Dancing with P&O Cruises and Cunard – Part 2

Dancers and Dances

Queen Elizabeth The guy with the video camera had been filming dancers throughout our cruise on the Oriana. It became irritating so I had a word. He carried on. On our last night in the ballroom, Pat and Tony, our two new friends who knew everything there was to know about dancing having spent a fortune over the years in private lessons, were curious: “What is he doing?” asked Tony, pointing to videoman. “He films dancers’ routines and him and his wife practise them in their cabin”, I informed him. Pat was outraged. “The cheeky so and so,” she said, “he’s never filmed us once!”

All the British based cruise companies provide dance tuition to while away the sea days. The teachers are professionals taking a break themselves with a working holiday afloat. Lessons are usually aimed at beginners albeit many experienced dancers join in to brush up their skills. Sometimes under the more enlightened dance instructors the morning session will be reserved for beginners, the afternoon given over for a more advanced routine where the basic skills are applied with something of a flourish.

We still use one double spin routine taught to us on the Oriana by Julie Sawyer, a wonderful dance teacher from Milton Keynes. It was, as I remember, a tad galling  to discover some total beginners were out-performing us.

The sessions are normally packed out at the beginning of the cruise, declining as late nights, ports, sunshine and the stress of it all begin to bite.  Strangers all, we gather on the dance floor. Women are determined, notepads at the ready. Men grin sheepishly, properly attired in thick beach sandals and shorts. “I’m only here because the wife demanded it.”

Julie and Simon dance teachers After introductions from the dance teachers – there’s always two, usually the lady taking the lead – we typically commence with a waltz. It seems easy enough. Left foot forward, right foot forward, close with the left. Followed by right foot forward, left foot forward, close with the right. This is where it gets a little tricky. People fall over, it proving impossible to lift both feet off the floor at the same time. But then suddenly, by osmosis, cajoling, near tantrums, full tantrums and sheer willpower, miraculously folk start to dance. It’s not a thing of beauty but hey.

A camaraderie breaks out. Look, we can dance. Like really. Zombies advancing on the living, we shuffle anti-clockwise around the dance floor, smiles of incredulity or consternation both, but we move.

Amidst it all one couple glide through the detritus, supremely impervious to it all, so much better than everyone else. No-one is impressed, though, having seen her lift him high above her head the previous night at the culmination of their rumba.

Depending on the number of sea days all the genres of dance will be covered in the tutorials. In addition to the waltz, you might learn quickstep and foxtrot; this latter is the most demanding and often commuted to what is called the social foxtrot, a dance so easy my dog could do it. However it is more suited to the restricted room of dancing on a ship and will carry you round the dance floor with something of ease providing you get the angles correct. Given decent progress in your classes you may begin to gain a few extra moves, develop a routine of your own. There’s even a side step shuffle that will hold you in place long enough to avoid the advancing couples powering down on you.

The latin dances of rumba and cha cha commence on the second beat of the bar and can prove difficult for anyone as deaf to the beat as me. The aim is to get the hip movement that Craig is always going on about and Bruno demonstrating. Craig managed better with his brand new hip replacement than I have ever managed with what nature has given me. 

Crowded dance lesson The Argentine Tango was first taught us by two absolutely marvellous teachers, Simon and Julie Curtin. Ideal for beginners, it consists of the woman leaning on the man and both making improvised movements in keeping with the music. Periodically, for wont of anything better to do, the lady will stroke the inside of the man’s leg with her leg. Supposedly it relates to a down-town bar girl seeking out the wallet in the man’s trousers but as I always carry a the ship’s credit card personally I was unable to see the point on board an up-town ship.

Some of the dancer teachers put their heart and soul into their work. The three I mentioned above distributed notes and allowed us all to video each of the new routines during their final lesson.

Sequence dances are widely popular and you well could well be taught one or two on board. The floor may be empty save for the  couple practising their rumba. Call out a Rumba One or a Mayfair Quickstep however and all changes. Folk appear from every corner of the ship as if free cocktails were being made available. 

In a sequence dance there is one short, progressive dance routine of 16 bars that everyone does together in an anti-clockwise direction. I once saw a couple happily weaving their magic way, doing their own thing, oblivious of everyone else on the floor, causing havoc in their wake. This takes a rare degree of self-belief akin to the guy who led his party the “wrong” way in the Poseidon Adventure.

Queen Mary 2 Learn a few dances from YouTube prior to sailing. Two easy ones are the Cindy Swing and Square Tango, whilst the Sally Ann Cha Cha is a dance for the men to let their hair down, scream out and generally get noticed. The Saunter Together is enormously popular. Beware though as it has a section where one moves back on oneself, a source of some stress for the uninitiated.

The musicians on P&O and Cunard are usually excellent. Whether this be a full Orchestra or a trio they will play a selection of music and be very open to your requests. Get down early from the shows for a good seat however, particularly on the Azura where tables are as rare as hen’s teeth.

During the course of a voyage the shared lessons foster friendships among the wannabes and dancers. There’s always an opportunity to practise in the evening. Dancers are generous by nature and offer advice and assistance. On Cunard the gentlemen hosts dance with the ladies whilst the ever present P&O dance instructors are always available to help out. There’s really no excuse for not dancing.

Queen Elizabeth 2 Of course, you get ups and downs in any sphere of life. It is a ship on the wide ocean, after all, for all her paraphernalia and luxury. Once on board Queen Elizabeth a crowded dance floor was suddenly parted by the waves, so to speak. As the ship crested the wave we all fell down into a trough. Quite a sight if you were seated. We all rose up again, never daunted. You often find your feet are having to push down against monstrous forces as you ride a wave. It all adds to the fun. As the song says: “Pick yourself up,/ Take a deep breath,/ Dust yourself off./ And start all over again.”

Finally in my long trawl through dance related matters on board ship I come to the Strictly Come Dancing themed cruises on P&O, almost an article in themselves.

There are seven currently advertised. James Jordan will not guide you around the dance floor nor his wife, Ola, place your arm positions in the correct hold, sadly. However, you will see the celebrities dance in the theatre or be entertained by a question and answer session; even find yourself selected for a Strictly style competition in front of a thousand or so guests. Regrettably, I have not the space to describe how, on the inaugural Strictly cruise in 2012, I saved Natalie Lowe from toppling backwards from Oriana’s stage, my dive being likened inaccurately to that of Gordon Banks from Pele in 1970 – he merely palmed the ball away, I caught her. For the trouble I got a hefty laundry bill to restore my white dress jacket, plastered with spray tan.

It was the only down side in all my time dancing on board the great ships, and even that was worth it.

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Ian Lumsden

Retired deputy headteacher & writer

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