Chapters 6–19

In this memoir, ballet dancer Michaela DePrince recounts her difficult childhood in Sierra Leone, her adoption by an American family, and her success as a ballerina.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. stoic
    seeming unaffected by pleasure or pain; impassive
    The more stoic I appeared, the more Auntie Fatmata tried to make me cry.
  2. superstitious
    showing faith in magic and ignorance of the laws of nature
    The aunties were superstitious, and we lived in a place where many people practiced voodoo, so I knew my trick would scare them.
  3. voodoo
    a religion practiced chiefly in Caribbean countries
    The aunties were superstitious, and we lived in a place where many people practiced voodoo, so I knew my trick would scare them.
  4. maize
    corn
    When the driver of the truck began unloading huge white bags at the gate, I sounded out the letters until I could read the red-and-blue print. “Mealie meal: super maize meal. Food!”
  5. scoff
    laugh at with contempt and derision
    “That is just the wind calling,” Mabinty Suma scoffed.
  6. immunize
    perform vaccinations or inoculate against a disease
    “If you hadn’t been late, Mabinty Bangura, you would have known the answer to that question. No, not now. They are coming to photograph you and examine each of you. They’ll also immunize you,” he said.
  7. falter
    speak haltingly
    My voice faltered when three ladies climbed out of the car.
  8. strut
    walk in a proud, confident way
    Once free, I strutted up and down the line of girls waiting for their turns.
  9. sprawl
    sit or lie with one's limbs spread out
    They lay sprawled on the ground with their eyes and mouths open in terror.
  10. beeline
    the most direct route
    We made a beeline for the trees.
  11. makeshift
    done or made using whatever is available
    We were taken to a makeshift village where the huts were made out of thin plastic, making it look like a sprawling garbage-bag town.
  12. scrutinize
    look at critically or searchingly, or in minute detail
    After the plane landed, I was the first to see the white parents, but I could not stop to scrutinize them and guess which belonged to me.
  13. congenital
    present at birth but not necessarily hereditary
    The doctors took one look at my skin and spoke among themselves, wondering if my spots might be the result of a terrible disease called congenital syphilis.
  14. aloof
    remote in manner
    Before that moment I had remained aloof from her, but now everything had changed.
  15. delirious
    marked by uncontrolled excitement or emotion
    I was almost delirious with joy, knowing that my dream might someday come true.
  16. leery
    openly distrustful and unwilling to confide
    I trusted my new papa immediately, but I was leery of the younger men.
  17. ecstatic
    feeling great rapture or delight
    That first day, as I wandered through the house that belonged to my new family, I was ecstatic to discover the inground pool, and I begged to swim.
  18. waft
    be driven or carried along, as by the air
    When he touched the white and black keys on the piano, music wafted out of the instrument, and Mia’s face lit with joy.
  19. bazaar
    a street of small shops, especially in the Middle East
    It was like the bazaar in Makeni—only it was indoors, cleaner, and better.
  20. leotard
    a tight, stretchy garment worn by gymnasts and dancers
    When it came time for my first ballet lesson, I dreaded wearing a leotard.
  21. arabesque
    position in which the dancer has one leg raised behind
    I expected us to immediately move on to greater things, like arabesques, grands jetés, and pirouettes, but we couldn’t.
  22. pirouette
    a rapid spin of the body
    I expected us to immediately move on to greater things, like arabesques, grands jetés, and pirouettes, but we couldn’t.
  23. pinafore
    a sleeveless dress resembling an apron
    Mama had sewn red velvet dresses with white eyelet pinafores for Mia and me.
  24. intoxicating
    extremely exciting
    It was such an intoxicating feeling that I knew I could not live without it.
  25. extension
    the ability to raise the working leg high in the air
    Suzanne Slenn, my ballet teacher, said, “You were fortunate to have been born with naturally great extension and talent. I expect more of you because of that.”
  26. exotic
    strikingly strange or unusual
    I suggested that she change her name to something more exotic, like Svetlana, Tatiana, or Natalia, names of Russia’s most famous ballerinas.
  27. intolerance
    unwillingness to respect differences in opinions or beliefs
    I didn’t know anything about racial intolerance then, but I learned about it soon enough.
  28. bigotry
    intolerance and prejudice
    My earliest experience of bigotry occurred in my own front yard.
  29. prejudice
    a partiality preventing objective consideration of an issue
    At the time I didn’t understand that there was racial prejudice in America, so I was confused about why the neighbor didn’t want anyone to see us.
  30. crusade
    a series of actions tending toward a particular end
    It was the story of how six-year-old Ruby Bridges led the crusade to integrate the schools in New Orleans.
  31. integrate
    open up to members of all races and ethnic groups
    It was the story of how six-year-old Ruby Bridges led the crusade to integrate the schools in New Orleans.
  32. marshal
    a law officer having duties similar to those of a sheriff
    Some of the white people in her neighborhood even walked behind the federal marshal’s car when Ruby went to school.
  33. upscale
    relating or appealing to wealthy or high-status consumers
    While living in New York City, we read reports of racial profiling in upscale stores, even reports of warrantless searches and pat-downs of black shoppers.
  34. bias
    a partiality preventing objective consideration of an issue
    However, there is one form of racial discrimination that I am unable to ignore, and that is the racial bias in the world of ballet.
  35. classical
    of recognized authority or excellence
    I began peppering my parents with questions that they couldn’t answer, such as “Why are there lots of black dancers in the contemporary companies, but not in the classical and neoclassical companies that tell the stories that I love so much?”
  36. sorority
    a social club for female undergraduates
    A friend of my mother’s had once told me that to get into the best black sororities in college, you had to have skin lighter than the brown bags used in supermarkets, and she had failed the “brown paper bag test.”
  37. fateful
    having momentous consequences; of decisive importance
    However, those words still terrified me to the point that I worried endlessly about the fateful day when I’d reach puberty and grow a big butt and big thighs.
  38. trivial
    of little substance or significance
    I didn’t need something as trivial as jealousy to bring me down.
  39. bleak
    offering little or no hope
    After escaping Sierra Leone, we arrived at this bleak United Nations refugee camp in Guinea before moving to the safe house.
  40. choreograph
    compose a sequence of dance steps, often to music
    Leaping over Mia in the dance I choreographed to the music from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Created on September 13, 2018 (updated September 13, 2018)

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