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Saturday April 27, 2013

An artistic flair

Aireen with AirAsia cabin crew. Aireen with AirAsia cabin crew.

THE last time that StarBizWeek connected on a personal level with Aireen Omar, she replied from a hotel in Europe during a work trip: “It's been non-stop. All I want for Christmas is to settle down with a box of chocolates.”

It was a brief liner but the appeal in her person was relatable, and seemed to say about her more than her need for a break.

Although the past year has been a whirlwind of work excitement, mounting pressures, brief overseas trips for meetings just before this interview she took a day trip to Japan for five meetings and decisions for the AirAsia Bhd CEO, this is a life the Petaling Jaya native has come to embrace.

She laughs when we ask what she does in her free time.

Honey, I haven't any, her expression seems to say.

“Well, what about this. I practise Pilates, even in my hotel room during business trips. I understand how the body works, and since I love dance and music, this is the closest I can get to that now that work is so consuming,” she says.

There is a grace to the way she moves and speaks, which quickly becomes clear comes from an innate connection to the performing arts from a young age.

AirAsia CEO Aireen
Omar in bootcamp
with her co-workers
in the lawn outside
their office in
Sepang. AirAsia CEO Aireen Omar in bootcamp with her co-workers in the lawn outside their office in Sepang.

As we delve into the topic, her face lights up and she seems to release temporarily the fact that she is taking precious time off a typically busy workday to be interviewed.

And on a topic that isn't even vaguely related to airlines and new routes.

As a child, her mother made sure to expose Aireen to the performing arts.

She took ballet and piano lessons well into her late teens and underwent high-level examinations for certificates.

These were merely extra-curricular pursuits, but had the local performing arts landscape been more welcoming of local talents looking for a sustainable career in it, Aireen might have considered it.

“I had to think of what was economically feasible for the long haul,” she says.

Major industry names, her main influences over the years, roll off her tongue easily.

From pop, she tuned in to jazz musicians like Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, John Coltrane, while studying in New York. She even dabbled at jazz piano but threw in the towel after some time.

“It wasn't easy,” she remembers.

Ballet classes expanded to include jazz, tap and contemporary as well.

Under the often-spellbinding influence of MTV, she found herself attempting hip-hop at some point.

It was an admirable but otherwise awkward attempt for the classically-trained Aireen.

“That was a tough role for me to fill,” she says, gesturing with her arms very gracefully to give her guests an idea what she means. “You've got to have the attitude for that genre, which doesn't come naturally to ballet dancers.”

She'd love to tango someday, though.

For now, she makes do with working out in the field with her co-workers in the evening.

She initiated their bi-weekly bootcamp regime, which her staff gladly joins.

Aireen's interest extends to artworks, too.

While travelling, she makes it a point to visit the local art museum.

The Museum of the City of New York in the United States is her favourite, followed by Muse d'Orsay in Paris and Tate Gallery in London.

I really owe my broad interest in all things art to my mother, she says.

What about singing then?

Not a chance.

“I couldn't do it to save my life.”

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