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Watch: 41-year-old mother becomes first Saudi circus performer

Al Sahhaf has practiced aerial acrobatics for decades but only recently has gone public

Roaa Al Sahhaf practicing in her studio.
Image Credit: Supplied

Jeddah: Saudi aerialist Roaa Al Sahhaf made waves when she performed incredible mid-air tricks six metres high on the trapeze set at the Taif festival in August.

The Jeddah-based aerialist is the first and only Saudi to ever perform publicly in a circus in Saudi Arabia.

“It was a dream come true. I felt a rush of adrenaline when I was up there. I love circus, and I always wanted to be part of one. I am so happy and proud that my first public performance was in my country,” Al Sahhaf told Gulf News.

The Taif festival is one of the 11 Saudi festivals planned by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) to promote national tourism by meticulously planning scores of activities in different regions of the kingdom throughout the year.

The 41-year-old mother of three girls also opened Saudi Arabia’s first certified aerial arts studio in Jeddah in March this year, where she coaches girls and women of all ages modern yoga, pilates, pole dancing, and aerial tricks on hoop and silk.

The immense success of Al Sahhaf’s aerial art classes motivated her to open such studios in different cities of the kingdom, with Riyadh being the next city in line.

The beautiful and soft-spoken aerialist loved going to the circus as a child and always dreamt of being part of it, but never pursued it seriously.

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It was only when she visited a circus in Paris, Al Sahhaf felt a strong pull toward aerial arts.

She went backstage and requested the aerialists to let her try once on the trapeze, after which she immediately enrolled herself in a course.

“I was 29 years old when I decided to become an aerialist. It was difficult, but I was determined. I just wanted it by all my heart,” said Al Sahhaf.

The passionate aerialist went to Paris and Lebanon and over the years, got herself 13 certificates, qualifying as a student, instructor, circus fitness, and choreographer of aerial arts.

“I was addicted. I couldn’t stop myself. I enrolled whenever I got an opportunity,” she said.

In 2013, Al Sahhaf returned to Saudi Arabia and decided to make a career out of it.

But, she kept a low profile and gave classes to a select few at her home or some underground gyms.

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Al Sahhaf also performed aerial arts in private events around the kingdom, but “I was never allowed to say I was a Saudi national.”

When the conservative society started to transform, and the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) was created in 2016, artists of all nature stepped forward with their art.

Al Sahhaf also rose to the surface.

“I am now invited to participate in events as a Saudi artist, and I think it’s a huge achievement for all of us,” said Al Sahhaf, who practices every day.

As word spread of the new exercise fad, mostly through social media, Al Sahhaf began to receive incessant phone calls from women enquiring to join her classes. To cater to their demands, Al Sahhaf was encouraged by her parents and friends to open her studio.

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“Women were in love with the classes because it was fun and interesting yet difficult and challenging. The best part is age, and weight doesn’t matter in aerial arts; you just have to be in good health. It’s a great full-body workout,” said Al Sahhaf.

Syrian national Randah Al Sharq, 30, loves aerial arts, and she would enroll herself in classes on her travels abroad. “I was so happy and relieved to find an aerial art instructor here. Attending these classes gives me a lot of positive energy, and I find it quite effective in releasing stress after a workday.”

Saudi national Maram Abu Zanadah said, “Roaa’s classes made me turn into an aerial art instructor from a student. The way she explains and trains is impeccable. The workouts are soul-satisfying.”

-Sadiya is a freelance journalist based in Jeddah