I met George K. at a Bastille Day party in Montreal. George was sitting in the garden, complaining about how his new nicotine patch was making him have crazy dreams about dancing naked on a ship. This dry-witted, stout-legged sixty-something Scot grew up on Scotland's River Clyde around his grandfather's yachts and boats. He emigrated to Canada on the luxurious Empress of Scotland and dreamed of a retirement filled with luxury cruises. But like a good Scot, he didn't want to pay for them. So George auditioned for a job as a "dance host" on a cruise ship, fox-trotting with merry octgenarian widows.
“Dance hosts don't have to look like Sean Connery's James Bond, but they'd better dress up like him and surpass his stamina,” George said. “`Cause they've got to dance, dance, dance five hours a night. And be on call for the other 19 hours, smiling, smiling, smiling, playing shuffleboard, dominos and cards, incessantly socializing, being cheery and chivalrous, exuding ineffable charm and blue-blood manners.
“And to really fulfill the job conditions, a gentleman dance host should possess the triceps of a bellhop, the diplomacy of an ambassador, the wit and conversational gifts of a publican, the poetic prowess of a Celtic bard, the wardrobe of a movie star, the discipline of a drill sergeant—and, heaven help us—the sobriety of a monk!!!
"Royal Cruise Line wants me to fly myself out to San Francisco for a 15- minute dance audition, to show off my Foxtrot, Viennese waltz, Cha- cha, Rhumba, Samba, Tango and Polka, AND my ability at playing cards. Can you imagine a Canasta audition!!!??”
George had been amassing glossy cruise-company brochures - ones which even offered nudist cruises. He had been corresponding with cruise agencies that engage mature dancing males. He sent them virile- looking photos, letters attesting to his moral character, testimonies of his dancing prowess and news clippings announcing him em-ceeing Montreal's fancy St. Andrews Ball. Now after a two-year wait, George could be called to fill in on a cruise any day.
"When you do the dance host thing, you're always on the run," George continued. "You circulate between five or six ballrooms and dance every dance, alternating with the 10 to 12 single women you're assigned, who're usually in their 80's and 90's. You can't show favoritism to any one lady.
"DANCING IS MANDATORY AND EXTENSIVE," the Royal Cruise Line host-instruction letter states. “I'll say" steamed George. "In addition to the before and after dinner dancing, there's more dancing at the dance classes. "IN GENERAL DANCING WILL GO ON UNTIL ABOUT 12:30 a.m. AFTER THAT, IF YOU WANT TO DO THE DISCO, YOU MAY."
"De'il take the Disco! The dancing bit doesn't bother me," George laughed. “It's all the rest. The wardrobe requirements, changing clothes 15 times a day in a cramped shared cabin, and the round-the-clock duties for 40 days and 40 nights with no time off—not even when you're flying to and from the ship. And the watchdog attitude. One false move - sweat too much or dance too close or fall asleep at the breakfast table - and you're disembarked. Disembarked!!! That's why they make you take out travel insurance!!!”
As an officer of the 78th Fraser Highlanders, George was invited to pack his heavy wool plaid jackets, dress kilts and trews. But he had more shopping to do to fill in his cruise wardrobe.
"I'm supposed to bring a black tuxedo, white dinner jacket, dress shirts with French cuffs - lots of them, because I'll be sweating like a matador - and real cuff links. Black or blue bow tie and cummerbunds, formal dress shoes. Then - get this - suitable costumes for SPECIAL- ATTIRE evenings such as Costume Night,Greek Night and Pirate Night.
"I'm supposed to accompany the ladies on their souvenir-shopping shore expeditions, and then, there is the HELPFUL-GUEST concept. This means helping the cruise staff with things like loading and unloading the tenders, fixing the spotlights during the nightclub show and sorting books in the library.
"Come to think of it, taking a nude cruise would solve this crazy wardrobe problem.”