Alia Al Neyadi, the first professional Emirati ballerina, sat down with Emirates Woman to discuss following your passions and breaking down barriers in the GCC.
Can you talk us through your career?
In the beginning, just like any child, I wanted to take up an activity as my mother encouraged my sister and I to be active from a very young age. I tried different sports yet the moment I tried ballet, I knew that that was what I had to do. Since then, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that this was my calling and have dedicated 20 years of my life to it.
Can you explain to us what you love about ballet?
It’s funny every time I get asked that question, I think what is there not to love? What can be more beautiful than expressing yourself through movement without having to say anything? In life we always aim to do rather than talk about it, I feel dance allows me to just do that. If I hear a beat, I know that it’ll take me somewhere beautiful and each time it’s different which is so freeing, and if anything we all want to feel free and be who we are.
You’re a woman of many firsts in your career. What is it like being a woman in this region to pave the way for others?
I think if you do something different you’re already paving the way, especially if you’re first it’s a responsibility to be taken seriously as the message behind it is crucial. I have always struggled to portray the message of art and expression rather than it just being “dance” as it is so much more. Dance is the combination of movement and music, whether it’s classical or contemporary you can still feel so much power. When I started, I didn’t think of it as me being first I just told my mother that I really wanted to do it. It began with five kids at the cultural foundation, Abu Dhabi where it was I and my sister and our three friends, and from there the story began and we kept growing and now we have ballet classes all over the emirate.
What are your hopes for women in the future in this region?
I believe it’s important to aim for something and believe in it. Only through commitment can we achieve the unthinkable.
Being a woman of firsts, you’ll be a role model to many. What do you love about being a role model?
I always important to stay true to who you are only then can others feel what you do is honest and inspiring. I get many letters on how my story makes them want to do things they thought seemed unrealistic, and I know if I was able to touch some young girls out there to strive for greater things, I know I have done my job.
What advice would you give to young women in this region?
My advice to you is simple: dream it, work for it and live it. Do not give up when it gets tough, whatever you do will be hard but the journey is what is beautiful I have learned that through my own long journey. All the training, difficulties I had physically and mentally sometimes paid off at the end, made me stronger.
What have been three hurdles you have experienced in your career?
Only three? I was around 14 when most of it began as this is when what was a hobby transitioned onto something more serious. Although, as a ballerina, the repertoire that I performed was 90 per cent from the iconic ballets that have been created centuries ago and the costumes and choreography remained the same till today. At 15, I was being criticized by those who are over 35-years-old and was being treated as though I had done something wrong where all I wanted to do was dance to the beautiful music of Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev. Many didn’t understand the purpose of ballet and perhaps still don’t, but that isn’t something we can be upset with, I understood from a young age that it’s okay to not agree with something, you just have to believe in what you are doing and love it and eventually others will see it.
What have been some major milestones in your career?
My first milestone was my first competition at 14-years-old where I won second place out of 160 countries who were involved. Our delegation was the only one from the Arab world which of course is a huge responsibility and definitely the goal to show the world that there is so much more the Arab region can offer.
This is ‘The Love Issue’ – what does love mean to you and how do you plan to instil love into your life throughout 2021?
If we don’t have a love for what we do, for others and for ourselves, we don’t have much. It is important to always remember and love what you do. If you do what you love then you will never work a day in your life, but rather live each day through the work that you do.