Photo Credit: CNN
When I first saw a video of Stephanie Kurlow’s story, I was immediately inspired by her drive to achieve the huge life goal she set for herself. In case you haven’t heard of her yet, Kurlow is a 14-year-old from Sydney, Australia who aspires to be the first professional ballerina to wear a hijab. Although, since she was 9-years-old, Kurlow has encountered a significant setback that’s kept her from achieving her goal in life. This setback has nothing to do with her lack of talent, drive, or ambition; it is all centered around her religious beliefs.
As a little girl, Kurlow wore her first tutu at the age of 2 and immediately fell in love with ballet. From ages 2-9, she performed with the Riverside Theatre in Australia, then at age 9, her life completely changed. Kurlow and her family converted to Islam, embraced the Quaran, and began to pray five times a day. This teen says that her faith makes her feel more prepared to achieve her life’s goals. “Being Muslim makes me dance different. Islam is really truthful and I feel more connected to God now,” Kurlow told CNN. Unfortunately, Kurlow has never performed ballet on a real stage as a Muslim because she continues to struggle about how to reconcile her religion and its wrappings with ballet culture. She has yet to find a ballet school that will let her wear a hijab. To understand more of what Kurlow faces daily, look at this spotlight POPSUGAR did on the teen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z74KJh7pNjs.
Dressed in long tulle skirts and matching head coverings, Kurlow is committed to practicing ballet 30 hours a week. Most of her practicing is accomplished at Australian Nasheed & Arts Academy, which is a performing arts academy run by her mother that caters to Muslims, minorities and other people who want to dress modestly while they practice the arts. When she can’t make it to the academy, Kurlow is not above lacing up her pointe shoes to practice in her own back yard. “Dancing is like flying to me. It makes me feel free,” said Kurlow to Daily News. In fact, Kurlow is such a fan of “flying” that she once went through four pairs of pointe shoes in just three years. You can see some of Kurlow’s beautiful moves in this interview with Australian journalist Briana Roberts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0QIDB1fNQ0 .
In addition to making her own dream come true, this Australian dancer strives to inspire other young Muslim girls to follow their dreams too. Kurlow’s own inspirations include a host of people who successfully broke down barriers simply with their passions. They include dancers Michaela DePrince and Misty Copeland, the first hijabi Emrati weight lifter Amna Al Haddad and the first hijabi news anchor on American television Noor Tagouri. I’m sure one day soon Kurlow will be able to add her name to this list. Currently, she has a campaign running on LaunchGood (https://www.launchgood.com/project/1st_muslim_hijabi_ballerina_in_the_world#/) and hopes to raise $10,000 to become professionally trained. She eventually wants to open her own performing arts academy that caters to all religions, races, and backgrounds.
Photo Credit: SBS World News
Kurlow’s story is so relevant right now. Even though she is experiencing prejudice in Australia, there are many things going on right now in the United States that mirror that same kind of prejudice. To be denied the opportunity to dance in 2017 because of your religious beliefs is beyond me. “I believe the hijab covers my body, but not my mind, heart, and talent,” Kurlow told New York Daily News. How can anyone expect a child to fly if their wings are taken away?