Michaela DePrince (Rosalie O'Connor)
Ballerinas aren’t often described as powerful. Strong? Maybe. Dynamic? Sure. But when you watch 17-year-old Michaela DePrince, a student at The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre, powerful is the first word that comes to mind. While her technique is elegant and fluid—particularly her expressive, eloquent port de bras—underneath the surface there’s a turbo-charged engine. You can almost hear it revving as she flies across the floor, tossing off supersized sauts de chats and triple pirouettes and finishing with an endless balance in arabesque.
Most dancers trace their fascination with ballet back to their first time seeing The Nutcracker or a dance special on TV. But Michaela’s story is dramatically different. Born in war-torn Sierra Leone, she lost both parents at a very young age, and was taken in by an orphanage. When she was 4, she found a European magazine lying outside the orphanage gates. “It had a picture of a woman standing on her tippy toes,” Michaela says. “I didn’t know it then, but she was standing on pointe.” Fascinated, she ripped out the page and put it in her underwear for safekeeping. “I decided that if I ever got adopted and made it to America, I would dance like the lady in the magazine,” she says. A few months later, an American couple did adopt Michaela, and she moved to Cherry Hill, NJ. Though she spoke little English, she showed her adopted mother the magazine photo. Before long, Michaela was enrolled in ballet classes at The Rock School in Philadelphia, where she continued to train until she was 15.
Michaela developed a formidable technique at The Rock, which led to a slew of awards when she began competing at Youth America Grand Prix as a teen. Film director and producer Bess Kargman took notice of Michaela’s competition success and selected her to be one of the young dancers featured in the 2011 documentary about YAGP, First Position. The film follows Michaela’s path to the 2010 NYC finals of the competition, a journey that concludes with a beaming Michaela accepting a scholarship to the JKO School.
Now, Michaela is adding polish and finesse to her technique at JKO. “My teachers here have shown me that it’s not all about the tricks—about how high your leg goes or how many pirouettes you do,” she says. “They’ve helped me focus on artistry.” What does the future hold for the talented dancer? After a guest performance in the Netherlands last winter, she started dreaming about joining a company like Dutch National Ballet.
“I took class with the company when I was over there, and I just loved the way everyone danced,” she says. “They express themselves in a unique, exciting way. I want to be part of something like that.”
Much of Janelle Ginestra's career has been about helping others shine. She's dedicated herself to supporting and cheerleading her partner, WilldaBeast Adams; the emerging talents in their dance company, ImmaBEAST; and the countless dancers she inspires at master classes and conventions. Her YouTube channel has become a launching pad for young talents like "Fraternal Twins" Larsen Thompson and Taylor Hatala, thanks to viral videos featuring Ginestra's creative vision.
But Ginestra's a skyrocketing success in her own right—an in-demand choreographer, a social media influencer, and a dance entrepreneur, building a legacy one eight-count at a time. It's time for her turn in the spotlight. And she's more than ready. "I want to be a legend in whatever I do," she says. We'd argue that she already is.
If you've ever seen a Janelle Ginestra class video, you know how lit her combos are. What you don't see in those clips is how devoted Ginestra is to her students. We went behind the scenes at one of her sold-out IMMA SPACE classes to see Ginestra in her element, mentoring some of L.A.'s most talented dancers. It was an inspiration feedback loop.
All photos by Joe Toreno.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
I love ballet, and I've been told that I have a lot of potential. I can see myself dancing professionally one day. But I'm also working toward my black belt in karate—and I'm passionate about that, too. How can I keep up my technique while also making time for the other things I love? Is that even possible?
What do you get when you combine a Beyoncé anthem, fierce girls from all over the world, and choreography by legends like Ellenore Scott and Lamar Lee? You get the epic music video below. The viral video features little girls who live everywhere from Tanzania to Washington D.C. dancing and lip-syncing to Queen Bey's song "Freedom," and the result is electrifying. These littles can dance—and they bring a determination and enthusiasm to their movement that's truly inspiring.