As soon as you arrive at Via Fracassini in the Flaminio district youll notice that things are done a little differently here. Brightly-dressed men and women are strewn all over the pavement, chatting in groups, pulling out shoes from oversized bags, stretching their beautiful legs and sharing fruit, water bottles and cigarettes.

Welcome to the world of IALS (Istituto Addestramento Lavoratori dello Spettacolo), Romes foremost dance school for both amateurs and professionals. Although in its early days countless celebrities drifted down its corridors, 70-80 per cent of students nowadays are non-professionals.

As you travel down the vast spiral ramp it is impossible to decipher the colour of the walls, so crammed are they with announcements for classes, events, rehearsals and auditions.

Upon entering the bowels of the school you will see through the open doors and glass windows of the classrooms scores of people working their muscles. The contrasting beats of jazz, salsa and hip hop fight for dominance in the sweat-fragranced air. Youll have to be careful not to stumble over the bodies scattered in precarious stretching positions throughout the labyrinthian corridors.

Fashion here is strictly according to class: in the hip hop class youngsters are gyrating in torn shirts revealing ironboard-flat stomachs and body-piercings; in the fiery flamenco class women are stomping in body-hugging tops and voluminous skirts; in the ballet class porcelain-faced girls with pink leg warmers and impeccable chignons are pliquing

It is indeed hard to think of a dancing style that is not taught at IALS. The centre offers classical, modern, every type of Latin American and jazz, tango, breakdancing, belly dancing, Hebrew and Senegalese dancing, tribal, funky, disco, rock n roll and much more besides.

In addition, yoga, kickboxing, theatre, music, acrobatics, mimicry, lighting and make-up studies are taught. The centre also plays an important role as a dance research and documentation centre.

IALS was born in 1962 in response to the lack of adequate structures available to professional dancers in Italy, says Mimmo Del Prete, IALS president, original founding member and ex-dancer, We provide a meeting place for workers of the entertainment industry a place in which to study, train, update and perfect dancing styles.

Before we opened, dancers had to go overseas to study. Unfortunately, dancers are still moving abroad, owing to the scarcity of work in our country. Here in Italy, dancing continues to be a passion but not a profession, Del Prete sighs.

He goes on to explain how the lack of funds, the limited number of dance productions on offer and the absence of trade unions and pension systems continue to plague the dancing profession.

Since 1973, IALS has been backed by the ministry of cultural heritage. Lessons for professional dancers are free, partially sponsored by the ministry of education.

There are over 100 teachers at IALS, all with extensive professional working and teaching experience under their belt.

At IALS there are no secrets, Del Prete laughs. The open classrooms are intentional. They provide friendly competition between the teachers. One of the problems with smaller schools is that they only have one teacher per genre so students cant gauge the level of quality they are getting. This is not the case at IALS. We have many teachers for each dancing style and students can easily assess the level of teaching they are receiving.

More than 2,000 students choose classes among the three levels offered: beginner, intermediate and advanced. There is no age limit for students and there are special dance classes for children.

We care very much about creating an informal and creative atmosphere at our centre, says Giorgio De Bortoli, member of the IALS board of directors and one of Italys best tap dancers. He chats at length about his disappointment with Italian television in promoting the art of dance. They prefer tits and ass to professional dancers, he bemoans. Dancing should be about manifesting ones emotions and spirituality, showing what one has deep inside.

By the looks on the sweaty and satisfied faces around IALS it seems as if these dance enthusiasts have found a healthy outlet to express their interiority, a place that blissfully combines feeding ones soul with sculpting ones body. Maybe its time to stop procrastinating and join in the fun.

IALS, Via Cesare Fracassini 60 (Flaminio area), tel. 063236396 / 3611926. For information see www.ials.org. Academic year begins in mid-September but one can join at any time of the year. Open Mon-Sat 09.00-23.00, Sun 09.00-21.00.

Lessons start from 7-8 for one and a half hours. Latin American, belly dancing, tango argentino and flamenco lessons cost 10-15 per class. Insurance obligatory at 3 per class or 11 monthly.