ursuing any art form requires talent, grace, persistence, hard work and excellent training and fortunately, Alia Al-Neyadi was blessed with all these elements right from a very young age. Alia was three when she first discovered her love for ballet. Her mother, Svetlana, was a trained ballet dancer, then teaching in New Orleans. That moment, back then was the start to a career in ballet, and bestow upon her the title of ‘the first Emirati ballerina’. With more than 70 performances to date, it’s a label that no longer fazes her.
However, things did not always go smoothly for Alia during her nearly 20 years of dancing. Vatika and Curly Tales team up to launch the Vatika Voices- an initiative to shed light on women in GCC who have made the world sit up and take note. As part of the campaign, CT Dubai caught up with Alia Al-Neyadi- UAE’s first Emirati ballerina to find out about her journey into the performing arts and show she made it to the top.
1. What Is Ballet To You?
Ballet is life; it is purpose and fulfilment at the same time and a calling I believe that I was lucky to find mine at such a young age.
It is everything I know and continue to learn over the years.
2. What Inspired You To Become A Dancer?
In the beginning, just like any child, I wanted to take up an activity as my mom encouraged my sister and me, to be active from a very young age. I tried different sports from gymnastics to horse riding. However, I did believe I was missing something and I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly until I tried ballet. And at that moment I knew that expression is what I was missing in all the other sports and that’s how I knew what I had to do. Since then, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was my calling and I had to answer by committing 20 years of my life to it.
3. Did You Have Stage Fear? How Did You Overcome It?
I think the first stage experience I had was in either kindergarten or first-grade school, we were dressed as yellow ducks and it was a proper piece created for the school dance I believe. I was always used to being in theatres since I was young and I think that helped to get over any kind of stage fright. Lucky for me I always felt confident on stage and I think that helped a lot in terms of performance. I can’t deny, just like any artist there are times when you have to do something technically difficult and you do worry about it just before and feeling anxious to not mess up which is normal, but I think that’s always healthy to have a little bit of worry as it helps to keep the stamina going.
4. What Is Your First Memory Of Ballet?
I remember visiting my mother in her ballet classes as a young child while she taught older girls. When I started walking I remember, I went up to the first line and started doing some turns with the older girls. I guess from there it just hit me that this is something I can really thrive in.
5. What Were The Challenges You Faced & How Did You Overcome Them?
When you do something first, you are sure to face criticism. Ballet was something new and unfamiliar back in the early 2000s in UAE. I was 15 years old when I started ballet and back then I was the only Emirati girl doing something completely foreign. The challenging part was when I got a bit older I participated in some competitions and I had critics who were over 40 years old, questioning how a 15-year-old can possibly compete with them. I didn’t let that affect me or my character and on the contrary, those were the exact group of people I always encouraged to attend my shows and see for themselves what I am capable of.
Another challenge all dancers face the way they look. As a dancer, you constantly worry about whether you have enough turnout or a skinny physique. We all think about our appearance and how that can affect us as individuals. I always had to watch my weight. Even today, I don’t think I can change that anymore. This at times, can be challenging because many see you in one way and you see something else.
However, things have changed in the last 5 years with talents emerging, and that has made it easier. This wasn’t the case for me back then.
6. Your Mother Was A Ballerina Too. How Did She Inspire You And Support You?
My mother knew that I was a very independent child and if I didn’t want to do something I wouldn’t do it. Having my mother as my teacher as well might make many people believe that I got preferential treatment. However, that was not the case. I was treated just like everyone and if not tougher because she believed in my talent and only by hard work and dedication can I really succeed and thrive.
7. You Are Working Hard To Promote Culture Within The UAE – Tell Us A Little About The Work You Are Doing.
At the moment, I can’t reveal exactly but I am constantly creating opportunities for the younger generation. We strive to give our ballerinas the opportunity to compete and perform regionally and globally and for them to gain experience as well as the recognition they deserve. It is only the beginning and I believe the plans that I have will hopefully change the perspective of the performing arts.
8. What Would Like To Change In The Arts & Culture Scene In The UAE?
I can’t necessarily say there is one thing to change. I believe we are going through a process that needs time. However, I do believe that in order for things to be taken seriously we do need a theatre dedicated to the teaching of dance, music and singing. It is vital for our artists to have a home that they can always go back to and feel that there is sustainability in their field. This is something, I believe will change the way we see art.
9. Do You Think Women In The UAE Are Getting More Opportunities In The Sporting World?
We have many extraordinary women in the field of the sport who are taking the world by storm. In the end, it’s not where we are from that is important. It’s how we do and what we do, that should speak for itself. I am proud to be from a place where women only thrive with time and amazingly so many young women are succeeding from a young age. All I can say is bravo
10. One Advice You Would Give To Young People Who Dream Of Being A Dancer
With dance, you can’t really just decide, this is a lifestyle and a dedication that has to start from the beginning of your life. Sometimes some people start a little later but in most cases, you have to start from a very young age and work your way up. You must accept there will be sacrifices, there will be pain, exhaustion, and disappointment. Nothing in life is easy. You might have to wait for years until you have your moment on stage. But when you do, and people want to watch you and attend your concerts, that’s when you know you made it. Don’t give up no matter how hard it gets!