Saudi trapeze artist has soaring success with aerial yoga business

Modern yoga classes have proved so popular among Saudis that Roa’a Al-Sahhaf is already looking to expand throughout the Kingdom. (AN photos by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 11 September 2019

Saudi trapeze artist has soaring success with aerial yoga business

  • Aerialist Roa’a Al-Sahhaf is a certified coach from a number of top US and European institutes

JEDDAH: A Saudi flying trapeze artist has found soaring business success just months after launching the Kingdom’s first aerial yoga studio.

Roa’a Al-Sahhaf, the country’s first female circus performer, said her modern yoga classes have proved so popular among Saudis she is already looking to expand throughout the Kingdom.

The 42-year-old mother of three girls, opened Saudi Arabia’s first certified aerial arts studio in the coastal city of Jeddah in March this year offering yoga, pole dancing, Pilates, family dance classes, and boxing.

Aerial yoga uses a hammock to support, either fully or partially, the weight of students while they work on traditional yoga postures. Not only does it enable them to perform advanced yoga moves that would normally take years to learn but hanging upside-down can be good for the spine and builds confidence.

Al-Sahhaf graduated from The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts in London and has been practicing aerial silks, as they are known, since she was a child. However, she only began to make a career of it in 2009.

“I was the first Saudi female circus performer. Actually, it was my childhood dream to perform in a circus, and thanks to Taif Season it came true in Circo Americano,” she said.

I started loving aerial arts as a kid, but we did not have gymnastics here so the first time I saw this studio, I pursued it.

Mawaddah Mahboob, Saudi lawyer

During the recent Taif festival season of activities Al-Sahhaf performed in flying trapeze and aerial shows with the famous circus.

“I tried to join Circo Americano a year ago, but it was not allowed for females to participate,” she added. “But when things changed, I leapt at the opportunity to shine.”

Pole dancing

The Pole Spirit Paris studio was where Al-Sahhaf learned the discipline of pole dancing and other aerial moves in 2012 and she is now a certified coach from a number of top US and European institutes.

Armed with her qualifications, she decided to introduce her passion for aerial arts to Jeddah. “I had times where I could not travel, so I wanted to practice it here in my city. I decided to open a studio room in my house, and it worked. It started with family and friends of friends, and little by little gyms and studios began to call and ask me to give classes,” she added.

Al-Sahhaf now offers workshops and classes in more than six gyms and studios across Jeddah, in addition to running workshop tours throughout the Kingdom and other GCC countries.

Raised in Paris, Al-Sahhaf said she always had a passion for gymnastics. “I saw aerial hoop in a show when I was in Paris a few years ago, and I was hooked. My parents used to live there, so whenever there was a chance to learn gymnastics or aerial silks skills I used to sign up,” she said.

Her studio, located in Al-Khalidiyah district of Jeddah, offers workshops and training programs for fitness instructors looking to teach aerial arts.

Aerial yoga

In the future, Al-Sahhaf wants to build a Saudi community of aerialists. “I want to engage with the Saudi General Entertainment Authority for more performances and shows done by the studio team. I would love to collaborate with gyms and studio owners around Saudi Arabia to include these types of arts and sports in their gym schedules,” she added.

Al-Sahhaf said aerial yoga had many mental and physical health benefits and most people could take part.

Mawaddah Mahboob, a 23-year-old Saudi lawyer who attends classes at Al-Sahhaf’s studio, told Arab News: “I started loving aerial arts as a kid, but we did not have gymnastics here so the first time I saw this studio, I pursued it.

“It helped me a lot to get more in tune with my body and made me realize that you don’t have to be skinny to be fit. It certainly brings positivity to your life,” she added.

Samia Abushosha, an assistant professor of physics at King Abdul Aziz University, said: “I am 44 years old and it feels like a great accomplishment doing this at my age. I only started nine months ago, and I can feel the positive vibes it gives me in every class.”

Afnan Al-Zain is one of Al-Sahhaf’s coaching assistants and an assistant professor at the faculty of dentistry at King Abdul Aziz University. She started doing aerial yoga in 2017 in the US. “To me this is like my side job as it relaxes my mind, helps me release stress and enhances creativity so that my mind becomes clearer to give more in my career.”

Decoder

Aerialist

An acrobat performing high off the ground, defying a fall to earth, as on a trapeze or a tightrope.


Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

Updated 55 min 34 sec ago

Saudi pursuit of ‘green Kingdom’ goal gets a boost

  • Agreement between agriculture ministry and Dubai's ICBA aimed at conserving natural resources
  • Kingdom's biosaline agriculture research and systems stands to benefit from ICBA's expertise

DUBAI: Agricultural development and environmental sustainability in Saudi Arabia will receive a boost in the coming years, thanks to a new agreement between the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai and the Saudi Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

The agreement aims to enable Saudi Arabia to achieve its goal of preservation and sustainable management of its natural resources by raising the quality of biosaline agriculture research and systems.

