Founder of Saudi's first female-only dance studio sets off to scale Everest

Nelly Attar, 29, who is Lebanese but was brought up in Saudi, aims to summit the world’s tallest mountain

Nelly Attar. Mohammad Obaidi for The National
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The founder of Saudi Arabia’s first female-only fitness studio has begun an expedition to scale Everest, to inspire women in the Kingdom to take up sport.

Nelly Attar, 29, who is Lebanese but was born and raised in Saudi, set off for Nepal last week in preparation to take on the world’s tallest mountain.

The former psychologist and life coach started hiking while she was at university and scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya four years ago.

Nelly Attar, the founder of Saudi Arabia's first female-only dance fitness studio, plans to scale Everest. Mohammad Obaidi for The National

Her expedition to Africa got her hooked on mountaineering and last year a friend suggested she climb Everest.

“I have two coaches who help me who live in the States but we’ve had to be very creative with the resources that I have,” said Ms Attar.

“We don’t have high mountains in Riyadh. All we have is hills and a lot of them are closed off to the public. It’s just amazing to aim for something like Everest.”

Ms Attar became certified in dance fitness while she was seeking work after completing her master’s degree in the UK.

She moved back to Saudi Arabia five years ago, initially working with patients brain injuries and teaching dance in her spare time.

Later, the Saudi Government’s General Sports Authority began a campaign promoting women in sport and Ms Attar was chosen to help run a series of free boot camps.

After running the sessions for a month, she decided to turn the classes into a business and Move, the first dance studio in the Kingdom, was born.

“Five years ago we didn’t have a lot of gyms and most of them weren’t accessible to women,” said Ms Attar.

“So I started teaching dance fitness classes across Riyadh and it quickly became popular so I ventured into spinning and crossfit. I did all that while I was still working a full-time job.”

As someone who was born and brought up in Saudi, Ms Attar said it was heartening to see the cultural changes underway in the Kingdom.

Nelly Attar. Mohammad Obaidi for The National

“The hardest thing is changing mindsets, but actually people seem to be ready for these changes, from women driving to an influx of female gyms,” she said.

“So it’s nice to see that change and see people here are starting to embrace working, starting to understand that women should be out there working and be independent.

“You see females working everywhere as receptionists and as cashiers. Now we have female gyms on every corner.”