PAM'S NEW MOVES ARE FRESH FROM BRAZIL

PAMELA Stephenson is a woman who continually confounds expectation, leaping onto new career adventures as often as the rest of leap onto the couch to watch the telly.

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Over the years she's impressed as an actress comedienne, professional traveller, TV psychologist and of course dancer in the BBC's Strictly.

Today, looking full of fun in her sparkly platform trainers and baseball cap, she's talking up her latest endeavour. And Pamela Stephenson Connolly, you quickly realise, has arrived at this converted church hall rehearsal room in Edinburgh carrying huge bags of enthusiasm.

The blonde New Zealander is the co-producer and writer of Brazouka, a Brazilian dance drama built around the dance lambazouk, directed by Arlene Phillips.

There are 16 Brazilian dancers in the cast. To create a totally new concept requires months of planning, coordination, sweat and probably a few tears. And a fair bit of cash.

So what in hell possessed you to get involved in something like this?

"That's the very same question my husband asked me," she says, laughing. "He calls the dancers 'Brylcreem lotharios', which isn't the case. As you can see they're all very good, dedicated dancers."

But why an arts theatre show Pamela? You're aiming to convert the world of dance to Brazouka via an Edinburgh Festival show. It's an awesome task.

"I've always loved dance" she says, rewinding. "Having had polio as a youngster I was sent to ballet lessons to strengthen my limbs. And dance became an escape for me from academic programme I was on.

"It was a time when if people thought you were bright they threw you into an advanced learning programme. They didn't know the thing to do was to develop you as an all-round person.

"But as a result, I was pushed into classes two years ahead of my age level at school, which meant I had no friends."

That accounts for a lot, you say, hinting at the extroverted attention-seeking personality that was to develop.

"It does," she agrees, laughing. "However, I did have dance, which was great for me."

In recent years, Pamela felt the pull of the dance floor and she tried several clubs in New York where she lives. But salsa, which she loved, was more about men pulling women. "I felt it was a bit of a meat market, although it depends on where you are.

"Then I learned bachata (a Dominican Republic dance) which was good, but one night in New Zealand I discovered the Brazilian dance lambazouk."

Pamela then travelled to Brazil to study the dance form which so entranced her.

"It's all so lyrical, with people melting into bodies. It's so very sensual, but it's a dance that can be a lot of things; nurturing, raw and sexy, sweet, yet very competitive."

How so? "You can be dancing with a guy, yet another guy will come round from the side and steal you away from your partner. All of a sudden you'll realise there's a different hand holding you. It's all so cheeky...part of the mating process."

Sounds a bit like the dancin' at the Locarno in Glasgow in the Fifties?

"Yes, the cutting in," she says grinning. "Although what I've heard of the Glasgow ballrooms is you just cut in and shoved a guy out of the way. Lambazouk involves coming in on exactly the right beat. The skill is incredible."

Pamela believes lambazouk to be more socially encompassing. "In lambazouk, it's very acceptable to be older (she's an incredibly youthful 64) and for someone like me to ask the guys to dance, and not assume any ulterior motive.I love that."

But how to create a narrative for the show? There are two features. Brazouka tells the story of leading man Braz Dos Santos, Brazil's most famous dancer. Born dirt poor he's set to do for Brazouka what Michael Flately did for Riverdance.

The second derives from a Brazilian religion Candomble and the African gods Brazilians worshipped.

"When I was a kid I discovered the Greek and Roman gods, gods with human foibles, which was fascinating. I felt the same fascination with Candomble. So I went to ceremonies, and then weaved this into the story of Braz Dos Santos's life."

Pamela clearly sees the commercial possibilities in lambazouk.

"My year on Strictly taught me that top dancers can make a very good living and wow people. I felt these Brazilians (she looks around at the dancers in the hall) definitely do that."

But what's husband Billy's reaction to his wife's immersion in hip-swaying, sexy, primal dance? Surely he's too Scottish to embrace it entirely?

"No, he loves it," she says, smiling. "And remember, he did a lot of hip swaying and jiving himself back in the day."

She adds: "He was a very serious dancer. As a young man he was either dancing at the Locarno or being thrown out of the Locarno and trying to get back in again."

n Brazouka, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, until August 25.

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