This is a world with a specific set of rules for women where sometimes ordinary things in life become taboo. And how does it work when our fitness instructor coaches in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Photographs: Miloš Manojlović

In Saudi Arabia women can legally drive cars as on June of this year. One restriction less on a long list of others. Things are slowly changing, and the spirit of new age is coming to this part of the world. In some more liberal parts, like Dubai, life is completely different, while foreigners that chose Abu Dhabi as their temporary destination, need more time to fit into a culture completely unknown to Europeans. How you thoughts about how do some, to us completely regular activities like fitness, work there? Our fitness instructor Aleksandra Mirković worked for a couple of months in Abu Dhabi, and currently works as a female personal trainer in Dubai. After spending a year there, Aleksandra reveal how working out works in this, in all means distant world.

How would you compare workouts in Dubai and in Serbia? 

A distinct difference does exist. When it comes to trends and gear, everything in Dubai is high-tech. Every new fitness trend is followed, but it’s surprising how little awareness of sports and a healthy lifestyle is present. Things are just starting to change over the past few years. A young girl actually told me that she believed that only fat people work out. She thought about exercising herself, only when she gained a couple of pounds.

Does that mean that looks are the main motivation for working out?

For sure, at least in the beginning. While working at a fitness center, girls often approached me with an idea that after working out they’ll look like me. However absurd it may seem, they choose a trainer based on how they want to look. Of course, over time with talk and correct education on the topic, you can influence on a change of perception of physical activity and why they should invest their time in it and work out.Traditionally, their diet is completely different, a mix of the Middle East and Asia, aromatic, rich in spices. On the other hand, much like everywhere else, fast food is more and more dominant. Their women spend a lot of time in shopping malls, so they eat there, and their choice is mostly fast food. On the other side, they give birth to a lot of children, with the consequences visible on their bodies, and of course they have no relationship towards sports. I once coached a mother of four that brought her youngest daughter to the session. While the two of us worked out, the little one tried mimicking her mother and was very successful in doing so. When I asked whether she thought of taking her to some sports classes, she looked at me with a surprised expression and responded that there’s no need for that, since she isn’t fat.


So articles on healthy lifestyles that are bombarding the world don’t exist there?

Of course that they know of certain rules of a proper diet, but it’s harder for them to implement them. You start understanding that while talking to a client. When asked whether she followed my advice on healthy food, one of them sent me a photograph of a barbecue floating in grease and proudly stated how that’s her grease free bought meal. It’s the same story with their man. One colleague told me that a client of his, at one in the morning, proudly sent him a photograph of a spaghetti Bolognese, covered in Parmesan cheese. They are traditionally accustomed to, due to the climate, to eat heavy food late at night, which is a big no for achieving a perfect body.

Women in public have to war abajas to the fitness center, and the men and women section is strictly divided

Besides for diet, what else was hard for you to change in order to teach them what makes a healthy lifestyle?

When women haven’t been exposed to physical activities during their whole life, it’s really hard to insert them in the whole healthy lifestyle and fitness zone overnight. They are confronted with coordination issues, as well as balance and elasticity, which makes my task of teaching them how to maintain a technically correct posture and movement harder. There are many of them that don’t know how to squat, and not hurt themselves. When it comes to a sport level, out of our perspective of a sporty nation, I couldn’t even anticipate how much I have to work in order to explain simple exercises and prepare them for a workout that our women follow with ease.

How would you define those women that adopt a fitness lifestyle?

The biggest problem is that most expect results overnight, which means that very few remain dedicated to working out. It’s well known that it takes time for the body to change, especially in these cases where there’s no base. I try to be realistic with them and to explain that without great devotion and a change in diet, there will be no results. The ones that remain consistent are ones that see their body tighten during the first month, see kilos melting after the second, and after the third see some of their goals begin to achieve. When it comes to gear and brands, the selection is much better than back home. Women have to wear abajas in public, so they experience a true transformation when working out. A phenomenon that occurs with our women exists here too. After a period of working out regularly, once they start noticing positive changes, women spent more time on selecting their gear, that’s the main sign that they are into it and that they will stay devoted.


Before Dubai, you spent a couple of months working at a fitness center in Abu Dhabi. Is there a difference?

