Hope you enjoyed your holidays. I know that I did. This Christmas, my lovely girlfriend T____ and I had one of the best gigs a dancer can get: we got to teach on a cruise ship.
In writing this blog we’ve talked a lot about strategies to save you money (negotiating prices, using DVDs to supplement lessons, budget competitions, etc.) and get increased value from the money you do spend (how to structure practices between lessons) but one of the areas we haven’t discussed much is how to use your knowledge of dance to get things of value. The line between professional champion and amateur hobbyist is often so great that many dancers don’t realize that they have a valuable skill that they can barter to their advantage. Many people will trade things of value, such as trips or admission to prestigious events, in return for dance lessons or entertainment. Today, I’m going to write about using one’s dancing to go on vacation.
Now the dancing vacation, in which part of the vacation is supplemented by teaching or performing dance, is something I’ve done before. I’ve taught at retreats and conventions – in fact, T____ and I actually met in a class I was teaching at a science fiction convention, though we didn’t start dating for several months afterward – but this was more than just a weekend getaway with one or two intro classes. This was a full-on, week-long trip with real classes aboard a beautiful ship. Could we pull it off? Would we be able to maintain our professional decorum for a solid week? Would maintaining said decorum interfere with our ability to enjoy the cruise? Would it be something other people could benefit from? Read on to find out.
Okay, spoilers: we had a great time. Teaching on a cruise ship is one of the best experiences I’ve had as a teacher and one I highly recommend to all dance teachers and advanced students willing to go through the training. It’s a lot of fun and you get all the benefits of a cruise vacation for a very substantial discount. As the song goes, “Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.”
What was it like?
Let’s start with the experience. We were scheduled to teach four one-hour classes over a seven day cruise (one class during each day or half-day at sea), though we ended up teaching six classes due to minor complications. The result was that our labor amounted to about six hours over an entire week, one of the lightest teaching loads I’ve ever had. When you consider the compensation (discussed below), this also makes what was effectively one of the best hourly rates I’ve ever had.
The main compensation teachers get is that they’re cruise passengers. Anytime we weren’t teaching we were able to enjoy the cruise the same as any other passenger, including having our own stateroom, meals were included, most non-alcoholic beverages, shows, public rooms, pools, activities, and so on; everything in a standard ticket. In addition, we were able to make the same purchases as full-fare passengers for excursions, beverages, specialty restaurants, and so on. In other words, we got a vacation.
We had some concern that the necessity to maintain a professional attitude might detract from our enjoyment of the trip, but this was happily not the case. We never found passengers to be pushy or had to bite our tongues to stay polite; on the contrary, everyone was pleasant and while we were expected to have somewhat more knowledge of the ship and its workings than typical guests, we were treated more as celebrities than staff. It was so much fun!
Outside of teaching our classes we spent a great deal of time in the pools and hot tubs. We ate most meals in the main dining room (which was fantastic!). We saw several shows, played games, went ashore and were tourists, and did everything else one does on a cruise. And of course, we danced every night when the ship’s bands played.
What does it take?
Teaching on a cruise ship requires several things. First, you must be able to dance. This may seem obvious but let’s make it clear. You should dance at least at a full bronze level and silver is better. You’re going to be both dancing and teaching on small floors in a social setting, so while it can be helpful to know international style, I highly recommend being just as proficient in the American style. The passengers will watch you when you are at the dance parties, during which you are an advertisement for your class. Note that this doesn’t mean dancing all-out all the time – the floors are small and if one were to try and dance silver rumba there would be no room for anyone else on the floor, and if it were silver waltz not even room for the two of you – but it does mean making sure one’s dancing is attractive and appealing at all times.
Second, you must be able to teach. If you don’t know how to teach, learn. Invest in private lessons with teachers you respect, spend time watching other dance teachers, and take notes. Go back and take beginner classes to see how the teachers start with completely new students. Learn how to present material so that it is easy to understand. Teach your friends for free and get feedback. Video yourself teaching group classes. The more you work with good teachers, the better your lessons will be. Be prepared to teach multiple levels simultaneously; though 90% of the people in our classes were beginners, a few danced a bronze level and two dancers were former professional ballroom dancers. As such, you should be ready to teach a beginner lesson that can include information and material to keep upper level dancers interested, such as by teaching a basic pattern but including technique notes for advanced dancers (and identified as such). Take the money a cruise would cost you at full price and invest in private lessons to get you ready to teach. That means the first cruise will essentially be at cost and you’ll be saving money by the second.
Third, apply. We planned this trip with Sixth Star Entertainment, which books instructors and entertainers for cruise ships. The application process was quite long, though not arduous, and entailed filling out applications, information on our own training, videos of our dancing, letters of reference from our dance teachers, information on my certifications, competition records, and at least two phone interviews. They were very thorough and professional in whom they would put forward for a cruise. In return, they gave us very specific information about what we could expect when we were teaching and how to conduct ourselves aboard the ship. Most of it is common sense (be polite to passengers) and familiar to anyone who’s worked in any industry that involves socializing with one’s patrons (defer to full-fare paying passengers when the dining room opens or there are limited seats at a show, etc.), though some were surprising (don’t sit at bar stools as they’re very popular seats and large parties can appear in an empty bar without notice). The benefit of the manual was that we felt completely prepared for our experience aboard ship and never had to wonder what was or was not appropriate. Sixth Star was very helpful in answering the few questions that were not in the manual, usually responding within a few hours.
Finally, there is still a cost to this vacation. It is substantially less than a full-fare for a cruise – as I said before, averaging the discount with the number of hours we taught, this was the best-paying gig I’ve ever worked – but it is not 100% free. In return for this fee Sixth Star arranges everything with the cruise line so all you need do is show up ready to teach and ready to cruise. They had all the information for us, made it easy to book the cruise, helped us submit our application, and were on hand in the event anything went wrong. Fortunately they were not needed once we were aboard ship, but having witnessed how they prepared for the cruise I felt very confident knowing they were available if needed.
If you’re a solid dancer (full bronze or higher) with teaching ability or willingness to learn, and you want a great discount vacation, try a cruise ship!