‘First Position’ Dancer’s Journey From African Orphan to U.S. Ballerina

By ABC News

May 3, 2012 4:09pm

ABC News’ Cassy Arsenault and Alex Waterfield reports:

As ballerina Michaela DePrince eased onto her toes and leaped into the air, landing in a precision-perfect stance, her face was focused and calm.

The 17-year-old competitive dancer, one of the stars of the upcoming ballet documentary, “First Position,” at the famed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City, where she recently showed off her ballet moves with precision and grace. Dancers of all levels and from all walks of life come to Alvin Ailey to train and be inspired.

Michaela competed against 5,000 young dancers two years ago in the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix, where the most talented young dancers in the world are chosen to compete for the ultimate prize, a spot in a top ballet school.

Michaela had a tougher journey than most to get there. Born in the war-torn African country of Sierra Leone, she was orphaned after her parents were killed in the civil war. Michaela was placed in an orphanage where she developed a big dream.

“In the orphanage, I found a magazine that had a ballet dancer on point with a pink tutu. I saved it, and I thought to myself if I ever got adopted, I wanted to become just like this,” she said.

But the dream seemed almost too big to come true.  She was the little girl no one wanted, called “Devil Child” and rejected over and over again because she has a skin condition called vitalago, which caused irregular white splotches on her dark skin.  Then one day Elaine DePrince and her husband Charles of Cherry Hill, Pa., arrived and changed then-4-year-old Michaela’s life.

“So I was in the process of adopting one child, and I heard that there was another child they couldn’t find placement for because she was spotted. So we decided to take her, too,” Elaine DePrince said.

Michaela quickly enrolled in ballet class and by the time she was 5 years old she was a dedicated dancer willing to put her body through incredible pain.  During the shooting of the documentary, which was directed by Bess Kargman,  Michaela suffered a possible career ending injury.  Advised not to dance, she went through with her Grand Prix performance, despite the pain and the risks.

It has all paid off.  Michaela is now a student at the Jacqueline Onassis School at the American Ballet Theater,  and last week she was featured on ABC’s competitive dance program, “Dancing With the Stars.”  She has also been offered a position at the Dance Theatre of Harlem.  But Michaela said she remains determined to be a prima ballerina.  One day, she said, she will dance as the White Swan.

“First Position” opens in theaters nationwide on May 11.

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Credit: ABC News

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