Written by Erin Lobner. Media by Courtney Murphy.
Fourteen-year-old Stephanie Kurlow is working toward her dream of becoming the world’s first hijabi ballerina. Kurlow has been dancing since she was two but stopped for a while at the age of nine when she, her parents and her two brothers converted to Islam.
Kurlow says she feels more connected to God after converting to Islam. The reason she took a break from dancing during that time was because of the differences between her new religion and ballet culture. Some conservative Muslims believe that dancing is forbidden, to which she says “I believe [the hijab] covers my body, but not my mind, heart and talent.”
On the other hand, many critics believe wearing a hijab is holding her back. Kurlow herself has even admitted to feeling self-conscious when wearing her hijab with her ballet outfits. However, she was inspired by women such as Misty Copeland, an African-American ballerina, Amna Al Haddad, the first hijabi Emirati weightlifter, and Noor Tagouri, the first hijabi news anchor on American television. Ultimately, Kurlow hopes to encourage Muslim women and others to pursue their passions. Now she says, “[The hijab] is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love.”
Although it hasn’t been easy, Kurlow has stuck to her beliefs while continuing to dance. When she couldn’t find anywhere to train due to her outfit, her mother opened a performing arts academy. There they offer ballet, martial arts and aboriginal art classes for Muslims, minorities and others who respect their modest dress and want to train.
Kurlow states in her LaunchGood page, “My dream is to train in a Full-Time Ballet School catered to aspiring young girls who want to train 30-45 hours a week so they can become a professional ballerina. I want to encourage everyone to join together no matter what faith, race or colour.” She also displays her impressive list of accomplishments, which include performing at various concerts and being named “Most Inspirational Young Star” in the Youth Talent Smash.
She practices so often that she states she has danced through four pairs of pointe shoes in three years. She expresses the elegance and strength of ballerinas when she says, “A simple turn of your head or a move of your arm can express so much. I think it’s really cool and amazing how ballerinas never show pain. We could be bleeding in our shoes and never show pain.”
Overall, Kurlow wants to be a conduit for those hoping to pursue similar goals. “I don’t want certain people who are discriminatory to hold anyone back from achieving their dreams and being unique,” she says.
When it comes to her religion, she says that Islam has given her a sense of purpose. She embraces the modesty and dignity that comes along with wearing her hijab and dancing. To sum up her decision, she says, “I believe [the hijab] covers my body, but not my mind, heart and talent.” Kurlow’s actions have already inspired those who encounter her story, and her passion drives her to achieve even more.