The ministry says that the agreement will make use of the ICBA’s expertise in capacity development besides agricultural and environmental research, especially in the fields of vegetation development, combating desertification and climate change adaptation.

“It also includes training programs for Saudi technicians and farmers,” the ministry said. “In addition, it will localize, implement and develop biosaline agriculture research and production systems for both crops and forestation, which contributes to environmental and agricultural integration.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, the ICBA’s director general, told Arab News: “The agreement had been in the making for about two years. That was when we were approached by the Saudi government.”

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, ICBA Director General, at the center's Quinoa fields in Dubai. (Supplied photo)

She said: “We put forward a proposal to demonstrate how the ICBA can help the Saudi government to implement its Green Kingdom Initiative, through which the ministry is trying to restore green coverage in the country and revive old conservation practices.”

Geographical features and climatic conditions very greatly from one part of the country to the other.

In the past, experimentation with such crops as potatoes, wheat and alfalfa proved detrimental to the Kingdom’s environment and natural resources due to faster rates of groundwater withdrawal.

“The ministry wanted to put a halt to over-abstraction of water, so they went through different policies,” Elouafi said.

“They made sure, for example, that farmers stopped producing wheat because about 2,400 liters of water is consumed to produce 1 kg of wheat. It was a huge amount,” she added.

“The new strategy is to find more appropriate crops for the farming community, which is quite large in the Kingdom.”

Saudi Arabia has been trying to grow its own food on a large scale since the 1980s. 

The objective of the Green Kingdom Initiative is to reduce the agricultural sector’s water demand by finding alternatives to thirsty crops.

The agreement will require the ICBA, over the next five years, to build for Saudi Arabia a new biosaline agriculture sector. 

As part of this shift, cultivation of a number of crops, notably quinoa, pearl millet and sorghum, will be piloted in high-salinity regions and then scaled up.

“The crops did very well in the UAE,” Elouafi said. “We’re looking at Sabkha regions, which have very high salinity and wetlands, and are on the ministry’s environmental agenda.”

Another objective is “smart” agriculture, which will involve raising water productivity, controlling irrigation water consumption and changing farming behavior.

Elouafi said that getting farmers in the Kingdom to stop cultivating wheat took some time as they had become accustomed to heavy government subsidies. In 2015, wheat production was phased out, followed by potatoes a year later and then alfalfa. 

“Farmers were provided everything to the point where they got used to a very good income and a very easy system,” she said.

“Now farmers are being asked to start producing something else, but the income won’t be the same, so it’s very important at this stage that the ministry has a plan and it’s fully understood.”

The agreement envisages preparation of proposals for ministry projects that involve plant production, drought monitoring, development of promising local crop and forestation varieties, and conservation of plant genetic resources.

“We’re also discussing capacity building because the ministry is big and has many entities. Because Saudi Arabia is a large country and has the capacity to meet some of its food requirements internally, what’s required is a better understanding of the country’s natural capabilities in terms of production of the crops it needs, like certain cereals,” Elouafi said.

“The way the authorities are going about it right now is more organized and more holistic. They’re trying to plan it properly.”

Elouafi said that having a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s water constraints and managing the precious resource is essential.

 

Although almost the entire country is arid, there is rainfall in the north and along the mountain range to the west, especially in the far southwest, which receives monsoon rains in summer.

 

Sporadic rain may also occur elsewhere. Sometimes it is very heavy, causing serious flooding, including in Riyadh.

“They (the government) are very interested in drought management systems. The Kingdom has a long history of agriculture,” Elouafi said.

“It has large quantities of water in terms of rainfall, and certain regions have mountainous conditions, which are conducive to agriculture.”

Clearly, preservation of water resources is a priority for the Saudi government. But no less urgent is the task of conversion of green waste to improve soil quality, increase soil productivity and water retention, and reduce demand for irrigation.

The Kingdom is one of at least three Gulf Cooperation Council countries that are taking steps to develop a regulatory framework for the recycling of waste into compost.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman are respectively aiming to recycle 85 percent, 75 percent and 60 percent of their municipal solid waste over the next decade, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) entitled “Global Food Trends to 2030.”

Saudi Arabia and the UAE rank in the bottom quartile of the 34 countries covered by the EIU’s Food Sustainability Index, with low scores for nutrition and food loss and waste. 

The answer, according to many farmers, policymakers and food-industry experts, is a shift toward more sustainable management of each country’s natural resources.