Interview with Dance Host
©2001 Allen Riley, Andrea Bolitho-Taylor, Teletext Holidays
Allen Riley's travelled to Alaska, the Caribbean, Canada the Mediterranean and the US over the past eight years - and it's cost him absolutely nothing.
He doesn't work for an airline, in fact, at 65, he's retired. He is one of a select band of hosts taken on by cruise lines.
His job is to dance with single women on board, chat to them, and generally make them feel comfortable on the ship.
A former competitive ballroom dancer, Allen of Scunthorpe, first heard of cruise lines' gentlemen hosts, or dance hosts, in 1993.
He says: "I read an article about it and got in touch with a company in California. I had to provide 12 references and do dancing tests.
"Then one day, I got a phone call asking me to go down to Southampton to join the QEII for a trip to New York."
He joined cruise line Fred Olsen in 1996 and is one of four hosts working on the ship Black Watch.
Single women far outnumber single men on cruise ships, and this is where Allen and his colleagues come in.
"It's a social thing - we dance with single women, talk to them, go on trips. We make sure they have a good time and don't feel lonely," he says.
Fred Olsen introduced gentlemen hosts to Black Watch in 1996. Originally an American idea, the hosts became so popular with passengers that the company took on two more for it's ship Black Prince.
We get lots of nice comments about our gentlemen hosts," says Wendy Hooper-Greenhill, a Fred Olsen spokeswoman.
"They were one of the most popular changes we made," she adds.
"They're not just for the ladies. We get a lot of elderly gentlemen who don't really enjoy dancing and the gentlemen hosts let them off the hook by partnering their wives."
Duties start in the morning for a gentlemen host.
Coffee in the lounge with the guests sitting by themselves is followed by dance lessons in the afternoon, a tea dance, then more dancing in the evening - sometimes until the early hours.
Hosts don't have a uniform but wear white trousers and blue shirts. They don't get paid, but do get a small drinks allowance and free food.
Dancing is a big part of many cruises - particularly those aimed at a more mature audience.
Allen dances with single women - or those whose husbands aren't so keen to take to the floor. He says: "I know it sounds cruel but even when you're dancing with one woman, you're looking around for your next partner. You can't be seen to favour one woman over the others."
He has made several friends during his eight years on the high seas.
He says: "You need to be outgoing and be able to mix with people quickly. The last cruise I did, I knew 40% of the passengers, it was incredible."
But romance on board is forbidden. "There should be no liaisons on board but what happens afterwards is your own business," says Allen.