The people at Pole Fit Dubai will tell you that its aerial silks classes are suitable for beginners. They definitely are. Just don’t be under any illusion that they’re easy for beginners. To paraphrase the instructor, you may expect an hour of flying through the sky like a fairy, but it is seriously hard work to get to that stage.
The hard work begins the moment we walk in, with stretches and warm-ups to a rock and pop soundtrack. The teacher demands we squeeze muscles we previously had no idea where to locate, and by the end of the most creative round of sit-ups imaginable, we’ve already tested all core muscles to an unexpected level. The instructor is essentially running two lessons side by side. One is for a very advanced pupil who has already been taking classes for seven to eight months. She has a routine to go through and practise, but the instructor still keeps an eye on her progress, calling out, “You look like you are dying! Where is the drama?!”
Meanwhile, three other complete beginners in the room are getting their own lesson, and are all (to varying degrees) struggling to climb to the top of the silks. Our first (and to be honest, only) challenge of the day. If you think it sounds simple, you’re wrong. It’s not just like hauling yourself up, school gym class-style. It involves a fairly complex system of pulling yourself up and wrapping your feet around the silks, and repeating, until you finally reach the top.
With all the upper body strength required and the strain on your hands (that will get very sweaty, no matter how much sticky resin you rub into them), it is an exhausting effort. We only make it halfway up. One of the other beginners triumphantly makes it to the top. The other two continue to grunt and add more resin in a desperate attempt to conquer the silk. But as tough as it is, we leave with a desire to return, improve, and eventually fly like a fairy.
Dhs100 (one session), Dhs900 (ten sessions), Dhs700 (twice weekly for one month), Dhs900 (three times weekly for one month). Marina Sail Tower, Dubai Marina, www.polefitdubai.com (800 765 3348).
I’m not entirely sure what to expect from a Kangoo Jumps Power class. Sessions are offered at Kangoo Club DXB in JLT and Mirdif, however, I’ve been invited to try out my session while in Doha, at Anytime Fitness gym. A quick Google search shows me that Kangoo Jumps are rebound shoes used for reducing the impact of various exercises (such as running) to the joints. The shoes, which are more like boots, have an elliptical shaped, springy, hollow platform underneath.
I’m met by Claudia, Anytime Fitness’ marketing manager, who is so enthused by Kangoo Jumps that she already has the shoes on when I arrive. As she shows me to the locker room, she babbles about how she was hooked after her first class and bought herself a pair. I’m still sceptical at this stage, she’s the marketing manager after all. But her scooting about in her own pair of pink and white Kangoos does suggest a genuine enthusiasm that’s infectious.
I was picturing myself as an ungainly, un-coordinated human Tigger, ricocheting off walls in my attempts to negotiate the bouncy boots, but they aren’t anywhere near springy enough for this to be the case, and they’re actually fairly easy to get the hang of. Instructor Georgiana gathers us around to demonstrate proper posture (knees bent, behind out) and warns us to keep an eye on our foot placement to avoid tripping over our feet and falling. Then, the class begins with a bright smile from Georgiana. “Let’s get ready to sweat a lot,” she announces. Yay.
It starts out mildly. A bit of marching on the spot. A bit of arm work. I feel encouraged. I seem to be neither unfit nor finding the shoes difficult so I get into things with a bit more vigour. Things pick up when jumping jacks are introduced and I start to feel my heart rate rise. Significantly.
We begin to go through a routine with repeated movements and the faster it gets the less I manage to keep up. I’m sweating buckets at this stage, and my jumping jacks are getting feebler by the second. Georgiana is still smiling and her moves are graceful and ballet-like. I try to imitate her poise and grace without success. I’m less prima ballerina, more Elmo on a pogo stick. I’m no longer in time to the music and my jumping bears almost no resemblance to everyone else’s. So much so that Georgiana comes over to hold my hands and give me a bit of one-on-one coaching.
Around the halfway point we take a three-minute break. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who needs it. I realise at this stage how heavy the boots are, an unexpected additional workout element. The reduced impact, though, is tangible and I have no discomfort in my knees, which I tend to get when attempting amateur HIIT routines amid piles of laundry in my room. In what feels like five seconds, we’re being whipped into action again. If my jumping jacks were feeble before, they are now bordering on non-existent as I struggle to keep my feet moving. Unable to locate a clock on the wall, I frantically mouth “how much longer?!” to our photographer, Valantis. He’s clearly amused by my discomfort – all I get is a grin.
I struggle to maintain my balance through the squats, but ten minutes later it’s all over. My legs feel like jelly and without the boots I feel like a lead weight stomping around.
Now, I know I’ve made this workout class sound inordinately difficult, and I wish it wasn’t just because I’m unfit. I actually enjoyed the class (honest!). Plus, a workout should be hard if you want to get anything out of it.
In this case, what you’ll get is a full-body cardio workout that strengthens your core and does what it says on the tin: reduces the impact on your joints. But my favourite thing about it? The sheer novelty of rebound shoes.
If you ignore the fact that you most probably look ridiculous, this is likely to be one of the most enjoyable classes you’ll try. Whatever your level, this is one exercise bandwagon worth jumping on. Kangoo Jump classes are available at Kangoo Club DXB from Dhs150 per class (including boots). Cluster T, JLT; Dubai Tennis Academy, Mirdif, www.kangooclubdxb.com (056 259 7981).
Four to try Alternative exercises Belly dancing A great way to tone up, these classes are geared to challenge bodies of any age, gender or fitness level. The class is low-impact and a great cardiovascular workout that helps to strengthen muscles. Dhs75 per class. Mantra Fitness Club, Ontario Tower, Business Bay, www.mantrafitnessclub.com.
