Muslim teen wants to be first professional ballerina in a hijab

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This Muslim dancer is raising the barre.

Muslim teen wants to be first professional ballerina in a hijab

Sydney schoolgirl Stephanie Kurlow wants to become the first hijabi ballerina in the world - and to open a dance school for girls of all backgrounds to pirouette in her footsteps.

“Dancing is like flying for me. It makes me feel free,” the poised 14-year-old tells the Daily News.

“All I want is to share the beauty of the amazing ballet art form,” she continues, “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 began dancing when she was two years old, and performed with the Riverside Theatre until 2010, when she converted to Islam with her two brothers, Australian father and Russian-born mother.“Everything made sense for me in Islam,” she says. “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 she stopped performing because she struggled to reconcile her new religion and its wrappings with ballet culture. Some strict Muslims believe dancing is forbidden. She also felt self-conscious about topping her tutu with the modest hijab head scarf.

“We thought there were no facilitations or services targeted at Muslim girls,” she says.

But she was inspired by trailblazing women such as African-American ballerinas Michaela DePrince and Misty Copeland, the first hijabi Emirati weight lifter Amna Al Haddad and the first hijabi news anchor on American television Noor Tagouri to pursue her passion.

“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 says, referring to the Australian Nasheed & Arts Academy that opened in 2012.

She took first place in a Muslim talent show that same year, and was awarded the Most Inspirational Young Star in Sydney’s Youth Talent Smash competition last year - while wearing her hijab.

“[The hijab] is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” she says. “If people have the right to dress down, then I have the right to dress up.”

Kurlow dreams of empowering other women the same way, which is why she has launched a fundraising page on to raise $10,000 to train full-time at ballet school to become certified to open her own performing arts school in Sydney. She raised more than $1,000 in the four days since it’s been posted.

“I don’t want certain people who are discriminatory to hold anyone back from achieving their dreams and being unique,” she says. “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.”

And she’ll keep dancing proudly in her hijab, especially since so many on social media are convinced the head scarf is holding her back. Commentators typically tell her they think that dancing is forbidden in Islam. She begs to differ.

“I believe [the hijab] covers my body, but not my mind, heart and talent,” she says.

“Besides ... I never receive second-degree burns from the sun, and never have a bad hair day.”

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