Hint: They're the Questions We All Want to Know the Answers To!
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a dancer on a cruise ship? I mean really what it’s like? Sailing the world must be glamorous, right? But is it all glamour, all the time? Well, I’ve tapped one of my resources, a former cruise ship dancer, who’ll give us the skinny on her time dancing on water!
1. What's life like below deck after hours?
Cabin parties are a big thing after hours. It’s a way for dancers, entertainers and cruise staff to relax and unwind. So the drill would be that everyone brings whatever alcohol they can find. Or everyone might just go to a crew bar. It’s a bar specifically for the crew and is off limits to passengers. The crew bar scene is really cool and very diverse, since it reflects the diversity of the people who work on the ship. For example, on Indonesian Independence Day, the crew bar might have Indonesian food for us made by the Indonesian staff.
Below deck is also like a floating village and people barter with their skills. I knew a Ukrainian drummer, who also cut hair. If you needed a haircut, he was the guy to go to after hours. He might trade a hair cut from someone who might be, say, a waiter but is also a licensed masseuse. It sounds really odd to have this mix of people with such random skills, but when you’re out to sea for 9 months, those skills become a commodity that you trade. Shipboard capitalism!
2. Does cruise ship staff ever date each other or date passengers?
Yup. It’s very common for crew to date each other, whether or not they’re “otherwise attached", but the crew is prohibited from dating passengers. You can get fired for it. Besides, there's a curfew for crew being in passenger areas, uh, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen…
3. What's the worst pick up line you ever heard?
Geez, there are so many to choose from, but the worst is probably the guy who asked, “Wanna ship boyfriend?” It means, well, you get it…..
4. What do you do on board when you aren't dancing?
Most of the time, dancers work in the library when they aren't doing shows or rehearsing - very dancing librarian - literally. One time when I was working in the library, a little girl and her mom came to get books. Later that night, I was dancing in a show. I was on stage, very close to the front part of the stage when I heard a little voice say, “Mommy, it’s the librarian!” I looked up and it was the little girl who had checked out books earlier in the day! It totally cracked me up!
We also work out a lot since we have to maintain a certain weight. That’s important because you’re fitted for your costumes before you go out to sea. You can’t get alterations once you head out of your home port.
Another thing was that magicians would need assistants for their shows. So on my day off, I would act as a magician’s assistant. You know, I would really question my life choices at those moments. I would think, “Here I am, with a college degree and I’m laying in a box waiting to get sawed in half……”
5. What do you do on days when you're in port?
Most of the time, we go to the beach. Occasionally we act as chaperones for passenger tours. Other times, tours are arranged specifically for the crew. There are days, however, when the ship is in port, and you’re not allowed to get off. There’s actually a hierarchy. Entertainers (singers, magicians, etc.) can get off any port day. Dancers, on the other hand, have some restrictions due to their other responsibilities, like embarking passengers.
6. Where do you go on vacation or when you have time off? Probably not a cruise, right?
Mostly, we go home. Since we’re at sea for up to 9 months, we need to do things like get mail that’s been piling up, schedule doctor appointments, you know, the same things that everyone has to take care of, we just can’t get to it for 6 or 9 months!
7. Do you get seasick? What do you do if you get seasick on stage?
Yes, occasionally I would get seasick, but the crew gets free sea sick tablets. A few times when it was really rough, buckets were set up off stage. We'd make a quick exit, get sick, and get back on stage, pretty much without missing a beat. I’ll admit it’s a bit of skill. My husband was a singer on the same ship and was very prone to seasickness. He'd sing and in between songs, run off stage, get sick, and get right back on stage. I have no idea how he pulled that off.
8. Do you eat the same food as the passengers?
Yes. It’s buffet food, so you can eat whatever you want, but you don’t always get to eat whenever you want. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet. Although it's a buffet, food is only available during certain times and you may be in the middle of rehearsal when it is, so you can’t just leave to grab a bite. Since buffets times and rehearsal schedules wouldn’t always coincide, you might not get a chance to eat at all. I pretty much lived on dried fruit that I picked up on port days.
9. What's your most memorable experience as a dancer?
My best memory is always sitting on top of the trapeze right before I would go out to do aerial work, looking out over the audience. I would think how lucky I was to be doing what I was doing and then off I'd go, swinging into the audience.
10. What do you want people to know about the job that might not be obvious?
It’s a hard life. It looks like so much fun and it is, but it’s a lot of work. Before you even get out to see, you rehearse 11 hours a day, every day, for 6 weeks . Once you’re on the ship, you’re working all the time. You do a dress rehearsal in the morning and then two full shows at night, sometimes on empty stomachs. Like I said, most of the time, it's really fun and exhilarating, but, it’s hard. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!