At 10 years old, Elaine had already decided that she was going to have a large family, one made up of many adopted kids who desperately needed families. Inspired by Scholastic’s featured reading for 5th graders, Elaine focused on one book in particular: The Family That Nobody Wanted, by Helen Doss. The book told the tale of a mid-century family who ended up adopting 12 children, each from a different corner of the world. What struck Elaine most at the time was the fact that the children chosen were considered less-than-desirable candidates for adoption — meaning non-white or having special needs. Elaine was devoted to turning that story into her own personal reality.
But first, she’d have to find the right guy to share her dream with. So when her husband asked her to marry him, she spoke of a future that included two biological children and a great yearning to adopt more. Charles DePrince was up to the challenge. "Now, I don't know if it was because he was in love with me or if he sincerely meant it," she says, "but he did come through for me on this."
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In that auditorium at Lincoln Center, the warm, articulate and soft-spoken Elaine made sure to interrupt her WITW interviewer to point out that she has not one, but "eleven amazing children," all precocious and accomplished in their own rights.
So how does a mother not only open her heart and home to nine orphaned children, but also imbue them with such confidence and drive? How does a mom take in a toddler and raise her to become — quite possibly — the world’s first black classical ballerina?
Elaine says, "Charles and I share this philosophy that every child has a talent and that parents should be alert as to what those talents might be. So we simply kept our eyes and ears open and responded to the cues from our children. When Michaela was four years old, she wanted to dance ballet. So we gave her ballet lessons. Our responsibility was to pay for her and get her there, but her responsibility was to behave in ballet class, to maintain her interest and if should she not be interested, she needs to tell us and then we would help her find another love. But she was just so impassioned by ballet that it was an easy call."
When I asked Elaine if the dance world was as racially charged as Michaela reported, she confirmed that this problem was indeed the truth. "Yes, it is. People would say to Michaela, 'Everybody knows a black girl can’t dance classical ballet,' or 'When you’re older, you probably can join Alvin Ailey or The Dance Theater of Harlem.' Michaela wanted to be a classical ballerina, and those are not classical companies.”
There are very few black girls in classical ballet. In the top five companies, worldwide, there are presently none. Michaela will be the first in a long time. She joined the Dutch National Ballet and she will begin dancing with them in July.
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Elaine believes that you have to be a strong mother if you're to have strong daughters. She raised her daughters to be strong, to stand up for themselves and to make a change in the world -- not just change in the world of ballet. She wants them to face the injustices of the world, or they won’t feel fulfilled. They were very lucky and so much was given to them; they need to give back. Keep reading ...