional ballerina began as a total nightmare, and in her words as noted in Glieck, “It’s a miracle I’m even here.”
Born Mabiney Bangura of what Laura Farmer in the Gazette describes as “loving parents” in Sierra Leone, West Africa in 1995, she was orphaned by the age of three. Her country was besieged by civil war over an eleven year period from 1991 to 2002.
She saw herself, as described in Teen Vogue, as a “daddy’s girl.” But her father while working in the mines was shot and killed by rebels who raided this work site.
Food became scarce in the war raged village and according to Michaela’s 2014 published memoirs, “Taking Flight.”
There were no crops to sell, no rice to eat, and no seed for the following year’s planting.
Her mother made certain that her daughter had what little food was available. But she herself soon became gravely ill and died of starvation.
Michaela’s uncle took her to live at an orphanage where she was ridiculed and made fun of because she suffers from a condition in which patches of skin lose pigmentation.
The “aunties who ran the orphanage numbered the children one to 27 from the most favored to the least desired.” And out of 27, orphaned Michaela was number 27.
“We were all ranked from the most favored to the least, and I was at the very bottom for being rebellious and having a skin condition called vitiligo, which produces white freckles on my neck and chest,” she says in Vogue.
The young orphan was called a “devil child” and as recounted in Jeff Mays’ NewsOne for Black America, she recalls of her experience that, “I didn’t get enough food, I didn’t get the best clothes, I got the last choice of toys. I was in the back and they didn’t really care if I died or what ever happened to me.”
She shared a grass sleeping mat with Mia, number 26, who was shunned for being left handed.
The two became inseparable.
One day, Michaela came across a discarded magazine that she found at the orphanage gate.
One page inside contained an image that would, writes BBC News on October 14, 2012, “Shape the rest of her life.”
There was a lady in it. She was on her tippy-toes in this pink beautiful tutu,” she says in BBC. “I had never seen anything like this – a costume that stood out with glitter on it, with just so much beauty,” she adds.
The then orphan shares that, “I could just see the beauty in that person and the hope and the love and just everything that I didn’t have. And I thought: ‘Wow! This is what I want to be.’”
Michaela ripped the photograph out of the magazine and stuffed it in her underclothes for safe keeping from the abusive orphan aunties and tormenting children.
Then at the age of 4, another wonderful episode happened in her life.
Elaine DePrince from New Jersey came to the orphanage with the intent of adopting Mia. But after being told that young Michaela probably would have a hard time being adopted, DePrince decided to adopt her also.
Her new mother in BBC quickly notice Michaela’s obsession with ballet. “We found a Nutcracker video and I watched it 150 times,” she says in published accounts.
The aspiring ballerina reveals that when they finally went to see a stage performance, she was able to point out to her mother the places where the dancers missed their steps.
Elain and her husband Charles enrolled her in the Rock School of Dance in Philadelphia when she was 5-years-old.
This would be a daily 45-minute drive from New Jersey to Philadelphia.
At the age of 8, she was cast to play “Marie” in a production of the Nutcracker. She prepared for it with vigor and determination.
“But right before the show,” she says in Vogue, “I was told that someone else would be dancing the part because, ‘people aren’t ready for a black Marie.’”
But after seeing the Black ballerina Heidi Cruze performing with The Pennsylvania Ballet, she said, “I was like, ‘Wow, she is amazing!’ She inspired me to keep on dancing.” Michaela competed against 5,000 dancers in 2010 in the prestigious Youth American Grand Prix where the most talented young dancers in the world are chosen to compete for the ultimate prize – a spot in a top ballet school.
This determined effort paid off and resulted in Michaela receiving a full scholarship to study at the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school.
At the age of 17 in 2012, she graduated from the Kennedy school and toured with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
And also in 2012, Michaela made her professional debut performance in the role of “Guinare” in the South African premier of “Le Corsaine.”
And as earlier noted, in her newly October 2014 published title, “Taking Flight” – co-authored by her mother, Elaine De- Prince – she chronicles her life experiences from Sierra Leone to becoming a stage star ballerina.
Speaking to her extraordinary dance skills, Dance Theater of Harlem’s artistic director Virginia Johnson says in the New York Daily News that, “Her talent is astonishing.
But it is her tenacity and focus that makes working with her such a joy.”
Kids World says of Michaela that she, “has gone on to wow audiences all other the world with her incredible dance talent.”
Bojan Spassoff of Pointe Magazine shares that, “Michaela has a surprising nuance and skill for someone so young. She is eager and vivacious, which makes her a spectacular performer.”
Mays reports that Michaela, “is on a mission to use her story to change the world,” and that she, “wants to attract more Black girls to ballet and wants to give back to her homeland by starting an art school in Sierra Leone.
She wants to inspire other little girl who find themselves in difficult circumstances like she did so that they can overcome.”
Her story is evidence that even though you might have a terrible life challenging past, if you have a dream, a vision, a love for something that you want in the future, that dream, that vision, that love should be your primary everyday focus, not the negative.
“I take what’s in my past and put it in my body,” she says in Vogue.
“My life is proof that no matter what situation you’re in, as long as you have a supportive family, you can achieve anything.