A meeting of minds in Dubai
California, worked as its dance teacher and choreographer. She also continued to hone her talent at helping people smile through challenging circumstances.
The 38-year-old, who this year was named first runner-up in Philly Arabia’s Most Inspiring Woman in the GCC award, was then offered a chance to move to Dubai early in 2008. She says that before leaving, she spent some time in New York City with her family including her great aunt, who was in a nursing home. “Visiting her was one of my saddest moments. Many patients at the nursing home were lonely and I knew I had to do something to change that.”
So during Christmas 2007, a time when Mina felt patients would be at their loneliest, she decided to create a show, not only for her great aunt’s residential home but for 20 other senior citizen centres in the city.
The voluntary tour aimed to give the old and often-alone residents a moment to forget their circumstances and to laugh.
“I started writing jokes and tap dance routines,” she remembers. “The older generations really appreciate dance. I modelled it after a talk show, with Audrey Heartburn as the host. I included an exercise segment so it wasn’t just entertainment. They loved it and after the show we would always stay and have one-on-one time with them, visit their rooms – just make sure they were heard.” When Mina arrived in Dubai early in 2008 much of her time was spent overcoming the daily hurdles of attempting to set up the country’s first local comedy community. “It was challenging,” she says, “because comedy is known to be vulgar, dirty and male orientated. It took time for people to understand that I wanted to do [clean] comedy and that it could be funny without being vulgar.”
Her struggle was eased to some extent just four months after arriving in the country. A chance encounter with a man who shared the same vision for a comedy community within the emirates meant the two could join forces to edge the country into position as a frontrunner in regional comedy. “The two of us together was such a great balance,” she says of herself, the expat woman, and her future husband Ali Al Sayed, the Emirati man. “It was exactly what we were trying to achieve, our goal together was to bridge the gap and use comedy to bring people of different religions and financial means together.”
With resounding success the couple have been tantamount in the comedy boom that has taken place in the UAE over the past few years and that achievement enabled them to turn their attention to art for a cause. Drawing on her previous experience in clowning in the community in the US, the pair decided to form the CWC. Initially they concentrated on sectors of the community they felt had the most need and were accessible.
Mina says, “It was very evident that there were many centres for children with special needs, and support groups, so we reached out to them.” Over the past five years CWC has visited, performed and led workshops at a host of centres for children and young adults, especially those with special needs.
Their primary focus to begin with was Dubai’s Al Noor Centre; Senses Residential and Day Care for Special Needs; and the Dubai Autism Centre where, with a group of volunteers, they began visits putting on comedic performances, actively engaging the children and spending one-on-one time with each individual.
“We build a relationship with them and we see progress,” Mina explains. “We use a three-step process. The first step involves us performing for them so they can laugh at us and feel comfortable. The second step is a workshop, where we teach things like comedy or circus skills. Often they don’t think they will