Meet the Emirati woman behind Dubai's retro roller-skating rink

By hosting disco nights and skate jams, Aliyah Al Banna and her sister let the good times roll at RollDXB



by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Sat 1 Oct 2022, 9:29 PM

Last updated: Sun 2 Oct 2022, 1:53 PM

The UAE's Gen Zs and millennials must have already seen the neon lights, disco vibes, and rabbit tunnel of this roller rink in Dubai's Mina Rashid. After all, it's everywhere on Instagram and TikTok.

What many do not know, however, is that behind the funky leisure spot RollDXB is the inspiring success story of a fiercely independent Emirati woman, Aliyah Al Banna, and her sister.

Born and raised at Rashidiya in Dubai, Aliyah — who has four other siblings, including her 13-month elder sister, more like a 'twin' to her — was a self-confessed “naughty child”, though there were no complaints about her “excellent grades” both at Dubai International School at Al Garhoud and Dubai Women’s College. She graduated with a degree in business information and technology during the turn of the new millennium.

Initially upon completing her formal education, she took up a job with the state-run Emirates National Oil Company Group (Enoc) and later also dabbled in running an abaya business.

In 2016, Aliyah’s elder sister — her role model — started toying with the idea of starting an indoor roller-skating rink, which Dubai lacked, despite the growing popularity of ice-skating rinks in the city over more than a decade. Both Aliyah and her sister were crazy about figure skating and roller skating during their formative years.

“The following year, we organised several pop-ups across Dubai such as in City Walk, Bab Al Shams and Design District to gauge the popularity of indoor roller skating among Emiratis and expatriates alike," Aliyah said.

When they decided to put their money into the venture, they didn't expect a return. But to their surprise, the roller rink turned out to be a big hit.

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"The response to the pop-ups was overwhelming, which reinforced my sister’s gut feeling that she had the pulse of Dubai’s residents,” a soft-spoken Aliyah reminisced.

“Simultaneously, we were in talks with Clint Riegelman, the owner of Ridel skates, to import his brand Moxi, the highest quality of fun and fashionable equipment to Dubai. Michelle Steilen, president and chief of the Moxi roller skates, who is known by her alias Estrogen, too, came down to Dubai and conducted workshops at our pop-ups, which became an overnight rage,” she added.

With the proof-of-concept in place, the division of labour was firmed up.

Aliyah donned the role of an operations person, and her elder sister became the brain behind the one-of-a-kind business model in Dubai.

Soon, the duo got on with acquiring the 10,000-square-foot premises at Dubai Maritime City at Mina Rashid in 2019.

“That’s how RollDXB, the one-stop shop for everything — from roller disco nights, skate jams, event rentals, school trips, birthday parties — and the largest such facility across the Middle East was conceived," Aliyah said.

Disc jockey booths and a cute rabbit tunnel were among the funky additions that captured the hearts of the skaters, the cool kids, and the yuppies who just want to have fun.

"We’re delighted that Emiratis and expatriates are making a beeline to our venue, including Ladies Night on Wednesdays (6pm-11pm), which have struck a big chord with women. Besides, we started an academy last December to offer classes for indoor roller skating," she added.

"Our staff strength has also grown from three to nine, as the business has seen an exponential growth since we launched in April 2021, even though a good one year was lost due the Covid-19-pandemic-induced social restrictions and lockdowns. We’re also hosting several monthly events such as Afro desi, pyjama party, Halloween, Hawaiian night etc.”

Ticket prices

Skating enthusiasts can use the premises for an hour — 11am-11pm from Monday to Thursday; 11am-midnight on Friday and 10am-11pm on weekend — against a payment of Dh90. Students can avail of a 20 per cent discount.

Skates and safety gears, except helmets, are available for rent.

Those who really love roller-skating can celebrate their birthday at the venue or improve their skills by taking classes. Here are the rates:

Package 1: Dh1,850

  • One-hour skating session
  • One private party room
  • 10 polaroid images
  • 15 people are allowed

Package 2: Dh2,500

  • One-hour skating session
  • One private party room
  • One kilogram birthday cake
  • 10 polaroid images
  • 15 people are allowed

Package 3: Dh3,250

  • One-hour skating session
  • One private party room
  • One skate performer
  • One kilogram birthday cake
  • 10 polaroid images
  • 15 people are allowed

Private classes

  • One session: Dh367
  • Four sessions: Dh1,054
  • Eight sessions: Dh2,108

Group classes

  • Four sessions: Dh735
  • Eight sessions: Dh1,470
  • 12 sessions: Dh2,205

RollDXB has a coffee shop on the first floor and the facility is pet-friendly. Aliyah’s staff members also sell made in the UK-merchandise such as sweatpants, wheels, pads and straps for roller skates, which can cost between Dh500 and Dh5,000 depending on the bespoke nature of the wares.

Now, Aliyah is gearing up for two upcoming month-long pop-ups in Silicon Oasis and Dubai Media City, as the UAE readies to welcome the “coolest winter”.

Her sister has immersed herself in number crunching on making RollDXB the biggest indoor skating brand in the UAE and the wider region amid ambitious plans to scale up operations while scouting for potential like-minded investors.


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