Sunday, March 10, 2013

Finding Fitness in Fez

Aicha Hatim Morelli is unusual in Morocco – she’s a female physical trainer. While a handful of female coaches can be found in the gyms of Casablanca, Aicha is a rarity in the city of Fez

Aicha Hatim Morelli displays her boxing skills

Even more unusual is her skill range – Aicha has won competitions as a kick boxer and teaches aerobics, stretch and fitness. Yet she is also a graceful dancer and teaches Moroccan dance.

Aicha says she doesn’t know anyone else who teaches a similar range of physical activities. “I enjoy teaching. I want to share with everybody what I know”.

Having taken four years away from work to have two children, Aicha has recently returned to her chosen profession as a qualified sports trainer and has started taking on private clients for physical fitness sessions and a Moroccan dance class for women. She is also about to begin teaching two physical activities classes for children in Fez at the beginning of April - one for three to five year olds, and another for six to eight year olds.

“Sport helps young and older people,” she says. “When you are moving and you are doing stuff, you are going to see the difference in your body.

“Sport is good for children’s brain development. It gives them the ability to do everything they want to do - running, jumping, kicking. It makes them strong and smart and gives them physical co-ordination.

“I watch my daughter dancing, and she is better than lots of older people, because she is uninhibited about it. If you learn these skills early, then you keep them for life – that is what happened to me.”

Aicha also thinks it is very important for women in Morocco to feel more physically powerful and confident. “I hate seeing the women always down from the man. I want that men and women are the same.”

Born in the Medina of Fez, Aicha was one of seven children – the only girl among six brothers. Their father worked for the Pasha who owned the ancient and beautiful Palais El Mokri. The Hatim family were the caretakers of the property.

“It had a big garden, and that’s where we played,” she says. "I always played with my brothers. They could be quite rough, so from an early age I learned to look after myself.

“All of my brothers were doing sport, and I was always going with them. One of them did kick boxing, another did karate, and my big brother was a champion weight lifter.

“My father always said to me, ‘You have to protect yourself.’ Here in Morocco, women are always down, and men are (considered) everything. My father wanted me to be the same. I went everywhere with my brothers and did everything they did. Everybody thought it was strange.”
"Everything I feel is in the dance. I can feel my body; I feel like I am flying.”
Yet, Aicha also had another more traditionally feminine outlet for her talents. Her father was also a member of the Issawa Sufi brotherhood, and played the drum.

“He was always calling me to dance. When I was dancing and he was very happy. I loved dancing since I was small. Everything I feel is in the dance. I can feel my body; I feel like I am flying.”

When Aicha was sixteen, her father passed away. Grief stricken, and not wanting to be dependent on her brothers who by now had families of their own to support, she left school and began working with her sports coach at a gym in the Medina, teaching aerobics, fitness and dancing to women. She also participated in kick boxing competitions and won several.

After moving to Casablanca for a time, she returned to Fez to look after her mother, who was unwell.

Eleven years ago Aicha met her husband, English teacher and video maker Jamal Morelli. Initially she worked for his video company, as a personal assistant for his professional partner. Later, their friendship deepened to love and he asked her to marry him. Their grand traditional wedding was held at Riad Mokri. The couple now have two children, a girl of four and a boy of one and a half.

Aicha says that when she was a teenager, she dreamt of the life she has now; where she is a wife and mother and is also running her own business teaching sport and dance. “Now I am so happy. I have everything.”

Where to learn: 

  • Aicha Hatim Morelli holds a dance class for women on Wednesdays from noon to 1 PM at Riad Laaroussa in the Fez Medina. Cost: 80 dh 
  • She also offers physical fitness sessions to private clients by arrangement.
Info: or 06 55997819 or Suzanna Clarke at

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