Named Mabinty Bangura, she grew up as an orphan in Sierra Leone during the civil war. Her adoptive parents were told that her father was shot by rebels when she was three years old, and that her mother starved to death soon after. Frequently malnourished, mistreated, and derided as a "devil's child" because of vitiligo, a skin condition causing depigmentation, she fled to a refugee camp after her orphanage was bombed. In 1999, at age four, she and another girl, Mia, were adopted by Elaine and Charles DePrince from New Jersey, and taken to the United States.
Inspired by a picture she found and kept while in Sierra Leone, DePrince trained as a ballet dancer in the U.S, performing at the Youth America Grand Prix among other competitions. She pursued a professional career despite encountering instances of racial discrimination: aged eight, she was told that she couldn't perform as Marie in The Nutcracker because "America's not ready for a black girl ballerina", and a year later, a teacher told her mother that black dancers weren't worth investing money in. DePrince was one of the stars of the 2011 documentary film First Position, which follows six young dancers vying for a place in an elite ballet company or school, and performed on the TV show Dancing with the Stars.
In 2012, she graduated from the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis school in New York, and joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a dancer. Her professional debut performance was in the role of Gulnare in the South African premiere of Le Corsaire on 19 July 2012.
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- Garrett, Giannella (May 2012). "Defying Gravity: Teen Ballerina Michaela DePrince". Teen Vogue. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
- Harss, Marina. "Michaela DePrince – Junior Company, Dutch National Ballet". DanceTabs. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
- "African Voices". CNN. August 30, 2012.