On The Rise: Stephanie Kurlow
Stephanie Kurlow is a Sydney-based ballerina who dreams of becoming the first hijab-wearing professional ballerina. Her breathtaking performances and her on-and-off the stage dedication have garnered her plenty of media attention—and a very impressive social media following.
Curious to know more about this brilliant young woman, we sat down with her for a quick chat.
You have been performing since you were very young, which might make our first question a little tricky. When did you first fall in love with ballet?
Ever since I can remember, I always loved ballet.
My mum said I was always dancing since I started walking, I was a very hyperactive kid so my mum decided to take me to ballet classes when I was 2.5 years old and it has been my biggest passion since then.
I watched the movie Mao's Last Dancer at a really young age and I loved it, then I came across it again and watched it and thought that he (Li Cunxin) is amazing. He changed the face of ballet, he made it more diverse and he had to suffer so much and sacrifice so much, he's a really big inspiration and motivator to me.
How do you handle adversity?
I've received a lot of positivity from the people that I meet and dance with, however all the negativity so far has only come from online trolls and most of them are Islamophobic.
There are a lot of people in the world that are ignorant of other cultures and religions and I truly hope to educate them with my story and message and smash stereotypes about culture, race, ability and gender.
Some people are telling me that I don’t belong in the ballet world, that I can not express art while I am covered and that the art form is ancient and that it should stay the way it is. That’s pretty funny because ballerinas in the 17th century (until the late 18th century), wore long ballet skirts and dresses, covering their ankles, ballet was so modest in those times and even now we have different ballet companies who do not fit the mold. Talent and technique can't be measured by the length of the skirt or hijab.
Ballet is a form of art. I don't think you need to be wearing minimal clothes to pursue an art form. I respect the traditions and customs, but I believe that an art form is always evolving and I think introducing ballerinas who are diverse is just creating a more beautiful world. That is the beauty of art forms; it's all about expressing yourself, outside of the box.
Most of the messages I received are very supportive and most of the people would love more diversity and different expressions of arts. The stories people send me about themselves are very inspirational.
Some girls feel more confident now to wear hijab in their everyday life and they saying they don’t afraid so much to wear it in public because of my story. They don’t need to compromise their beliefs and their values just because of the current climate in the world.
I really look forward to a time where wearing a hijab isn’t front page news because having different beliefs or clothes shouldn’t be deciding a factor as to whether you pursue your dreams or not.
I ignore the haters, focus on positive and do everything I can to achieve my dreams. Any dream can be achieved through perseverance and hard work. Because if you love something, you can achieve anything.
What inspires you to continue forward?
The support of my family and friends, especially my mum have really helped me deal with the challenges of what people say and think about me and all the Islamophobic comments and all that.
I have such amazing family and friends that support me really well and, of course, all my 15,000 followers on social media that are really wonderful in showing their support for me and share my story. I couldn’t be more grateful.
Are there any words that you try to live by?
I want to inspire people to be yourself and be proud of your identity, being that Muslim, Sikh, Aboriginal, African, Jewish, Christian, atheist or anyone else in whatever shape, form, ability, belief or colour. Reach for the stars, but never compromise your values, religion or beliefs.
We are the most powerful generation, equipped with the social media, knowledge and spirituality, we can change a world to be a better place for everyone. Anyone and everyone can change the world.
Where do you see beauty most in your day-to-day life?
Religion brought consciousness and deep meaning in my daily existence. I see things different now. We surrounded by miracles every day and all we need to do is open our eyes and take a closer look.
Some people may think my daily routine is very boring, training, practice, training again. Many hours a day of hard work on pointe shoes, healthy eating and early sleep. I don’t have much time to catch up with my friends and I don’t read books as much as I used to, but I am doing something I am very passionate about. I enjoy every moment and I am grateful I can do it every day and can't wish for anything better.
When I dance, I feel like the whole world disappears and its just me and the music. I'm passionate about dance because it is a part of who I am and its' how I express myself, my emotions and tell stories.
Anything else that you'd like to add?
I want to challenge the ballerina stereotype and clear misconceptions about Muslims. I want to tell young girls to not be afraid of changing something or making it unique or beautiful.
Express yourself and find your own talent because we all have one. I want young people to see that being different isn’t something you should be ashamed of, that we need to realize that being different is something you should be proud of and embrace. Women should not have to dress a certain way that they aren’t comfortable with in certain sports and in the performing and filming industries.
This isn’t just about me becoming the first hijabi ballerina, it’s about young people who often miss out wanting to become ice skaters, journalists and actors to pursue their dreams because of their beliefs or how they look.