Ballerina Michaela DePrince talks extraordinary challenges she faced

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Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon has the inside scoop on one young woman's strength and love.

Many of us first became aware of Michaela DePrince when she appeared in a video from Beyonce last year, but she had already made her mark as a famous ballerina. This is all the more remarkable given the extraordinary challenges she faced.

Watching DePrince dance in Beyonce's 'Freedom' video, it is hard to imagine the horrors of war DePrince has witnessed, hard to fathom how the grace and beauty of this ballerina were born out of tragedy in her native Sierra Leone during its Civil War.

DePrince was just three years old, and born with vitiligo, which made her situation even worse.

"Unfortunately the people in my village didn't understand that vitiligo was just a skin condition. They thought I was the 'devil's child,' so anything that happened to, anything that happened bad in our village, it was my fault," she says.

DePrince was brought to an orphanage.

"And in the orphanage, they ranked us from favorites, so #1 was the favorite, and I was #27 because of my vitiligo," she adds.

However, the course of her life was to be changed by a single image.

"It was a ballerina, and it was on the cover of a magazine: a dance magazine, and she inspired me to continue to want to live and to have a good life," says DePrince.

DePrince found a better life in New Jersey, where she was adopted by a couple from Cherry Hill who encouraged her ambition at 12. She then came to the Dance Theater of Harlem.

"I wasn't quite sure what they saw in me when I was accepted into the company, but they continued to push me, and that inspired me to continue to believe in myself," she says.

Raising the self-esteem of other young women is the idea behind her new book for children, and a national campaign for Jockey called 'Show 'Em What's Underneath."

"It doesn't really matter what color you are, what shape you are, if you have the love and you're going to work hard at what you love to do, that's all that really matters," DePrince adds.

She has learned that truth the hard way - battling prejudice about her appearance throughout her ballet career. She bore the brunt of harsh words too nasty to repeat, but DePrince praises the parents who raised her in New Jersey for believing in her and giving her hope.
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