Muslim Teen Defies Tradition to Become First Hijab-Wearing Ballerina
With a dream of becoming the first hijab-wearing Muslim ballerina, 14-year-old Stephanie Kurlow recently launched a fundraising page in the hopes of pulling together more than $7,000 so she can get her certification to open a performing arts program in her native Sydney because, she has said, “I don’t want certain people who are discriminatory to hold anyone back from achieving their dreams and being unique.”
Her plans, as detailed on her LaunchGood.com fundraiser page, are as passionate as her pirouettes. “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 wrote. “My dream is to train in a full-time ballet school catered for aspiring young girls who want to train 30-45 hours a week so they can become a professional ballerina.”
The mission is so important to her, the teen told the New York Daily News Tuesday because she wants “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.”
Religion briefly came between her and her beloved ballet in 2010 when she converted to Islam with her two brothers, Australian father, and Russian-born mother. Before that she had been dancing since age 2 and performing with the Riverside Theatre. “Everything made sense for me in Islam,” Kurlow said. “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 because some strict Muslims forbid dancing, and she struggled with reconciling her tutu with her hijab, Kurlow put away her slippers.
Photo: Launch Good
“We thought there were no facilitations or services targeted at Muslim girls,” she said. Her supportive mother, however, started a dance program — the Australian Nasheed and Arts Academy — two years later that changed all that.
“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 said.
Now she wants to do the same. “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,” she said. The sport, Kurlow added to the Daily News, is so much more than just an activity: “Dancing is like flying for me. It makes me feel free.”
Photo: Launch Good
The hijab too is more than just a scarf. It “is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” she said, adding that it “covers my body, but not my mind, heart and talent.”
And though she has critics, she won’t let them stop her. “I’ve gotten those looks or those little whispers from people saying that I can’t do it, and there are some parts of the ballet world that only see me for the clothes I wear, or the beliefs I have,” Kurlow told the Sydney Morning Herald. “But this means everything to me. I think I can bring people together through dance.”
Top photo: Launch Good
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The teen pregnancy prevention (actually teen mom shaming) ads making headlines in New York City are offensive and are part of a system that consistently degrades teen moms. The public service announcements promote unfair treatment of young women who need support. They enable people who have a personal agenda against teen moms to effectively use their disapproval to make the moms’ lives much harder than they need to be
Given that teen mothers already experience educational pushout for being pregnant or a parent, our family members and friends judge us for our “poor life choices,” and we have the highest rates of postpartum depression than any other group of mothers, it would be nice to be able to fully enjoy the one day a year the nation comes together to express gratitude for mothers.
What if teenage parents received the same love and support other mothers get through ads and advocacy campaigns? What if teenage parents were told they are capable of making a difference in the world, and are doing so by providing the support their child needs, even with the odds stacked up against them?
Malone, who had her daughter when she was 15, said that becoming pregnant at a young age was certainly an “isolating” experience. “It was mind boggling to see how many people thought my life was over, or didn’t associate with me anymore, simply because I was pregnant. Strangers had no problem stopping me on the street and telling me how much I had ruined my life and the life of my child — and, by extension, the economy,” she said.
And these type of [shaming] messages don’t just affect the teenage girls who are currently pregnant. They also reach the young women and men who are already parenting, as well as their children. Once New York City’s ads went up, Malone said her daughter saw them and asked why she wasn’t going to graduate from high school.
“Stigmatizing ads can, and often do, have a reverse effect,” Malone pointed out. “Young mothers can feel like all the hard work they’re doing in vain because these ads say you can’t be anything anyway… We can’t forget that we’re talking about humans who have feelings, and emotions, and families.”