Stephanie Kurlow Is World’s First Hijabi Ballerina
“We need to realise that being different is something you should be proud of and embrace” – Stephanie Kurlow
The Russian-Australian dancer, Stephanie Kurlow was 2 years old when she wore her first tutu and by 9 her first hijab.
In 2010, Kurlow stopped performing ballet when her family converted to Islam. At the time, finding a school which accommodated both her religious beliefs and dance needs seemed impossible, and Kurlow thought her professional ballet dreams were over.
“I didn’t have any role models that looked like me. I didn’t have anyone who had a layout of, ‘This is what I’ve done, this is how I’ve become this,’” Kurlow told the SBS.
Since then, the ballerina is treading new territory within her culture. She says, “I find that my faith makes me really appreciate this beautiful art form and notice how all things are connected. Dance is another way that I can bring my spirituality into the world, and so performing can really bring a feeling of transcendence.”
“Art forms are always evolving and I think introducing ballerinas who are diverse is just creating a more beautiful world. […] I want to inspire people to be yourself and be proud of your identity. Reach for the stars, but never compromise your values, religion or beliefs,” she added.
In 2016, Kurlow launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for full-time ballet-school education, her story quickly spread worldwide, catching the attention of Swedish sports fashion company Bjorn Borg. The company was so moved by Kurlow’s story that they awarded her their first-ever Game Changer scholarship, equal to around $8400 AUD and sufficient to cover a year of ballet tuition.
“She’s a true game changer,” said Bjorn Borg marketing director, Jonas Lindberg Nyvang. “We were genuinely inspired to learn about her story. The courage it takes for a 14-year-old to fight for her right to dance ballet against all odds is exceptional.”
Kurlow admits that it was difficult getting back into dancing after her three-year break, she says that “any dream can be achieved through perseverance and hard work. If you love something you can achieve anything.”
The hijabi ballerina is currently training for a place at a pre-professional ballet school which she hopes will enable her to tour the world with a dance company. Her long term goal is to open her own “ballet company and performing arts school that caters towards people of different religions, races or backgrounds.”