Stephanie Kurlow put on her first tutu at the age of 2. She donned her first hijab at the age of 9. When Kurlow first converted to Islam along with her family nine years ago, she feared her beliefs could never coincide with her artistic passion.
Now, at only 14 years old, Kurlow’s fears are behind her. The young dancer is en route to becoming the first professional ballerina in the world to don a hijab.
As these stunning photographs, taken at a dance studio in Sydney, Australia, clearly display, Kurlow is managing to combine her faith and her talent just fine. The images depict Kurlow, the daughter of Australian and Russian parents, in a striking blue tutu and matching hijab, as a dreamlike vision of discipline and poise. The stunning photos, starkly different from the ballet images that usually populate ballet reviews and Instagram feeds, present a preview of a more accepting and inclusive future for dance.
When Kurlow first began wearing hijab, she couldn’t find a ballet class that would allow her to wear the garment while training. Rather than back down, Kurlow launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for rigorous, private tutoring that would provide her with the training she needed to become the world’s first Muslim hijabi ballerina.
Almost 700 people donated to make her vision a reality, raising a total of over $7,000.
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And like a good ballerina, she made it all look so easy. “I think it’s really cool and amazing how ballerinas never show pain,” she said in an interview with CNN. “We could be bleeding in our shoes and never show pain.”
Kurlow, inspired by ballet trailblazer Misty Copeland and hijabi Emirati lifter Amna Al Haddad, hopes her story will inspire other girls who feel disconnected from their dreams due to their religions, ethnicities or backgrounds. She plans to one day open her own dance facility specifically geared toward diverse youths.
“This school will have special programs for specific religions, support groups for our youth and people who are from disconnected communities,” she expressed in her LaunchGood campaign. “I will provide for our future generations a chance to express and heal themselves and others through the magnificent art of performing and creativity.”
Still just a teenager, Kurlow is undeterred by the disapproval thrown her way, from both Muslim and ballet communities. “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,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“But this means everything to me. I think I can bring people together through dance and inspire some young people from different races that might be a bit disengaged.” If the ballerina is this tenacious and engaged as a teenager, we look forward to seeing the old school standards she overthrows and sashays across in the future.
Kurlow, you got this. We’re just lucky to get a glimpse of the absolutely gorgeous process.