Dream come true

Little girls in colourful leotards scurry around, doing their warm-up run, jog and walk. Their gymnastics coach, Taya Baydoun, calls out loud and tells them to change pace and they dutifully followed.


Olivia Olarte-Ulherr

Published: Sat 16 Feb 2013, 8:36 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:20 AM

Taya is relentless, she does not suffer slackers. In a class of over 20, she knows her students by name, rousing each to pay attention to her routine and redo it if she falters.

“Hands on the waist, heels off, lift up your bottom, pull in your stomach and hold it, in one, two, three....ten,” she repeats to her intermediate class.

Despite their very young age — between six to nine — the girls understood what’s expected of them and all are determined to follow Taya’s instructions and perfect their routines that consist of floor exercises, beam balancing and the lower bar.

As the girls line up to work on the beam, helped by assistant coaches, Taya would urge others to “pull in your stomach, long neck, star jump... nice landing and salute”, she applauds. Pleased, the child beams.

“She is the perfect combination of strict and loving. When you fool around, she lets you do extra work, but she also easily gives hugs. And even though she has lots of kids, she knows each and everyone by name,” commends Diana Susann of her daughter’s Russian coach.

“We love her. She’s in control. She’s very tough on the children but very sweet. They come to her, give her a hug and say hello,” added Ava Bunn, another mom.

Taya and her Lebanese husband Suleman own and coach The Little Stars Gymnastics Club in the Capital, one of the only two clubs in the city.

The couple moved to Abu Dhabi from Moscow in 1990 for Taya to take on a teaching job in physical education at Al Nahda School for girls. She worked with the school for 21 years before finally venturing into her life-long dream of opening her own gymnastics club.

Beginning of 2011, the Little Stars officially opened and is now holding classes at the Vision Private School gymnasium in Mushrif.

Little Stars currently has six instructors running eight recreational gymnastics classes for different age groups, starting from mom, pap and me (18 months-three years); tiny tots (three-four years); tumble tots (five-six years); beginner 1 and 2 (seven and above); boys (seven and above); intermediate and advanced.

With over 300 students enrolled in different classes, the club is running on full schedule through the entire week, including the weekend and the holidays. Many more are on the waiting list.

According to parents, the Little Stars is so popular because of Taya’s coaching method, which she says is set to a certain goal — developing the students’ gymnastics skills and equipping them early with the necessary life skills.

“I’m developing gymnastics skills, but before gymnastics, I’m developing life skills that help them in proper life environment such as discipline, self-confidence, self-esteem, work ethics, respect and sportmanships. I’m also trying to develop their individuality,” she explains.

Taya says the club follows the American gymnastics programme with compulsary Olympics level routines using four main apparatus — floor, bars, beam and vault — for artistic gymnastics. “But we also do rhythmic gymnastics with ribbons, hoops and skipping ropes,” she adds.

Valerie Bunn, 7, describes gymnastics as “fun, but hard work”.

“But I like hard work,” quickly adds the shy little Briton. Valerie started as a beginner two months ago but was accelerated to intermediate level after just two classes.

Mom Ava says Valerie has tried ballet before and finished the course but she fell in love with gymnastics and “never looked back”.

“She looks forward to her classes and if she can do it everyday, she would, but she has also other activities in school,” Ava states.

Valerie confesses she likes the floor exercises and beam balancing more. “I don’t like bars,” she says conspiratorially, but when called to work the bar, she complies immediately.

“She is good about giving them whay they need, she knows what they can do. It’s very individualised, she knows where they are,” observes Diana.

Diana and her family moved to Abu Dhabi from the US just three months ago and says she was impressed with the progress her nine-year old daughter Julia made in a short amount of time.

Julia developed a “burning desire” to join gymnastics after watching the last Olympics, relates Diana.

Taya was a graduate of the Moscow Sports Academy, which trains highly-skilled specialists in physical education and sports, and graduated with a master’s degree in gymnastics and physical education.

According to her, she started gymnastics very late — at nine years old—and only because of the insistence of her stepfather, who she now credits for her passion and first love.

She now put the same mentoring energy into her students and is always on the lookout for talents to join the competitive squad to partiticipate in national tournaments and inter-club competitions.

The Club is also hosting a concert every year where the Little Stars can show-off their skills. However, in keeping with Taya’s no-nonsense principle, being on the recital is no easy feat. The children have to work hard to show they “deserve to shine on the stage”.

“According to their skills and dedication,” Taya stresses. A challenge that the youngsters are just keen to take on. This year’s concert will be held on May 16 and 17 at the National Centre for Documentation and Research. Preparation for the event usually takes six to seven months of hard training and costume trials. And coaches and participants have to spend every Satuday practising their routines.

With over 40 years of her life spent on gymnastics, Taya considers helself a “very skilled” gymnast and udnerscores the importance of engaging a child in sports at an early age.

The reason why Little Stars offers class for infants as young as 18 months, where parent and child follow activities outlined by the instructor is to develop a child’s basic motor skills and gymnastics concepts, assisting in the development of their physical literacy and providing a strong foundation for future skills in sport.

“I believe that gymnastics is the most beautiful sport in the world. I believe everyone should be passionate about something, something they could not live without. That something for me is gymnastics,” she says poetically.

Having achieved her dream and living it, what’s next?

Taya says she hopes to find a bigger space to accommodtae her growing number of students and where she could fix the apparatus permanently.



Gymnastics is considered to be the foundation of all sports. It significantly develops the ABCs of physical activity — Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed. Gymnastics is an “all body” as well as an “all mind” sport and provides physical and pschological benefits to your child.


  • Increased muscular strength, flexibility and endurance
  • Increased agility and coordination
  • Discipline and self control

A confident self image and positive attitude towards sports

Trusting in one’s own abilities; moves from an “I can’t” to an “I can” attitude


Mom, Pap & Me 
(18 months- 3 years)

This Parent and Child class is designed to develop age-appropriate basic motor skills and gymnastics concepts, eye-to-hand coordination and body awareness and all the while building your child’s self-esteem and social skills. The class promotes early development and provides a strong foundation for your child’s critical first three years.

Tiny Tots (3-4 years)

This fun-filled, high energy class is designed to keep your young ones happy and healthy. Balance beam, bars, trampoline and obstacle courses are among the favorites with this age group. Independent enough to attend classes without parents, children in this age group still learn best in a structured environment where gymnastics activities are combined with a healthy dose of fun.

Tumble Tots (5-6 years)

This class is a transitional class for the child to further develop specific gymnastics skills, gross motor skills, balance, strength and coordination that will either take them further into the Recreational Level programme or into the Little Stars Squad. This is also the last class in the programme where the boys and girls are combined.

Beginner 1/Beginner 2 
(7 & above)

These girls only classes are meant to introduce school-aged kids to the sports of gymnastics with a focus on skills development and routines performance. These classes teach them a basic set of skills predefined for each of the two levels.

Boys (7 & above)

Especially tailored for young men, this introductory boy’s gymnastics class focuses on proper skill progression and fundamental strength development. The boys will have the chance to build a good acrobatic foundation in addition to learning vault and trampoline skills. Physical fitness training will also be a major part of this class.

Intermediate/Advanced Squad Prep

Our Intermediate and Advanced Squad Prep classes focus on skill development and routine performance, based on USA Gymnastics (USAG) guidelines. Participants learn skills of all USAG compulsory levels in addition to optional level 7 on all four apparatus (vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise). For more information, visit www.littlestarsabudhabi.com

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