17-year-old says hard work and sacrifice were required to become first UAE national to lead ballet show
Young ballerina is prima Emirati troupe leader
ABU DHABI // Every day after school Alia al Neyadi hurries home so she can eat a meal, wait an hour for it to digest and then head to the dance studio. She spends the next four hours practising balance, posture and position while she rehearses for her latest show.
At 17, she is the first UAE national to lead her ballet troupe. On Wednesday night, she will perform alongside international ballet stars in a concert sponsored by the Ministry of Culture. It had taken gruelling dedication, she said, to get to this point.
“I have really worked so hard to get myself to this stage. I have pushed myself to my limits again and again. In this profession, you can never be too good.”
Alia rarely goes out with her friends at the weekend. She avoids junk food and hasn’t eaten chocolate or sweets for four years.
Her toes can often be blistered or bleeding after hours dancing with them squeezed against the blocks in her ballet shoes, so she has at least two pedicures a week to look after them.
“A ballerina’s feet are like a pianist’s hands,” she said. “They are my invaluable tool; I have to take care of them. Everything has a cost.”
Alia was exposed to dance before she could walk. Her mother, Svetlana al Neyadi, a Ukrainian ballet master and choreographer, took her to rehearsals in New Orleans, where they lived when Alia was an infant.
“She would sit in her stroller and watch,” said Mrs al Neyadi. “When she was nine months she took her first steps and I had a feeling then that she might be a dancer. She had perfect balance and placed her feet carefully.”
In 1996, when Alia was four, the family – her mother, her sister and her father who is an Emirati from Al Ain – moved to Abu Dhabi. Two years later, Mrs al Neyadi founded Fantasia Ballet School – the UAE’s first private ballet institution.
Alia was nine when she first stood en pointe – the term used for dancing on the tips of the toes. She was the first in her class to do so.
Despite her obvious pride in her daughter’s success, Mrs al Neyadi said she paid her no favouritism.
“In class I treated her the same as everyone else,” she said. “I never put a privilege on her. Everything she has achieved so far is down to her own effort, it is all her technique and her hard work.”
Wednesday night’s performance will put Alia alongside dancers from the Pisarev Ballet School, which was founded by Vadim Pisarev, from Ukraine, who has danced with the Moscow Ballet School in more than 50 countries around the world.
Her mother said it would be a challenge for the whole company, who have not yet been able to rehearse at the venue. “We only have three days to rehearse before the show, so I am quite nervous but I think it will be important to bring such a high quality of dance to the audiences in Abu Dhabi.”
This will be Alia’s last show with Fantasia. Next year she hopes to study for a business degree in Dubai before applying to Ivy League universities in the US for a master’s degree.
Although she has an eye for a future in business, she sees dance as a way of life, something she can never forego.
“I will always find time to dance,” she said. “It is my life, my art form. I live through the dance, it helps me react to people and connect with people and it has taught me to control my emotions. I am alive when I dance.”
The Fantasia show is being organised by Nahtam Social Responsibility, an Abu Dhabi-based non-profit organisation that focuses on social responsibility by promoting cultural events, fund-raising and providing volunteers.
Isabelle Le Bon-Poonoosamy, one of its founders, said she was delighted to be helping to stage the event.
“Our aim at Nahtam is to highlight hidden local talent,” she said. It also raises awareness about special needs organisations in the city.
Tickets, which range in price from Dh75 to Dh500, are on sale at Nahtam. Call 02 642 0526 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.