Photo: Kurlow wants to be the first professional ballerina to dance in a hijab.
Fourteen Year-Old Australian Muslim Girl Dreams to Be the First Hijabi Ballet Dancer
A young Muslim ballerina wants other girls like her to know they can make a change — no matter their beliefs or the clothes they choose to wear.
Stephanie Kurlow, 14, converted to Islam with her Australian father, Russian-born mother and two brothers in 2010. Sadly, her conversion led to her feeling the need to give up ballet. She wanted to wear her Hijab to dance classes in the southwest suburbs of Sydney, Australia, where she lives with her family, but she couldn’t find a school who would accept her.
“The Hijab is so important to me because it’s a part of who I am and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” Kurlow told Mashable Australia. “If people have the right to dress down then I have the right to dress up and my Hijab is my expression of love to my creator and I believe it covers my body but not my mind, heart and talent.”
The young entrepreneur was not to be deterred by the discrimination she felt. Inspired by Muslim women pushing through boundaries across the world — such as Noor Tagouri, the first American news anchor to wear a Hijab — Kurlow decided she had to take a stand if she was ever going to fulfill her childhood dream.
“All I want is 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,” Kurlow said. “I want these young people to have opportunities, young people who think it’s not possible to make their dream a reality because of the pressure from the many phobias and racism in our society.”
Kurlow has been dancing since she was 2 years old, and desperately wanted to be a professional ballerina. She started a crowd-funding campaign to try to make her dream a reality — and to help other young people who feel like they can’t pursue their endeavors without discrimination.
“In this day and age there is a lack of facilitation for youth who are disengaged or of a different religion or race,” Kurlow wrote in the campaign description. “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 is trying to raise $10,000, which she states is to cover her tuition, supplies and competition entry for one year. She believes if she receives the right training she can pass on her knowledge and skills to girls who have the same aspiration. Once she trains, she hopes to open a ballet school to cater to a diverse group of ballerinas.
“I want to become a professional ballet dancer and receive my qualifications so that I can open a performing arts school that caters to children and young people of different faiths, races and backgrounds,” she said. “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.”
They are big plans for a 14-year-old, but she says the project is also to raise awareness about issues many people in our society still face. Her initiative follows in the footsteps of her mum, Alsu, who opened a performing arts academy in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown that teaches ballet, martial arts and aboriginal art classes to the local community.
“My mum has been extraordinary in helping me achieve my dreams. When there was no where for me to study ballet due to my outfit, she opened a performing arts academy … where no one questions children why they dress or look a certain way,” Kurlow said.
No matter if she achieves her goal, Kurlow is happy to add her voice to the discussion. “I don’t want people to be seen for the clothes they wear, I want them to be seen as the person they are and how they want to change the world,” she said.