JEDDAH: Over the past few years, yoga has surged in popularity thanks to social media. Now Roa’a Al-Sahhaf, Saudi Arabia’s first female circus performer, is making waves across the Kingdom with her newly launched aerial yoga studio Aerial Arts.
The 40-something mother of three discovered her passion for gymnastics at a very young age. Coming from a family of professional marathoners and sports lovers, Al-Sahhaf received encouragement to practice sports creatively and had an innate talent for athleticism.
“Growing up, performing arts has helped me express myself and emotions in a healthy way, taking away negative emotions, stress and sadness and transforming them into performances,” she said.
“My gymnastics teacher in school was the first to notice my natural talent for picking up moves.”
Given the Kingdom’s highly limited access to gyms and fitness studios, it was not long before Al-Sahhaf decided to launch the first aerial arts studio in the country.
“Most of my practice was done at home. I’d travel abroad to attend workshops and courses but end up at home,” said Al-Sahhaf.
“That’s when I realized that I need my own place, right here in my city, to practice, and a community to share my passion with, rather than jump from one gym to (another).”
The aerialist, who graduated from King Abdul Aziz University’s Faculty of Arts and continued her graduate degree in Islamic traditional arts at The Prince’s Foundation School in London, started giving classes and workshops at home to friends and family.
When her circle of passionate aerialists grew, the acrobat decided to expand across Saudi Arabia.
“It all started in 2012. I took a course at The Pole Spirit Paris studio shortly after watching my first-ever aerial performance in Paris,” she said.
“I traveled from Paris to Lebanon, and over the years I got 13 certificates that qualify me as a student, instructor, circus fitness coach and choreographer of aerial arts.”
Al-Sahhaf now holds coaching certifications from numerous highly regarded US and European institutes.
Her Jeddah-based yoga studio offers workshops and training programs for fitness instructors who also want to teach aerial arts.
“I hosted over 16 workshops in and around Saudi Arabia. When I first launched Aerial Arts, people were skeptical,” she said.
“Getting the paperwork done, finding the perfect location and introducing this new form of art were all challenges I had to overcome. But all it took was one class for people to realize how exciting this sport really is.”
Antigravity yoga, better known as aerial yoga, uses a hammock to support, either fully or partially, the weight of practitioners while they work on traditional yoga postures.
The silk rig helps improve mobility, flexibility and strength, while allowing a person to do more challenging poses without additional pressure on the shoulders, spine or head.
“Aerial yoga is perfect for those looking for something outside of a normal gym workout to stay fit,” she said.
“Aerial arts fitness has a special focus on three-dimensional movement conditioning, joint rotation and mobility,” she added.
“It helps build a strong core and offers great flexibility, poise and posture, all wrapped in one exciting workout that’s suitable for all genders, sizes and fitness levels.”
Al-Sahhaf is looking to expand throughout the country. “Meeting new people every day motivates me to get up in the morning and teach aerial arts,” she said.
“Seeing people’s reactions when they train for the first time, especially after mastering a very difficult pose, gives me a sense of accomplishment and encourages me to teach them more about themselves and what their bodies are capable of,” she added.
“I’m hopeful for Saudi Arabia, seeing that it’s now more involved in entertainment, and I dream that one day our growing community of aerialists will get to create a national Saudi circus and school of performing arts.”
• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.