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.


More Saudi women seeking to specialize in cybersecurity, say experts

To strengthen the cybersecurity skills of Saudi female students and professionals, public and private sector organizations should come forward to set up cybersecurity hands-on training courses. (AFP)
Updated 8 min 20 sec ago

More Saudi women seeking to specialize in cybersecurity, say experts

  • The global shortage of a skilled cybersecurity workforce is a rising challenge and we all have to play our role to overcome it as a shared responsibility

JEDDAH: More Saudi women want to specialize in cybersecurity as it becomes one of the Kingdom’s most in-demand sectors, according to experts.

Cloud security engineer at Farmers Insurance Co., Dalal Al-Harthi, created an all-female cybersecurity bootcamp that lasted three months and took place from mid-June to mid-September.

She tweeted an announcement on April 19, asking women who were interested in learning about cybersecurity to apply for a bootcamp place. More than 3,000 applied before the registration deadline.

“I was very happy and encouraged to see this enthusiasm toward learning and that many women were interested in being part of this bootcamp, so I decided to accept as many applicants as I could,” she told Arab News.

Al-Harthi is a doctoral candidate in the US although her trainees are mostly in Saudi Arabia. She taught trainees about all cybersecurity fields and areas including Linux Commands, Python Programming, Cloud Security, Network Security, Incident Response, Digital Forensics, SIEMs, Ethical Hacking – Penetration Testing, Cryptography, and CompTIA Security+.

“I designed it to be 20 percent theoretical knowledge and 80 percent hands-on practice on several cybersecurity tools and platforms such as AWS, Snort, Wireshark, PyCharm, Kleopatra, OpenSSL, MySQL, DVWA, BurpSuite, HTML, Splunk, Autopsy, John the Ripper, as well as working on Virtual Machines: Kali Linux, Tiny Core, Ubuntu, Metasploitable2, Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, and Raven.”

In addition to improving trainees’ cybersecurity knowledge and experience, she focused on how to get them employer-ready by enriching their resumes and polishing their interview skills.

Al-Harthi told El-Ekhbariya in a TV interview that the shortage in female cybersecurity specialists was not restricted to the Kingdom. It was a global issue and the field had a gender problem. “By the end of 2019, women represented 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce globally.”

She said she was “extremely passionate” about empowering Saudi women and pushing for more women in cybersecurity in particular to up female representation to 50 percent.

“This bootcamp is one of the steps that I took toward achieving that. I have absolute confidence that the trainees in my bootcamp will help share the knowledge that they gained to support other women in the field.”

By the end of 2019, women represented 20 percent of the cybersecurity workforce globally.

Dalal Al-Harthi

The bootcamp was held virtually through the Classera platform, and specialists created it free of charge to support and empower women who were interested in learning about and working in the cybersecurity field.

Muhammad Khurram Khan, professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University and founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research in Washington D.C., said that Saudi women were showing high levels of success in several fields and professions.

“They are also outperforming male counterparts by their passion and enthusiasm for higher studies and research,” he told Arab News. “Recently, a great surge of Saudi women in information and communications technology has been observed, especially with a particular interest in the cybersecurity field. This interest is getting momentum due to the recently launched initiative of the National Cybersecurity Authority to support and encourage women to participate in the cybersecurity profession.”

He said that Saudi female students at local universities were taking part in cybersecurity research, projects, professional certifications, and securing top positions in the “Capture the Flag” hacking competitions.

“They have also published a number of high-impact research publications in top international journals and conferences, which is indeed commendable. This all shows their great potential, professionalism, and talent in the cybersecurity field, which would ultimately contribute to protecting the Kingdom’s cyber assets from adversaries.”

The professor added that universities and institutions needed to launch programs to attract female students and professionals to the cybersecurity field to overcome their under-representation and under-utilization in the industry.

“The global shortage of a skilled cybersecurity workforce is a rising challenge and we all have to play our role to overcome it as a shared responsibility. To strengthen the cybersecurity skills of Saudi female students and professionals, public and private sector organizations should come forward to set up cybersecurity hands-on training courses, launch cybersecurity incubators and accelerators, and commence guidance and counseling programs.”