Sh'bam Increase your flexibility and sense of balance with this light-hearted cardiovascular, dance-based workout, typically done to pop music and chart hits. First class free, membership packages available. Ladies only. Vivafit, i-Rise Building, Barsha Heights, www.vivafit.ae (04 421 3762).
Tai chi UAE Tai Chi is run by Masters Hang and Gang, Chinese Martial Art International 6th and 5th Dan Black Belts respectively. Master the art of the movements and focus on connecting you mind, body and spirit. From Dhs1,200 (three months, once a week). Icon Tower, Barsha Heights, www.uaetaichi.com.
Ultimate frisbee This non-contact team sport mixes elements of football, basketball, American football and netball. United Arabian Ultimate runs local and international tournaments and championships for those who want to take their skills from beach to pitch. Dhs100 (annual membership). www.unitedarabianultimate.com.
Amy Mathieson tests her strength – and head for heights – as she attempts the art of aerial hoop with as much grace as she can muster
Let’s start with a quick word association game: hoops. Shooting them. Hula-ing them. Jumping through them (for your partner/boss, probably not literally unless you’re training your dog for Crufts). Best of all: eating them (the crispy, crunchy, salty, snack variety).
It’s unlikely that hoisting yourself into one and dangling from the ceiling has made the list.
But who hasn’t been to a Cirque du Soleil show, or similar, and wished they could be as elegant as the performers who twirl athletically, and glide effortlessly through the air as if they’re flying (and who most certainly always avoid those aforementioned potato-based snacks).
Admittedly, maybe not everyone harbours my long-held ambition to spin majestically in a suspended, oversized onion ring. Pro performers make it look so easy, but the reality is clearly years of training. Casting the necessary months of dedication to the back of my mind, I jump at an invitation from Dubai Marina’s Pole Fit studio to try a session of aerial hoop for myself. I’m only attempting to master one of the many airborne acrobatic skills I’m in awe of. How hard can it be?
After one too many “don’t-fall-off-the-hoop-and-land-on-your-head” messages, I clearly need to have a word with my friends about their lack of trust in my balance and athleticism.
The studio’s aerial hoop experience is designed as a fitness class rather than a circus skills workshop, so it’s much more accessible to all. It’s also designed to work on your core strength – and as I’m generally better acquainted with potato circles than fitness ones, I’m under no illusions.
This is going to be tough.
The hour-long class consists of a 15-minute warm-up session ahead of taking to the skies/ceiling. As I puff my way through a series of sit ups with Vlada, my instructor, I inwardly chastise myself for skipping the gym this week (and possibly last week, and some other ones before that) and eye the looming hoop with rapidly depleting ambition.
A couple of lunges later and there’s no escaping it; my time has come. It turns out that just getting into the hoop is a challenge. Given my press-up record hovers somewhere between ten and, well, ten, I’m not optimistic about my chances of hauling myself up and in. But with just my upper body strength standing between me and my long-harboured girlhood dream, I muscle up and prepare to hoist myself in.
We start with the simple stuff, merely hanging from the hoop, like I’m back in the school playground. So far, so good. I’m happy just chilling here, thanks. Next it’s time to master getting into the hoop. I garner all the strength I can manage (c’mon, biceps) and I’m in. Sitting cross-legged in a hoop. It’s actually surprisingly comfortable, and despite my natural lack of balance, I feel relatively secure.
The rest of the class rushes by as I gather confidence and fling my limbs around, imagining I’m soaring through the air like an eagle (although sadly the only wings around here are of the bingo variety). As I dismount for the final time, I’m delighted, slightly stunned and relieved, not only that I actually enjoyed the experience, but that the crash mat didn’t have to fulfil it’s main purpose in life.
I know I’ll barely be able to open a door tomorrow without wincing (true, as it transpires) but whether it’s the endorphins from the exercise, adrenaline from the challenge or both, I’m buzzing.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be fulfilling any dreams of joining the circus after one session, but after a few, you’ll certainly be fitter and more toned.
The centre hosts group classes twice a week, and the studio is light and airy and overlooks the Marina. Not that you’ll notice the view once you’re up in the hoop, taking every ounce of concentration to stay airborne.
So why not gather your friends for support (literally) and hit the hoops while it’s too hot to exercise outside?
And maybe reward yourself with a bag of the potato version afterwards. Dhs100 (group classes), Dhs900 (for a package of ten. Pole Fit is also offering summer discounts of 15 percent off monthly packages. Marina Sail Tower, Dubai Marina (04 551 6911).
One of the longest-running shows in West End and Broadway history is coming to Dubai Opera in 2017.
CATS the Musical will be live at the stunning new venue for ten days, from Monday January 16 to Wednesday 25.
The production is an adaptation of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and it will make its Dubai debut in the new year, before embarking on an international tour.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the people of the UAE to see one of the most successful shows of all time, without having to travel to London or New York,” said Liz Koops, CEO of Broadway Entertainment Group. “We love the fact that this spectacular musical will play at Dubai Opera and is suitable for the entire family to enjoy.”
Composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the classic musical tells the story of the Jellicle cats and each cat’s individual quest to be selected as the lucky one who will ascend to “the Heaviside Layer”. The fantasy drama has one of the most popular musical scores in history, and has been seen by more than 73 million people worldwide.
CATS has bagged many accolades, including seven Tony Awards and two Grammys since its premiere at the New London Theatre in 1981, where it played for almost 9,000 shows. It then returned to the West End in 2014, reuniting the original creative team; director Trevor Nunn, choreographer Gillian Lynne and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Dubai Opera will also play host to another popular musical in February 2017, when it welcomes the finger-snapping of the gangs from West Side Story. We’ll see you there.
Tickets on sale from 9am on September 29, priced from Dhs275