Ballet Jihad

Restricting the world of ballet in the name of “tolerance.”

A 14 year-old Muslim convert wants to change the world of ballet, all in the name of “tolerance.”

Stephanie Kutlow, age 14, from Sydney, Australia, has been dancing since she was two years old.  She’s had the life-long goal of becoming a professional ballerina.

In 2010, when Stephanie was age 8, she, her two brothers and her Australian father all converted to Islam.  It’s unclear if her Russian mother was already a Muslim or converted along with the family.

Upon Stephanie’s conversion, she quit dancing for awhile, claiming that no full-time ballet studio would accept her with her hijab.  However, she missed her ballet practice, and feeling she shouldn’t have to sacrifice her hijab or her beliefs in order to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina, she resumed her dancing.

Though there is no evidence that she is of professional caliber, she blames her lack of professional training on her hijab.  One article stated that her hijab was the only thing that separated her from other ballerinas.  Yet, anyone with a professional ballet background or familiarity with the professional world of ballet can see that Stephanie’s turn-out, feet and body type are all wrong for the competitive world of professional ballet.  (Sorry!)

Never-the-less, inspired by Micheala DePrince and Misty Copeland, both top-notch ballet dancers of color, Stephanie was determined to be the world’s first hijabbed ballet dancer.  She created a LaunchGood crowdfunding campaign to raise 10, 000 dollars to pay for the professional training and ballet tutoring she said she needed.  Eventually, she wants to start a ballet school catering to those who are disengaged, or belong to religious and racial minorities.

Stephanie blames the ballet requirement to be hijab-free on “ignorance” and “Islamophobia."  She explains that people shouldn’t be ashamed of their differences, but proud of them. She wants people to know that Muslims have the same values of love and kindness that others have.

While highly praised by multiculturalists on the left for pressing on, Stephanie complained that she has also been very criticized.  She laments that no ballet school “targets” Muslim girls, encouraging their attendance.

Stephanie’s advocacy of diversity and her unique aspirations caught the attention of the international media.  Subsequently, Björn Borg, a Swedish apparel company started by and named after the famous tennis player Björn Borg, awarded her the “Game Changer Scholarship” to cover the costs of her “professional training.”  She ended her online fundraising campaign after it received over 7,000 dollars in donations.  She asserted that the money from the campaign would pay for her professional training of 30-35 hours per week at a top-notch professional school.

Stephanie admits that some “adjustments” in ballet choreography, music and costumes might be needed to accommodate Muslims.  It’s important to note that these “adjustments” amount to much more than simply a religious accommodation to Muslims who want to wear a hijab during ballet class.  That Stephanie is not asking others to wear hijabs is irrelevant.  The adjustments Stephanie demands are tantamount to changing the art of ballet.  Being a professional dancer is not like working in an office where no one cares what one wears. Professional dancers work on stage.  The entire cast of a corps de ballet has to dance the same steps and wear the same costumes.  This is not an individual art where everyone on stage can do their own thing.

Additionally, ballet has centuries old choreography by well-known choreographers.  Shall we change the steps to Swan Lake because they are not Islamic enough?  An “adjustment” would mean that either all the swans have to change their steps or one swan would have to do different steps.  Either way, it's a problem.  If there is well known choreography, shall we destroy it to accommodate Islamic preferences?  If Bach constitutes un-Islamic music, shall we have the Muslim drummer (the only instrument Muslims are allowed to play), do different notes and still say it's a Bach performance?  Ballets have a cast and pre-determined, age-old choreography that Stephanie does not want to perform.  She can take classes with her hijab, but her aspiration is to be a professional ballet dancer.  Yet, her demands for adjustments require changing the art itself by changing the steps, making the costumes more modest, and perhaps altering the music.      

Moreover, there are no professional ballet companies in the West that perform only classical ballet, which is more likely to have modest costumes.  The short tutus, leotards and tights and head costumes including crowns and feathers, as well as the often “immodest” dance steps in classical and neo-classical ballet, leave no room for individual “adjustments.”

If Stephanie were talented enough to rise to the highest rank of a principal dancer, her problems would increase.  Principal dancers primarily perform partnering work which requires the male partner to touch and hold the woman’s body in all kinds of ways which are totally forbidden in Islam.  

Clearly, Islam and the art of ballet as it is known throughout the world is in conflict.  If performances were tailored to comply with the requirements of Islam, the result would not even remotely resemble what we know as ballet today.  In effect, the art of ballet would be obliterated.  

