Private Lives

When she's not running a $1 million company, Karen Risa Robbins dances to the evocative songs, rich guitar strains, and rhythmic palmas (handclapping) of an art form descended from Andalusian Spanish Gypsies. "Flamenco requires almost a mad passion," she says. "It is about knowing who you are and what you want to say with your body." But besides being able to express herself, Robbins finds flamenco helps her on the job as CEO of American Technology Alliances (Amtech). The company, based in Redwood City, Calif., negotiates deals to bring cutting-edge government technology to the commercial market.

"The dance itself teaches huge lessons about collaboration and alliances," she says. "The dancer, singer, and guitarist give one another signals they each respond to. It's very much like a conversation."

Arts with a long history aren't new to Robbins, who toured with her family performing medieval music on archaic instruments like the krummhorn and vielle. Fifteen years ago, while studying in Madrid, Spain, Robbins found herself standing shyly in the back of a flamenco class. The instructor, she later learned, was local legend Maria Magdalena, and her classmates members of the National Ballet. ("It's a good thing I didn't know or I would never have had the guts to walk in.")

"One of the things I love about flamenco," Robbins says, "is having to have a strength of character, almost a demanding presence, to achieve quality. It's a blend of assertiveness that professional women seek in their careers tempered with grace and beauty."