Dancing to Her Own Rhythm: The Inspiring Journey of Stephanie Kurlow, the Hijabi Ballerina


11/29/20222 min read

Stephanie Kurlow, the dynamic ballerina of Russian-Australian descent, embarked on her enchanting dance journey when she was a mere 2 years old, swaying in her first tutu. Her life took a different turn at 9 when she adorned her first hijab.

2010 marked a significant year for Kurlow as she made the heart-wrenching decision to halt her ballet pursuits when her family embraced Islam. The task of locating a school that could reconcile her deep-rooted faith with her passion for dance appeared insurmountable. Consequently, her aspirations of ascending the professional ballet ladder seemed to be crushed.

Reflecting on her journey, Kurlow revealed to SBS, "There were no mirrors for me to look into, no pioneers who mirrored my circumstances, who could chart a path saying 'This is my journey, this is how I accomplished this.'"

The journey since then has been one of forging novel pathways within her cultural landscape. Kurlow elucidated, "I perceive that my faith enhances my appreciation of this splendid art form and draws attention to the interconnectedness of all things. For me, dance serves as another conduit to express my spirituality in the world, and performing can truly evoke a sense of transcendence."

She further elaborated, "Art forms are in a constant state of evolution, and the inclusion of diverse ballerinas simply adds more hues to this beautiful world. […] I aspire to motivate people to embrace their uniqueness, be proud of their identity. Dream big, but never forsake your values, faith, or convictions," she affirmed.

The year 2016 saw Kurlow initiating a crowdfunding drive to fund her education in a full-time ballet school. Her inspiring story resonated across the globe, captivating the interest of Bjorn Borg, the Swedish sports fashion giant. So touched was the company by Kurlow's narrative that they bestowed upon her their inaugural Game Changer scholarship, amounting to approximately $8400 AUD, enough to cover a year's ballet tuition.

"Bearing witness to her story genuinely inspired us," declared Jonas Lindberg Nyvang, the marketing director at Bjorn Borg. "The bravery that a 14-year-old displays to battle for her right to dance ballet in the face of adversity is truly remarkable."

Although Kurlow conceded that it was challenging to reclaim her dance form after a three-year hiatus, she staunchly believes that "every dream can be realized through unwavering determination and relentless hard work. If your heart cherishes something, nothing is impossible."

Currently, this trailblazing hijabi ballerina is honing her craft, with the goal of securing a place at a pre-professional ballet school. This, she hopes, will facilitate her dream of touring the globe with a dance company. Her long-term vision is to establish her own ballet company and performing arts school that caters to individuals of diverse religions, races, and backgrounds.

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