Muslim Teen Defies Tradition to Become First Hijab-Wearing Ballerina

With a dream of becoming the first hijab-wearing Muslim ballerina, 14-year-old Stephanie Kurlow recently launched a fundraising page in the hopes of pulling together more than $7,000 so that she can get her certification to open a performing arts program in her native Sydney because she said, “I don’t want certain people who are discriminatory to hold anyone back from achieving their dreams and being unique.” 

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Her plans, as she details them on her LaunchGood.com fundraiser page, are as passionate as her pirouettes. “I plan on bringing the world together by becoming the very first Muslim ballerina so that I can inspire so many other people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams,” Kurlow writes. “My dream is to train in a full-time ballet school catered for aspiring young girls who want to train 30 – 45 hours a week so they can become a professional ballerina.” 

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Stephanie Kurlow (Photo: Facebook/Stephanie Kurlow)

The mission is so important to her, the teen told the New York Daily News Tuesday because she wants “to share the beauty of the amazing ballet art form and inspire other young people who maybe don’t feel so confident to follow their dreams due to the outfits they wear, religious beliefs or lack of opportunities.” 

Religion briefly came between her and her beloved ballet in 2010 when she converted to Islam with with her two brothers, Australian father, and Russian-born mother. Before that she’d been dancing since age 2, and performing with the Riverside Theatre. “Everything made sense for me in Islam,” Kurlow explained. “I like to be modest and I like to keep my dignity. I like to know the purpose of my life. I like to live a healthy lifestyle and avoid harmful things.” But because some strict Muslims forbid dancing, and she struggled with reconciling her tutu with her hijab, Kurlow put away her slippers. 

(Photo: Launch Good)

“We thought there were no facilitations or services targeted at Muslim girls,” she says. Her supportive mother, however, started a dance program — the Australian Nasheed & Arts Academy — two years later that changed all that. “When there was nowhere for me to study ballet due to my outfit, [my mom] opened a performing arts academy that taught ballet, martial arts and aboriginal arts classes for girls like me, where no one questions children why they dress or look a certain way,” she said. 

Now, she wants to do the same. “I believe that one day all children and young people will have an opportunity to perform and create, without sacrificing their values, beliefs or looks, and my campaign is one step closer to achieving this,” she said. The sport, Kurlow added to the Daily News, is so much more than just an activity: “Dancing is like flying for me. It makes me feel free.” 

(Photo: Launch Good)

The hijab, too, is more than just a scarf. It “is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” she declared, adding that It “covers my body, but not my mind, heart and talent.”

And though she has critics, she won’t let them stop her. “I’ve gotten those looks or those little whispers from people saying that I can’t do it, and there are some parts of the ballet world that only see me for the clothes I wear, or the beliefs I have,’ Kurlow told the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘But this means everything to me. I think I can bring people together through dance.”

(Top photo: Launch Good)

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