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Michaela DePrince: From Orphan in War-torn Sierra Leone to Successful Ballerina

Michaela DePrince: From Orphan in War-torn Sierra Leone to Successful Ballerina
Michaela DePrince

By Winnie Gaturu

Michaela DePrince is no ordinary 23-year-old young lady. She has established a name for herself in the ballet world through hard work and determination. She was even invited to perform alongside Beyonce in the Lemonade video shooting and Madonna is set to direct a biopic based on her life. Michaela’s inspiration to become a ballerina was inspired by a magazine she found blowing in the wind. Its cover photo was a stunningly beautiful ballerina en pointe. She was just four at the time but she knew in her heart that one day, she would become a ballerina, just like the lady on the magazine. 


Michaela DePrince: From Orphan in War-torn Sierra Leone to Successful Ballerina Michaela was born in 1995, a time when there was a civil war in Sierra Leone, her home country. By the time she reached the age of three, her father was killed and her mother passed away soon after due to malnutrition. As if things couldn’t get any worse, Michaela’s uncle abandoned her at an orphanage because she had vitiligo. It was believed that vitiligo was a curse of the devil. As a result, even the women who took care of the children at the orphanage continuously taunted her and called her the devil’s child. All this happened when Michaela was only four years old. Her stay at the orphanage was short-lived since it was destroyed during a bomb attack. Michaela, together with others, fled to a refugee camp. This is where she got hold of the magazine with the ballerina.

Michaela’s life took a turn for the better when Elaine and Charles DePrince adopted her and took her with them to their home in the United States. They noticed her love for ballet and enrolled her to a ballet class at the age of five. With their support, she worked hard to develop her skills, attending the Rock School for Dance education located in Philadelphia and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at the American Ballet Theatre. In 2011, she was one of the stars featured in the film ‘First Position,’ which followed six young dancers vying for a place in an elite ballet school or company. She also performed on Dancing with the Stars.

‘First Position:’ Meet Michaela DePrince

In 2013, Michaela DePrince and her mother, Elaine DePrince, wrote a memoir about her life, Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. It is Michaela’s hope that she’ll inspire children, especially children of color, and let them know that they can achieve their dreams despite the challenges they’ll face along the way. In the film, ‘First Position,’ Michaela’s mom recalls how she was often told by parents that black girls can’t become ballerinas. As a matter of fact, Michaela was denied the chance to perform as Marie in The Nutcracker when she was eight years old, reason being, “America’s not ready for a black ballerina.” In addition, a year later, the teacher blatantly told her mother that it wasn’t worth it to invest money in a black dancer. Despite all the stereotypes and racism, Michaela has still successfully made a name for herself in the ballet world.

Michaela DePrince: From Orphan in War-torn Sierra Leone to Successful Ballerina

Currently, she is part of the Dutch National Ballet where she works as a professional ballerina. Apart from dancing, she also loves reaching out to disadvantaged young people with whom she shares her message of hope, hard work and perseverance. Her aim is to encourage them to actively strive to achieve their dreams. Find out more about Michaela on her website or follow her via Instagram!

What do you think about Michaela DePrince? Had you ever heard of her?

Winnie Gaturu is a writer, tech lover, mom, wife and student from Nairobi, Kenya. During her free time, she loves trying out new recipes, diy projects, filling in crossword puzzles and spending time with her family. You can catch up with her on

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