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Superstar Ballerina From Sierra Leone At Home In New York

posted 16 Apr 2013, 02:21 by Mpelembe   [ updated 16 Apr 2013, 02:22 ]

Orphaned during a civil war in Sierra LeoneMichaela DePrince has become one of the United States' most successful ballerinas.

NEW YORKNEW YORKUNITED STATES  (DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM) -  Born amid the deadly violence of a civil war in Sierra Leone and orphaned as a young child, 18-year-old Michaela DePrince has defied the odds of her birth to become one of the world's most successful and graceful ballerinas.

DePrince is currently the youngest member of the acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York City and is living her childhood dream.

"Dance Theatre of Harlem is absolutely amazing. I get to work with such amazing people and because it's such a small company right now, we are really like a knit-tight family. We are always there for each other. Which is great because you can just talk to somebody and they totally understand what you are going through. But it's helped me a lot and they've helped me grow as a person and as a dancer. I'm very grateful that they chose me to be there," said DePrince during an interview with Reuters Television on Monday (April 15).

Born in 1995 during Sierra Leone's brutal civil war with a skin condition called vitiligo which causes white spots on the skin, she was orphaned at three-years old when both her parents died. DePrince said while she was at the orphanage inSierra Leone there was a pretty picture of a ballerina on a magazine cover that inspired her to dream big.

She was adopted at four years old by an American family and began studying ballet in the United States when she was five years old.

"It wasn't necessarily that I wanted to be a ballerina, I just wanted to be this person on a magazine. I didn't know what it actually took to become a dancer until I came here and was like, 'Oh my God'. But the fact that I found that magazine, it was absolutely amazing and for me seeing that it gave me hope to just keep going and to keep dreaming," she said.

DePrince lives in New York City with her parents and four sisters, who were also adopted.

"Michaela is extremely intense. She is driven. She is ambitious, a perfectionist, a real type-A personality. I would like her to be a little more Type-B, but this is who she is and she works really hard. I have to give her a lot of credit," said Elaine DePrince, Michaela's mother.

"My hope for Michaela as a mom is that she is happy. I want her to be happy above all else. I think that her dance, I know that her dance makes her happy and I want her to find happiness in all other aspects of her life as she grows older," she added.

Despite the stardom, DePrince said she is also just a normal teenager. The ballerina said she has a solid circle of friends and a boyfriend, but still makes time for herself.

"My mom knows this, because I like to have at least two days where I can just hang out with my friends or sometimes I even I go hang out with my friends and end up just going out by myself and just walking around and having a 'me day'. And I absolutely love writing, which also helps. I write in my journal, so I let all of the stress out and I don't know, I try to be as normal as possible."

For now, DePrince plans to keep dancing. She is scheduled to perform in the Netherlands this summer.

But as she once dreamed of being a ballerina, DePrince now dreams of returning to Sierra Leone.

"When I stop dancing, of course I want to have a family, but I also want to go back to Sierra Leone and start a school there. I want to start an arts school. At first, I wanted it to just be ballet because I love ballet, but so many love different types and different forms of dance, contemporary, modern, lyrical, everything and tap. And so I already have friends who want to help me with this and I want to open a school is Sierra Leone so that they get an opportunity. Like even if they are teenagers or really little kids, they get an opportunity to have that little taste of what I had in my career. Because I think they all deserve an opportunity like that."

The DePrince family home is filled with talent. Michaela's sister Mia is an aspiring singer and songwriter. Mia and Michaela were best friends in the orphanage inSierra Leone when they were both adopted by the DePrince family.