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Lifelong passion to perform

A Week in the Life Clara Ramona, Flamenco Dancer
WHEN CLARA Ramona, who runs her own dance company, is not performing, she's setting up and choreographing shows, teaching classes, keeping tabs on her two sons - also flamenco dancers - and spending long nights dancing and talking with her friends. It is a lifestyle governed by Madrid's iron rule: sleep less.

We meet on Monday, after her return from a month performing on Mediterranean cruise ships. "Each cruise was three or four days long, I worked for one day then had two days recovering. It's nice work. The audiences are very appreciative."

That interlude followed a month of nightly shows at Cafe Chinitas, a renowned Madrid flamenco haunt. "We start at midnight and then after the show have a few beers and go out and meet old friends and you don't get to bed until dawn. The worst thing is by the time you wake up, you've missed the bank, the supermarket ..."

This week, however, marked a lull in her performing schedule. She has small studio off the street in Madrid's scruffy old quarter: flamenco's heartland, she assures me. A thunderous hammering of heels comes from the cellar where a woman, humming her own accompaniment, is perfecting a dance routine in an even tinier space.

Clara, 42, started ballet training at five, studied folk, jazz and contemporary dance, and took her first flamenco lesson at 19. She became hooked on the dance and her teacher, Ramon de los Reyes, whom she married. Flamenco today is too percussive, she says. "It's become too angry and stamping. Take your eyes off the dancer and you don't miss a thing. You only need to hear it. It leaves you empty. Where are the lovely arm movements? No one cares about the lovely line, the passion. I'm trying to bring that back."

She practises every day, "maybe an hour or so" and on Wednesday gives a class to a young Japanese couple who read about Clara in a magazine and splashed out a year's savings on two months in Madrid. They take three classes a week and book the studio for an hour before and after. Clara claps and stamps the rolling 12-beat rhythms, encouraging the pair, lifting the young woman's elbow, tapping the man on his sweaty chest, admiring herself in the mirror. Afterwards she swaps her clumpy flamenco shoes for strappy iridescent sandals and shimmies along the cobbles to her Alfa Romeo soft-top and drives home, about half a mile away. At her flat, in a modest part of town, she ploughs through paperwork and proposals for local authority dance grants.

On Friday we meet in the Axarquia club. By 1am the place is packed with exotically dressed, coiffed and made-up women with roly-poly blokes wearing white socks and moccasins and carrying mobile phones. They bounce and flounce through sevillanas with casual beauty and much laughter.

Clara says: "I've spent three nights visiting theatres checking out dancers, catching up with producers and you end up yakking all night. I used to stay away from that kind of thing but I realise that's the way things are done."

Elizabeth Nash