Making a ballet dream come true

June 10, 2009 3:57:11 PM PDT
Michaela DePrince came from one of the poorest countries in the world.

Now, against all odds, she is realizing her dream to become a ballerina.

Stephanie Wolf Spassoff is co-director of the Rock School for Dance Education. "She's a great student, very talented, a lot of energy," she said of Michaela. "It's incredible to see."

It's even more incredible because of Michaela's brutal journey to get here. "This child went through some extraordinarily horrible things," said Spassoff.

Her path to becoming a dancer began in Sierra Leone in West Africa, during a civil war that took the lives of her mother and father.

Michaela ended up in an African orphanage. One day a magazine blew up against the orphanage gate, and on the cover was a picture of a ballerina.

"The cover was just amazing," said Michaela, "the fact that she was happy and was smiling."

She cherished the photo, sharing it with only one other girl. "The only person who knew was my best friend, Mia," she said. "I always kept it with me, the whole time. I thought maybe I would have a chance to be able to do that if I got adopted. I just wanted to be happy. I was not happy in the orphanage because no one liked me."

Michaela has vitiligo, a pigmentation disorder that has left white patches on her chest. It is a condition that others at the orphanage didn't understand.

"They thought I was the devil's child," she said.

Michaela's dream of being adopted came true when Charles and Elaine DePrince of Cherry Hill, NJ took her home with her best friend. It was only then that she showed her adoptive mother her ballerina picture.

"Once I learned English I explained it to her," she said. "She showed me how to work hard to be able to achieve it."

And achieve it she has. This year Michaela won the Youth Grand Prix in her division at the world's largest competition for student dancers. She has also been accepted into the American Ballet Theatre's National Training Program and will travel to New York City to study there this summer.

"I am just so happy to be able to do this, like, so happy," she said.

Michaela's aspirations go beyond becoming a top ballerina. One day she hopes to open her own dance school in Sierra Leone so that other girls like her can experience the joy of dance.

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