My Weekend: Lucy Riley

Times Online, April 27, 2007

Think Flamenco, and the chances are you won’t think of the law. One is a musical form of passion and intensity derived from the sweltering towns of Andalucia. The other is, well, it’s the law, a discipline of intellectual rigour and no little obeisance to convention. Remarkably, however, the two things converge in the form of a solicitor who lives in Bishop’s Stortford: Lucy Riley, a specialist in leasehold enfranchisement.

Riley works for Clerkenwell firm Rooks Rider, which she joined in 1997. She qualified in 2000 and has just been made an associate. She is married with a young son and works part-time. The facts also reveal that she is a member of the Leasehold Advisory Group, with expert knowledge of leasehold enfranchisement and extensions under the 1967 and 1993 legislation, and that she is also an active member of several networking groups, the Clerkenwell Business Junction among them. But Riley’s legal CV is nowhere near as interesting as her obsession with the fandango, the columbiana, the rumba and other forms of Flamenco dance.

“Flamenco was something I always wanted to do,” she says. “I got into it in 1998, shortly after I joined Rooks Rider. It’s such a vibrant and hot-blooded dance. It’s difficult and challenging, but what’s wonderful about it is that there are no barriers. It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin, old or young – everyone can do it.”

Riley began her nigh-on 10 years of Flamenco study by attending dance classes in Bethnal Green and is presently taught for two hours every Sunday evening at the Dovedale Centre in Chelmsford. Her teacher is a lady called Juana Jimenez, who, she tells me, “insists that timing is everything. In Flamenco you need to hold things back. Juana is always telling me to hold back the passion – if you’re before the beat, you’re too soon; if you’re on the beat, you’re too soon too. You have to wait until the last possible moment.”

Ms Jimenez also spends some of her time telling Riley “to give it a bit more welly,” for, as Riley admits, occasionally her conditioned English reserve rears its head. “Flamenco, when danced by the professionals, is incredibly beautiful and passionate,” she says. “Sometimes the English find the embrace of such passion a little difficult.” Indeed, for her understanding of Flamenco to progress further Riley acknowledges that there would be no substitute for a prolonged stint in Spain. “I’ve seen Flamenco in Seville and Granada, which has been wonderful, but I don’t think an English Flamenco dancer would ever be considered advanced unless he or she was prepared to commit to studying in Spain.”

Riley thinks this might be an option at some stage in her career, but in her present incarnation as a solicitor she believes that Flamenco and the law are complementary. Admittedly, the connection seems elusive, but Riley puts any doubt to rest. “Studying Flamenco makes me a more rounded person, and this means that I’m able to give better, more creative advice than if my life was solely taken up by the law. The skills as a lawyer can also be used in Flamenco. You need determination and an excellent memory for the nuances and subtleties of every dance.” Moreover, “the contrast is a good thing – it makes for the right work-life balance for me.”

Flamenco is also a great social activity as well as a demanding form of exercise. “I’ve met some lovely people through Flamenco classes and performances, and it’s a great form of fitness. It’s very tiring and hard on the knees, and you have to put a lot of effort in.”

It still seems a far cry from the analysis of the minutiae of leasehold agreements, but Riley’s colleagues have seen her perform and they loved every minute. “We held a charity event and they watched me dancing – they thought it was great.”

Still, though, it is difficult to reconcile the image of Flamenco with the law. After all, Flamenco’s greatest poet is Garcia Lorca, a man known for many things but not his reserve. Surely there is something of the fiery, passionate Gitana in Riley herself?

Riley smiles enigmatically. I find myself, most unexpectedly, warming to the law of leasehold enfranchisement before she answers: “Some people might say that.”

Lucy Riley is performing with ‘Flamenco Ole!’ at the Leigh Folk Festival 22-24 June. See www.leighfolkfestival.co.uk