Meet Stephanie Kurlow, the Trailblazer Looking to Become the World’s First Professional Hijabi Ballerina

Recently, caught up with 18-year-old ballerina, Stephanie Kurlow. She began dancing at the tender age of 2, and is currently training to become the world’s first headscarf-donning professional ballerina.

Here’s what this trailblazer had to say about her life, dance career, and being a Muslim woman in a space that hasn’t typically seen many hijabi women. 

Muslim Girl: Thank you for agreeing to chat with us! Out of curiosity, could you tell our readers what inspired you to go into dance? And if you weren’t a dancer, what would you be doing?

Stephanie Kurlow: Well, I started dancing when I was 2-years-old, so it has always been such an integral part of my life. I would say that music is what inspired me in the beginning as a very young child. I can’t imagine myself not dancing, but if I weren’t a dancer I would definitely have some other role in the performing arts world, like a choreographer or director.

A lot of media surrounding you focuses on you being the ‘first hijabi ballerina.’ Do you feel there is added pressure on being labelled the ‘first’ to do something? 

I feel as though there is some pressure in being labeled. A lot of people have certain expectations of me and what I will achieve. But I believe it’s important to focus on your own dreams and aspirations, and let that be your guiding light rather than other people’s expectations or perceptions of you.

No doubt your journey has been more challenging than most. Given that fact, how did it feel to you — in both your spiritual and ballet journey — to be rejected from dance schools? How did you fight through?

It was a very difficult process, and sometimes disheartening [to receive rejections]. I tried to source courage and determination from my faith and spirit so that I could continue to look forward to possibilities and opportunities, rather than rejection.

What hardships have you faced being a hijabi in the dance world? 

One of the biggest hardships to overcome as a hijabi dancer are people’s perceptions and assumptions about me. My dream is to become the first professional hijabi ballerina in a professional ballet company.

There is a great need for more diverse and equal representation on our stages. We all want to be valued, seen, and heard no matter what race, religion, or background we come from. Our stages and theatres need to reflect the wonderful diversity of the world.

A trailblazer in action. Image courtesy of Stephanie Kurlow.

What gives you the strength and determination to continue fighting for what you believe in, despite the challenges you face? 

I focus on the positive responses and support that I receive from around the world. I want to be that person that I didn’t have growing up for young girls, so that I can hopefully inspire them to go for their dreams and aspirations.

What advice would you give to other young Muslim women who are finding their feet in the world, and are sometimes afraid to completely put themselves out there?

My advice would be to trust in yourself and what you do. If you are passionate about something or have a dream you want to achieve, you must find that inspiration and trust from within yourself in order to go for it.

You can have the support of the world, but if you don’t have that trust from within yourself, it’ll never work.

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