Feature

The ballerina who survived a civil war

Michaela DePrince went from war orphan to ballet star.

Michaela DePrince went from war orphan to ballet star, said David Smith in The Guardian (U.K.). Born in 1995 during Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war, DePrince was 3 years old when rebels killed her father. A week later, her mother died of starvation, and DePrince was placed in an orphanage. There was no escape from the horrors. Rebels raided the building, killing her pregnant teacher. “They cut her arms and legs off,” says the 17-year-old. “I tried to save her.” The caregivers at the orphanage despised DePrince because of her independent spirit. “We were ranked as numbers, and [my] number, 27, was the least favorite, so I got the least amount of food.” Her only source of hope was a photograph of an American ballerina she found in a discarded magazine. “She looked really happy. [I wanted] to become this person.” DePrince got to realize that dream in 1999 when she was adopted by an American couple, who enrolled her in a top New York City ballet school. She now faces a new obstacle, her race, and says she is often turned down for roles for being “too dark.” But DePrince—who recently made her professional debut in a production of Le Corsaire—refuses to be held back by prejudice. “Because I’ve been through so much, I know that I can make it.”

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