The dance of her life is the stuff of dreams

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Once upon a time, the wind blew a picture of a ballerina to an orphan’s gate in Africa . . .

By Ellen Dunkel, For The Inquirer

The road to becoming a dancer, particularly for a girl, is a long, hard, highly competitive one. She must practice thousands of pliés and tendus, and deal with sore muscles, strict diets, painful pointe shoes, blisters, bunions – and all the other dancers waiting in the wings.

For 14-year-old Michaela DePrince, the road has been even rougher, carrying her from an African orphanage to a new life in Cherry Hill. But she already has begun to be noticed. In January, she won the Youth Grand Prix in the junior age division at the Philadelphia regional semifinal of the Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest competition for student dancers. She was among a small, elite group to make the final round in the New York finals in March.

She also was one of a handful of young dancers named to the American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Program, meaning she participated in ABT’s Summer Intensive last year, was given scholarship money to study at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance Education during the year, and will return to study at ABT this summer.

Michaela’s route toward a life in dance began in the coastal West African country of Sierra Leone, which has a long history of poverty and violence. She was born Mabinty Bangura in the midst of a vicious 11-year civil war. Her parents died soon after, leaving her to an orphanage where the “aunties” gave her last choice of food and clothing – possibly because she has vitiligo, a pigmentation condition that left white patches on her upper chest. She had just one friend, another girl named Mabinty.

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Photo: Michaela DePrince, 14, rests between rehearsals in front of a window at the Rock School for Dance Education, overlooking the Philadelphia skyline. (Sarah J. Glover / Staff Photographer Inquirer)