Meet the Teen Who Wants to Become the First Hijabi Ballerina

The 14-year-old hopes to one day open a dance school for children of all religious backgrounds.

(Photo: Nisian Hughes/Getty Images)

Feb 3, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Leotard, tights, and a tutu. One 14-year-old wants to add a hijab to her ballerina costume and simultaneously encourage Muslim girls to pursue their dream jobs without compromising their religious beliefs.

Australian Stephanie Kurlow is training to become the first professional ballerina to wear a hijab, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Kurlow and her family converted to Islam in 2010, and the teen initially stopped training, her hopes of ever making it to the big leagues dashed because of the requirements of her new religion. But after seeing Misty Copeland become the first black ballerina to earn a spot as a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre and Noor Tagouri deliver the news as the first anchor to wear a hijab on American TV, the teen decided she too could break down barriers.

“[The hijab] is a part of who I am, and represents the beautiful religion that I love,” Kurlow told the New York Daily News. “I believe [it] covers my body, but not my mind, heart, and talent.”

Had such a fun photo shoot the other day! #wedanceasone

A photo posted by sᴛᴇᴘʜᴀɴɪᴇ ᴋᴜʀʟᴏᴡ (@stephaniekurlow) on

In Australia, a majority Christian country, just 2 percent of people identify as Muslim. As Australia’s 40-year-old Racial Discrimination Act does not protect its citizens on the basis of religion, Muslims have increasingly become targets of both verbal and physical assault, according to a November report by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Women are particularly vulnerable, as wearing a hijab makes their religion visible.

RELATED: 9 Inspiring Photos That Show Black Ballerinas Breaking Down Barriers

Kurlow told the Herald that she’s faced criticism on both fronts, from Australians who believe her hijab will prevent her from being taken seriously and from Muslims who believe dancing is forbidden in Islam (religious scholars have different interpretations on this point).

Despite the naysayers, Kurlow wants to take her dancing to the next level and has started a crowdfunding campaign to afford full-time training at a professional ballet academy.

Arabesque

A photo posted by sᴛᴇᴘʜᴀɴɪᴇ ᴋᴜʀʟᴏᴡ (@stephaniekurlow) on

“I want to encourage everyone to join together, no matter what faith, race or color,” Kurlow wrote on the crowdfunding page. “I believe I am here to inspire and motivate youth who feel isolated or disengaged due to labels and restrictions, to pursue their dreams no matter what.” At publishing time, Kurlow had raised more than AU$2,000 of her AU$10,000 goal, which she says will pay for a year’s worth of tuition, supplies, and competition fees.

Kurlow’s goal is ultimately to open a performing arts academy for kids like her, with specialty programs that take religious beliefs into consideration.

“I will provide for our future generations a chance to express and heal themselves and others through the magnificent art of performing and creativity,” Kurlow wrote.