Despite this, Stephanie declares that she wants to bring the world together in “harmony” and “acceptance” and encourage everyone “to join together no matter what faith, race or color.”   The Bjorn Borg scholarship has “turned her life around”, she proclaimed, so that she can now get the professional ballet training she needs to achieve her goals.

What a nice story, but something is amiss.  Articles about Stephanie’s journey were replete with inconsistencies regarding whether she quit dancing because she could not find a school that would allow her to wear a hijab, or whether she quit because she felt uncomfortable and “different” when wearing one.  None of the searchable articles stated which top notch ballet school Stephanie was going to attend after receiving her Game Changer Scholarship.  How does receiving money solve the problem of being disallowed to wear a hijab?  Did a “professional ballet school” suddenly change its policy and allow hijabs? What school was accepting her despite her seeming lack of technique and her body type?

Further investigation revealed that in response to the hijablessness of ballet schools, Stephanie’s mother started the Australian Nasheed and Arts Academy (ANAA)[1] in 2012 when Stephanie was 10 years old.  Far from being a professional school, this school offers a wide mish-mash of activities from ballet to public speaking to martial arts.  It appears that the “professional training” Stephanie is receiving is at this school or private tutoring.  Most, if not all professional ballet schools are incorporated as non-profits, often affiliated with professional dance companies.  The ANAA, however, is owned by Stephanie’s mom as the sole trader, meaning her mother and the company are indistinguishable legally, and her mom gets to keep the profits.

Additionally, the school has an interfaith initiative aimed at “building bridges” between Muslims and Jews, among others.  The school partners with the community and “the local authority” (whatever that means), and brings its programs to local schools.

Further, as it turns out, the critical comments that Stephanie received about her dancing endeavors, were not primarily by Islamophobic bigoted infidels, but largely from other Muslims, who condemned Stephanie because public dancing, ballet attire, and a wide range of music is considered haram, or forbidden in Islam.  This is why Stephanie’s version of ballet will require “adjustments.”  In fact, her mom’s school classes uses only voice music and no instruments other than light percussion, presumably for the same reason.

There is no searchable record of Stephanie actually attending a professional caliber ballet school, nor a record of any professional ballet students attending a ballet school in Sydney or elsewhere with a hijab.  It seems that Stephanie is getting “trained” at a school that is nothing more than a local neighborhood school run by her mom, clearly not a professional.

This raises the question of the money.  Why did Stephanie need a Bjorn Borg scholarship and an additional 7,000 dollars to attend her mom’s school?  Wouldn’t her mother let her take ballet classes for free?  How is Stephanie possibly spending the claimed six to seven hours a day practicing if she is attending high school and not a special school that generally accommodates the scheduling needs of professional children?

In any event, Stephanie’s heroes, Misty Copeland of American Ballet Theatre and Micheala DePrince of the Dutch National Ballet, never, ever sought “adjustments” to the ageless art of ballet.  Neither of them asked for the music, choreography or costumes to be modified in the name of their minority status.  To the contrary, both these dancers adjusted themselves by submitting to the rigorous training of true professional ballet.  The result was that they excelled in their art by meeting and exceeding the standards set forth by the companies to which they aspired.

In the meantime, ballet is illegal in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, as are many types of music including anything considered “western.”  The attire, choreography and music that Stephanie seeks to eliminate is haram in Islam.  But in free countries, people are permitted, even encouraged, to explore their full range of artistic expression.

If Stephanie truly seeks “tolerance” and a “harmonious world”, perhaps her efforts would be better directed at expanding the freedom allowed in the Muslim world --- including in her own family --- rather than restricting the freedom of westerners in the name of “tolerance” just so she feels more comfortable.

There is no indication that any school, ballet or otherwise, rejected Stephanie because she was “Muslim.”  If she chooses to wear the hijab, or refrains from certain dance steps, that is her choice.  She is choosing to be different, as she chose her religion.

Additionally, it’s hard to understand what an “interfaith initiative” with bridge-building to Islam has to do with aspirations to become a professional ballerina.[2]  Yet, the media bought the whole story without delving into what the final result would look like.

Because Stephanie lives in a free country, she is free to dance wearing anything she wants and she is free to refrain from engaging in dance, music or costumes that are deemed offensive to Islam.   Yet, she wants to impose her religious restrictions on everyone else in order to alter a timeless classical art and tradition, all in the name of “tolerance.”

The jihad continues.


[1] Nasheed in Arabic means vocal music that carries an Islamic message and refrains from using musical instruments except for light percussion.

[2] The ANAA’s website states that the purpose of the school is to create a positive environment that creates a “love of our deen” that inspires a career in the creative arts.  Deen means religion in Arabic.


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