THIS WEEK'S AMBASSADORS
THIS WEEK'S DANCE STORIES
Michaela DePrince is a Sierra-American Ballet dancer and was born at the time of the Civil War of Sierra Leone in 1995. She was born in a Muslim family as Mabinty Bangura, but spent most of her life as an orphan because her Uncle left her at an orphanage after she lost her parents where her identity was reduced to a number. She was mistreated by the staff who saw her as the “devil’s child” because of her pigmented skin medically known as Vitiligo. They named the children after numbers from One to Twenty seven. One was the favourite child while Twenty Seven was given to those they did not like and Michaela was number Twenty Seven. The girls at the orphanage were encouraged not to play with her, but she found a friend and a confidante in another girl called Mabinty. She was disliked because she was left handed. She also gained the support of one of her teachers who made became a ray of hope for her as a young student. Michaela was distraught when she found out that her friend was going to be adopted because she knew that she would be left alone among cruel people, but Elaine and Charles DePrince, adopted both the girls and took them to the United States of America.
Michaela found a discarded magazine where she found a lady. In an interview by BBC World Service she said, “The lady was on her tippy- toes in this pink, beautiful tutu.” It was the kind of thing that she has never seen before and that’s when she decided that she wanted to be like her. Michaela began learning ballet at the age of five from the Rock School of Dance in Philadelphia. Even as a young child, she was conscious about the pigmentation and often covered her body in turtle necks and tights to hide it. Her African origin was another thing that stood in her way. People are unaware of the fact that there aren’t a lot of African soloists in ballet in the US. But she did not let the colour of her skin get in her way. At a young age, Michaela was awarded with a scholarship to study at the American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Ballet. As an eight year old she was told that she couldn’t as Marie in The Nutcracker because the nation was not ready for a “Black” ballet dancer. A year later, a teacher told her mother that “Black dancers” were not worth spending on.
After beating the odds, Michaela managed to create a niche for herself as a young successful dancer and became an inspiration for every African-American girl. She showed the world that there is no obstacle than cannot be overcome with passion and hard work.
My mother sent me away to train when I was ten years old to Kiev Ballet School, but I had to leave soon because of my dad’s new assignment in the army and we moved to East-Germany. When the Soviet Union collapsed, we returned home and I went back to school. I was 13 or 14 years old when realised that I wanted to a ballerina. My mother dreamt of becoming a ballerina, but couldn’t, and all her life she regretted it. It took me years to get used to ballet.
"My child's body was not ready to handle such loads, and the legs that were used to walk upright had to be twisted and the back always had to be held straight. It was a huge strain and I did not have the strength." I would often find myself crying because of my hectic exam and rehearsal schedule. I used to practice every day and sometimes, even up to 8 hours. I did not miss a single class irrespective of the fact that I was ill or had pain in some part of my body. I wanted to learn everything and miss nothing. It never felt like I was sacrificing anything, not even as a child.
Before the performance, I try not to talk to anyone so that I can contain my emotions. “When I’m waiting to perform, I cannot describe my feelings; I feel courage on one hand and wild nervousness on the other.”When I’m rehearsing, I feel like a pupil and not a ballerina, but for some reason when I get out on stage I feel completely opposite. This transformation is quite unique. Something from within takes place and you understand sometimes that human abilities are limitless.
I graduated from Varganova Academy in 1996, when I was 17, and immediately joined the Mariinsky in Russia. I worked there for 7 years until one day I realised that I wasn’t developing anymore, it all felt the same to me and that’s when I decided to take charge and change things. I moved on to the Bolshoi ballet company and haven’t looked back since.
I had always been interested in dance and started taking hip-hop lessons when I was 10 years old. Along with my four female friends, I started my own dance group, ReQuest and dropped out to school to chase my dreams. I quite the opposite when it comes to my siblings- they’re all married and have kids while “I’m a little crazy”. Despite my religious and Mormon upbringing, my parents were never too rigid to let me follow my dreams. In fact, my father suggested that I leave school and focus on dancing. I have a free spirit and giving in to societal norms and conventions never seemed like my cup of tea. I always felt that it didn’t fit in and I think it was probably this feeling that allowed me to step out of the box and find my way.
My father then took me to Los Angeles for the first time to show me what the world had to offer and awakened in me a new found courage because I realised that I had to work really hard to make my mark in the world. “After that trip, I worked really hard and even though I wasn’t the best in class, but I was definitely the most passionate. I wasn’t the most skilled dancer, but I always had the hunger or the spark. I think people gravitate towards that.” I worked really hard and I’m surprised how I got my career in control at a young age and I’m really grateful for that.
I don’t see myself as a role model, but I do hope to inspire young women to do whatever they desire and just be themselves. I know that women are often overlooked in the dance industry and I feel that women need to put themselves forward, lose all their inhibitions and show the world what they’re made of and that’s why I make attempts to caste women in my dance performances. It’s important to be confident and I feel that I’m living that kind of life where I can make an impression on others.