Michaela DePrince

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Michaela DePrince
DePrince performing at a 2012 photo shoot for Teen Vogue
Mabinty Bangura

(1995-01-06) 6 January 1995 (age 26)
Kenema, Sierra Leone
EducationKeystone National High School, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School
OccupationBallet dancer
Years active2012-present
Current groupDutch National Ballet
Former groupsDance Theatre of Harlem

Michaela Mabinty DePrince[1] (born Mabinty Bangura, 6 January 1995)[2] is a Sierra Leonean-American ballet dancer. With her adoptive mother, Elaine DePrince, Michaela authored the book Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina.[3] She rose to fame after starring in the documentary First Position in 2011, following her and other young ballet dancers as they prepared to compete at the Youth America Grand Prix. She formerly danced with the Dance Theatre of Harlem as the youngest dancer in the history of the company and currently dances as a soloist for the Dutch National Ballet. Since 2016 Michaela is a goodwill ambassador with the Dutch organisation War Child, based in Amsterdam.

Early life[edit]

Born as Mabinty Bangura into a Muslim family,[4] she grew up as an orphan in Sierra Leone after her uncle brought her to an orphanage during the civil war. Her adoptive parents were told that her father was shot and killed by the Revolutionary United Front when she was three years old, and that her mother starved to death soon after.[5] Frequently malnourished, mistreated, and derided as a "devil's child" because of vitiligo,[6][7] a skin condition causing depigmentation, she fled to a refugee camp after her orphanage was bombed.[5]

In 1999, at the age of four,[8] she and another girl, also named Mabinty, later given the name Mia, were adopted by Elaine and Charles DePrince, a Jewish couple from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and taken to the United States.[5][9] The DePrinces have 11 children including Michaela, nine of whom were adopted.[10]


Inspired by a magazine cover of a ballerina 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 trained in classical ballet at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Concurrent with intense ballet training, DePrince took online classes through Keystone National High School, where she earned her high school diploma.[11]

DePrince was awarded a scholarship to study at the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School of Ballet for her performance at the Youth America Grand Prix. 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 sadly 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.[8]

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,[12] and performed on the TV show Dancing with the Stars.[13] In 2011 she made her European debut in Abdallah and the Gazelle of Basra with De Dutch Don't Dance Division (Dance Company The Hague, NL), The Hague, Netherlands. She came back there a year later to dance The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker at the Lucent Dance Theatre.

In 2012, she graduated from the American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York, and joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where she was the youngest member of the company.[5][14][15] Her professional debut performance was in the role of Gulnare in Mzansi Productions and the South African Ballet Theatre's premiere of Le Corsaire[8] on 19 July 2012.[16]

In July 2013, she joined the junior company of the Dutch National Ballet, based in Amsterdam.[17] In August 2014 she joined the Dutch National Ballet as an éleve. In 2015 she was promoted to the rank of Coryphée. In 2016 she was promoted to the rank of grand sujet, and then to soloist at the end of the same year.[18] When she first joined the Dutch National Ballet she was the only dancer of African origin.[19] In 2016, she performed in the "Hope" sequence of Beyoncé's Lemonade.[20]

DePrince has cited Lauren Anderson, one of the first black American principal ballerinas, as her role model.[21] In 2015 MGM acquired the film rights to DePrince's book Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina.[22][23] In 2018 MGM announced that Madonna will direct Taking Flight, a biopic on DePrince's life and career.[24][25][26][27]

Personal life[edit]

DePrince practices Judaism, having converted from Islam upon her adoption, and while a dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem she went on tour to Israel where she prayed at the Wailing Wall.[28] She wore a hamsa for protection while traveling to the Dome of the Rock and the Dead Sea, a symbol that is significant to both Jews and Muslims.[28]

She was in a relationship with the ballet dancer Skyler Maxey-Wert.[29][28]


  1. ^ DePrince, Michaela; Elaine, DePrince (2014). Taking Flight: From War Oprhan To Star Ballerina. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-385-75513-9.
  2. ^ Fuhrer, Margaret (20 March 2012). "Michaela DePrince". Dance Spirit magazine. Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  3. ^ Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina at Amazon.
  4. ^ Smith, David, "Sierra Leone war orphan returns to Africa en pointe for ballet debut", The Guardian, 16 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b c d Smith, David (16 July 2012). "Sierra Leone war orphan returns to Africa en pointe for ballet debut". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  6. ^ "Becoming Michaela DePrince". Ayiba. April 2015.
  7. ^ "HuffPost Teen's '18 Under 18' Of 2012! (PHOTOS)". Huffington Post. 31 December 2012.
  8. ^ a b c Petesch, Carley (11 July 2012). "Star dancer born into war grows up to inspire". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  9. ^ Marquis, Cate, "Ballet documentary defies stereotypes", STL Jewish Light, 16 May 2012.
  10. ^ Hayasaki, Erika, "I Was Orphan Number 27: Ballerina Michaela DePrince's Inspiring Story", Glamour, 16 July 2015.
  11. ^ Epstein, Eli, and Jennifer Polland (5 July 2012), "The Most Impressive Kids Graduating From High School This Year", Business Insider.
  12. ^ Garrett, Giannella (May 2012). "Defying Gravity: Teen Ballerina Michaela DePrince". Teen Vogue. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 17 July 2012.
  13. ^ "Defying The Odds: 1 Ballerina's Incredible Journey From African Orphanage To Center Stage". Huffington Post. 8 May 2012.
  14. ^ Murray, Rheana (11 April 2013). "Michaela DePrince: War orphan to star ballerina". Daily News. New York.
  15. ^ Mackrell, Judith (28 November 2013), "Everyday racism: how to be a black ballet dancer in a white world", The Guardian.
  16. ^ "From A War-Torn Childhood To Dance Stardom". Huffington Post. 11 July 2012.
  17. ^ Harss, Marina. "Michaela DePrince – Junior Company, Dutch National Ballet". DanceTabs. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  18. ^ "Michaela DePrince CV", Nationale Opera & Ballet.
  19. ^ Siegal, Nina (13 March 2015). "For Michaela DePrince, a Dream Comes True at the Dutch National Ballet". The New York Times.
  20. ^ Klein, Alyssa, "Meet The Sierra Leonean Ballet Star From Beyoncé’s ‘Lemonade’", OkayAfrica, April 29, 2016.
  21. ^ "African Voices". CNN. 30 August 2012.
  22. ^ Maas, Jennifer (19 March 2015). "MGM acquires rights to 'Taking Flight' ballerina memoir". Entertainment Weekly.
  23. ^ Anthony D'Alessandro (19 March 2015), "Ballerina Memoir ‘Taking Flight’ En Pointe For MGM, Alloy", Deadline Hollywood.
  24. ^ Respers, Lisa (14 March 2018), "Madonna to direct biopic of ballerina from 'Lemonade' video", CNN.
  25. ^ Hallemann, Caroline (14 March 2018), "Madonna to Direct a Film Based on Ballerina Michaela DePrince's Life", Town & Country.
  26. ^ Rose, Steve (14 March 2018), "Madonna to direct movie based on life of ballerina Michaela DePrince", The Guardian.
  27. ^ Wingenroth, Lauren (13 March 2018), "Michaela DePrince Is Getting A Biopic—And Madonna Is Directing It", Dance Magazine.
  28. ^ a b c Deprince, Michaela; Elaine Deprince (2016). Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina. ISBN 9780385755146.
  29. ^ Poole, Sheila (29 July 2015), "Black ballerina Michaela DePrince hopes to inspire others", The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.