Known to many as the world’s first hijabi ballerina, Stephanie Kurlow isn’t your average teenager. She is super switched on, and 110% dedicated to her mission to become the first profession hijabi ballerina. We sat down with Stephanie to explore her struggles, and what makes her spin.
So Stephanie, where did it all start?
SK: I’ve been dancing since I was two years old. I was a very active child so my Mum decided to put me into a dance class. I loved dancing to Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. I was a very old soul as a toddler.
When did you first decide ballet was what you really wanted to pursue?
SK: When I was around 11 years old I saw Zahra Lari who was the first hijabi competitive ice skater. She’s really inspired me.
As we continued to chat, we asked Stephanie about her struggles. She revealed that at the age of nine, she was forced to put her dancing on hold because she couldn’t find a studio which suited her religious beliefs. After a three year hiatus, her dreams were back on track after her Mum opened her own dance school, which catered to diversity.
Tell me, what it was like during the years you couldn’t dance because of your beliefs?
SK: That was a really tough time. For around two years I didn’t involve myself in the dance or the theatre world at all. I think I really needed that break. After a year or two, I missed it so much I was begging mum to take me to a dance class again.
That sounded like a really tough time for you. How did you overcome it all?
SK: Well, I actually think you’re constantly struggling. You’re constantly trying to prove to people your worth, that you’re not just the girl in the hijab. You’re also an artist, a dancer and you just happen to wear hijab.
How has criticism helped you grow?
SK: Well, when I was 14 I did some interviews and my story sort of went viral on the internet. I copped a lot of abuse and negative reactions from a lot of people all at once, which was really difficult as a 14 year old.
That was a really difficult time for me. But, now I’ve learnt from that and have moved past that and have learnt not to pay attention to the negative things that people have to say about me – because you just have to do what you love and be who you are.
I mean, people are going to say whatever they want, regardless of what you do or say, so you may as well just do what you love.
How do you feel when you dance?
SK: It’s just complete freedom and expression. And it’s such a beautiful art form.
Why is struggle important to you?
SK: Life is boring without chaos. I think we all feel so much better and so much more accomplished when we overcome something or work through something.
Post struggle, you value what you’ve achieved because you’ve had to work so hard for it.
Do you think once you overcome struggle you become more comfortable at being able to express yourself, and if so, what is the definition of self-expression for you?
SK: Self-expression for me is just being yourself. It’s just that now I feel like I have a voice and I have a platform to share my voice and my story. And that’s really empowering because you feel valid and sane.
We all want to be heard and seen and have our stories shared.
Watch Stephanie’s story on Instagram.
Keep up-to-date with Stephanie’s projects, and see past performances by searching @stephaniekurlow on Instagram.