Synchronised swimming in Dubai

We catch up with former Olympian sisters Sarah and Heba Abdel Gawad

Sports and Outdoor
Sports and Outdoor

There’s no shortage of swimming pools in this city but not all kids like the regimented rigours of swim squad, or the trials and tribulations of the galas that accompany them. If your little ones love to don a cossie and jump into the water but don’t fancy thrashing up and down the lanes doing front crawl, or if water polo doesn’t float their boat, then this might just be the sport they have been waiting for. Synchronised swimming has landed on our shores, and is available for both boys and girls to learn for the first time in Dubai.

Synquatics, the company offering instruction in the art of watery acrobatics, consists of twins and former Olympic athletes, Sarah and Heba Abdel Gawad. Between them they have over 16 years of competitive synchronised swimming under their belts and have elegantly traversed the globe, gathering numerous medals and accolades in the sport.

To gain the title of Egypt’s National Synchronised Swimming Champions as well as the chance to compete in the Olympic Games demanded a commitment of up to eight hours’ training each day for these talented coaches, but budding underwater ballerinas here can start with baby strokes of 60-minute classes. These sessions are held on Saturdays in the pool at Safa Private School, and so far there are four timings to choose from, but if the sport takes off from these humble beginnings, then there’s always a chance it could be offered as an alternative afterschool activity in addition to the long list of hobbies already available.

Combining swimming, dance and gymnastics, this physically demanding sport requires strength, agility, breath control and grace. Obviously those taking part will need to be able to swim well, and it helps if they have a little bit of rhythmn to interpret the moves to music. Strength and flexibility are also a bonus as it can be quite strenuous, but don’t let that put off your small synchro students, as Heba and Sarah promise that the classes will be fun and creative as well as challenging for all involved and they cater to all abilities.

Swimmers will learn all the tricks they will need to eventually master a flamingo, or if they find they have a natural aptitude then they may be able to progress to a spiral, where swimmers lift both legs out of the water to hip height and perform two full twists. If you’ve ever tried to do that in your local pool, you will know how impossible it is, but it’s all in the hand and leg movements, apparently. So after only an hour learning the basics, it’s a case of ‘synch or swim’, as the session is completed with a musically choreographed routine. Classes are limited to ten children and are offered from five years of age. The sport is dominated by women, mainly because the Olympic and World Championships are not open to men, but Sarah says that shouldn’t put off boys who want to get technical with their transitions and join in.

So where did it all start? The first recorded ‘water ballet’ competition was held in Berlin in 1891, but Benjamin Franklin, one of the USA’s founding fathers was said to have entertained crowds on the banks of the Thames during a trip to London as early as 1724 with a display of what he called ‘Ornamental Swimming’ (but this mythology might have come about from the rip tides and rubbish he encountered in the river, rather than his perfectly executed egg beater). Water ballet’s popularity certainly increased dramatically once Hollywood got hold of it, and Esther Williams put it firmly in the spotlight and on the silver screen in 1940s and ’50s with a dazzling array of films displaying increasingly complicated choreography involving elaborate sets, slides, moving stages and lots of swimmers in frilly hats.

Meanwhile, serious international synchronised swimming competitions were becoming regular events with the first Annual World Aquatic Championships being held in Yugoslavia in 1971. After years trying to convince the Olympic committee that it was a viable sport to be included in competitions, it was finally given legitimacy in 1984 for female team and duet events and became an Olympic sport.

So if you want your kids to try a totally different form of exercise that’s new to Dubai, give them the chance to have fun and get fit, as well as learn a whole new vocabulary, then maybe it’s time for them to flutter kick their way around the pool and start sculling. Don’t forget the nose clip.
Synquatics classes Dhs70 per hour, booking for whole term only. Saturdays at Safa Private School, between 1-5pm. Call 055 448 5381 or see

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