Michaela DePrince is a famous ballerina, a soloist at the Boston Ballet, featured in Beyoncé and Madonna music videos, and starred in the film adaptation of the ballet Coppelia. However, she came from the most unlikely origins. She grew up in an orphanage where she was called the devil’s child because of her vitiligo, a condition that gave her white spots on her skin. But then she found an issue of Dance Magazine.
“I loved what I saw inside, but the cover, the ballerina just looked so beautiful and so elegant and so happy,” she said. “So it created the path I’m on now. I actually still have a copy of the magazine in my house, tucked away in a safe place, just to remind me where I came from.”
“Nobody would want a devil’s child”
Michaela DePrince, original name Mabinty Bangura, was born on January 6, 1995, in Sierra Leone during a civil war. Rebels killed her father and her mother died shortly after from starvation. Her uncle left her in an orphanage when she was three. 
There, the children were ranked from one to 27, with one being the favorite child who gets the most preferential treatment. DePrince was number 27. “I didn’t get enough food, I didn’t get the best clothes, I got the last choice of toys,” she said. “I was in the back and they didn’t really care if I died or whatever happened to me.”
Her vitiligo condition was considered a sign that she was possessed by an evil entity. “They thought of me as a devil’s child. They told me every day how I wasn’t going to get adopted because nobody would want a devil’s child,” she said. 
One evening, DePrince and her favorite teacher walked back from school like they usually do. Just before they entered the orphanage’s gate, three rebel soldiers passed by. “Two of them were drunk; the third one was a younger boy,” DePrince said. “My teacher was outside the gate and I was still inside. The two older rebels came and saw that she was pregnant.”
During Sierra Leone’s civil war, civilians suffered at the hands of soldiers, particularly pregnant women. Soldiers would cut open their stomachs to check the sex of the fetus. “If they found a boy they would let the woman go, or kill the mother and save the child,” DePrince says. “But they found a baby girl when they cut my teacher’s stomach open, so they cut her arms and legs off.” The younger soldier, perhaps to impress the older ones, stabbed a machete into DePrince’s stomach as well. She blacked out but was fortunately rescued in time.
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Falling in Love With Ballet
Soon after this horrific event, she discovered something that changed the course of her life. It was a discarded issue of Dance Magazine. “There was a lady on it, she was on her tippy-toes, in this pink, beautiful tutu. I had never seen anything like this, a costume that stuck out with glitter on it, with just so much beauty. I could just see the beauty in that person and the hope and the love and just everything that I didn’t have. And I just thought: ‘Wow! This is what I want to be.’“
Later on, Michaela DePrince was adopted by an American couple, Charles and Elaine DePrince, who had lost three children. Her new mother soon learned about her daughter’s obsession with ballet. “We found a Nutcracker video and I watched it 150 times,” Michaela said. And when they went to a live performance, she told her mother when dancers missed their steps.
So Elaine enrolled five-year-old Michaela into the Rock School of Dance in Philadelphia. But she remained shy and self-conscious of her skin condition. When she asked her teacher if her vitiligo would hold back her success, the teacher said she hadn’t even noticed the pale spots on her skin; she was too focused on watching her dance.