In general it’s the same job, but it is very different, as well as the lifestyle of these two cities. In Abu Dhabi I worked at a huge gym that employed a lot of people from all over the world and had a strict work code. You don’t choose your clients, they come to you. In Dubai I work for a company that works only with women, I’m a personal trainer and I go to their home address. Just considering the fact that you’re coming to their house every second or third day, see their family and children, changes the relationship completely. It’s common to get invited to birthdays and family events. In Abu Dhabi it’s a completely different atmosphere, everything is like a conveyer belt. People change from an hour to an hour; I don’t have time for small talk. Also, in Dubai there are a lot of foreigners as well as locals. I have clients from Great ˜Britain, Ireland, Lebanon, while in Abu Dhabi the clients very mostly locals. The code of conduct was also much more strict.

Dubai seems like a European seaside city, while Abu Dhabi as the capital of the Emirates, is governed by the local customs

You worked with men in Abu Dhabi. What are your experiences?

It was interesting. I worked with men in Belgrade and it was never a problem. I didn’t have any uncomfortable experiences.

How can a women even work as a fitness instructor in Abu Dhabi considering how many rules there are in relationships between the sexes, especially when not in a married relationship? Is physical contact allowed in a gym?

N important information is that all women working as fitness trainers are foreign. Except for Europeans, there are many girls from Egypt or Tunisia, mainly due to their knowledge of Arabic. It is known that physical contact is necessary, but I still always asked for permission in order to demonstrate and exercise or correct a movement. There were men that insisted on a certain girl to be their trainer. Why does a man choose a female instructor? Part of it is enjoying female attention. I personally haven’t had any greater inconveniences.

Let us come back to working with women. Are there any exercises they refuse to do?

Not specifically, but when they set their mind on something, you can’t convince them otherwise. If a woman has a goal, she’ll do anything to achieve it. Of course there are individual opinions, and you can try as much as you can. I’ll simplify things by saying that they are more spoiled than us. It’s a cultural difference before anything else. They are used to pampering, so you need to find a way to motivate them towards a goal. Another universal rule is that women are perpetually unhappy; she’ll always need a tiny bit more around the arms, stomach, inner thigh… Men don’t have than, no PMS, their insanity. He comes, works out, and goes about his day. Let’s say that the biggest issue Arab woman have is fat around the stomach, they think that by doing abs only, the problem will be solved. You won’t be able to convince them that results won’t come as they planned. You have to be really careful there and convince them that you know what you’re doing and that they should let you show it.

How is it, being a foreigner in Abu Dhabi, and how in Dubai?

I believe that it used to be much different. From my own experience, Dubai seems like a European seaside city. You don’t really feel like you’re in a Muslim country. Abu Dhabi is completely different, as the capital of the Emirates; it’s governed by local customs. In Dubai you’re free to walk around in a mini dress or shorts and no one will say anything, while in Abu Dhabi the situation is a bit different, you will feel uncomfortable walking around in a mini while other women around you are completely covered. There, you could actually get banned from a mall for wearing a skirt that is too short.

What did you like the most there, and what did you miss?

If we’re talking about Dubai, it’s the lifestyle and many choices and possibilities. What it lacks is a social moment, hanging out and friendships that we are used to. People come from all over the world, they work a lot and the common goal is earning money. They don’t have time to socialize, unless you have a common business interest.

Rules that everyone must abide do exist. In public the opposite sexes can’t hug or kiss, physical contact is forbidden

What would you say about male and female relationships in public of Abu Dhabi? 

Rules that everyone must abide do exist. In public the opposite sexes can’t hug or kiss, physical contact is forbidden. Things are more liberal now, so you can see a couple holding hands from time to time. You get completely used to it with time.

After a year there have your expectations been met?

I’m extremely happy; of course it depends on how you situate yourself, how much knowledge you show and how happy your clients are. I definitely wanted a change, to see how well could I do on my own in a different part of the world. Since my childhood, I dreamt of living where it’s sunny always and summer lasts forever. It’s not for nothing when they say – be careful what you wish for, it may come true. Hahahah, I ended up in a dessert where it’s practically sunny 365 days a year. On the other hand, it feels good, living in Dubai as a young individual, it’s a confirmation that you can manage even when you don’t know anyone, you never know when you’ll meet someone that will recognize your qualities and give you a chance. I plan on staying in the fitness industry and broadening my expertise by further education and specific courses. Where will it take me, maybe to a different meridian? Who knows?