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On some cruise lines, there are no wallflowers, thanks to gentlemen hosts. How do you get to be one of those guys?

Attention, silver foxes and dapper Dans: An entertaining opportunity awaits on the high seas. Qualifications: You must know the fox trot, rumba and assorted other ballroom dances. And it helps if you’re charming.

These men are called “gentlemen hosts” or “ambassador hosts,” and their purpose is to sweep single women off their feet — on the dance floor.

The men pay $30 to $35 a day for their shipboard passage, a fraction of what most passengers are paying, and in return they travel the world.

It’s not all fun and games. The hosts have duties — lots of them in fact. Besides dancing until late at night, they host card games and dinner parties, teach dance classes, chaperone shore excursions and must always — always — be gracious.

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The aim is to make cruising more fun for unattached women (or for married women whose husbands won’t or don’t dance).

Gentlemen hosts are among the specialists that cruise lines bring aboard to keep guests entertained. There are yoga instructors, arts and crafts teachers, lecturers qualified to talk about current events or upcoming destinations and members of the clergy: Catholic priests, rabbis and Protestant ministers.

During the holidays, cruise ships also hire college students to oversee their children’s programs, offering a low-cost way for young people to see the world.

Those specialists usually pay more for their cabins than do gentlemen hosts, often about $50 to $100 a day, but they usually can bring along a spouse or partner, which gentleman hosts cannot.

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It would spoil the fantasy.

“You have to be single,” said Alan Benedict, a San Fernando Valley resident who has been a host for more than 25 years, cha-cha-cha-ing his way to more than 100 countries. “And you can’t show favoritism.

“You sign a contract and there are a lot of rules you have to follow. One is not to fraternize with any of the ladies.”

Benedict, who has worked for several cruise lines, spelled out the nightly routine: “You work the room, ask all the single ladies if they like to dance, and if it’s a couple, you ask the gentleman first if you can dance with his wife.”

Dancing with a married woman can create problems, Benedict said. “You don’t want the single women to get hurt feelings.”

Gentlemen hosts, a specialty that originated in the 1980s, are especially popular with higher-end cruise companies such as Cunard and Crystal Cruises. Both have had on-board hosts for years.

Cunard typically has six to eight gentlemen hosts on transatlantic crossings, fewer on cruises. They’re on all three Cunard ships.

Tracy Robison runs the gentleman host program at Compass Speakers and Entertainment Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company that provides cruise lines with shipboard diversions such as lecturers and hosts.

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What does Compass look for in a gentleman host?

They have several things in common, Robison said.

“They love to ballroom dance, they love to travel and meet new people, they’re highly educated, many are former business owners who didn’t want to retire,” Robison said. “Perhaps they sold their business but don’t want to stay home.”

It’s not all wine and roses in the land of gentlemen hosts.

Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line, remembers a town hall meeting he had with passengers on a Southeast Asia cruise.

One passenger was displeased with the hosts.

“The quality of your dance hosts isn’t up to the standard we have come to expect,” the passenger said.

“One of them has a bad knee and the other always wants to go to bed early.”

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Do you have what it takes to be a gentleman host?

Here are the criteria as listed on the website of Compass Speakers and Entertainment Inc., which provides hosts to many cruise lines.

►Single men, 40 to 68 years old, who are still young at heart.

►Very sociable gentlemen with excellent manners.

►Good minglers who enjoy dining, dancing, games, shipboard activities, and touring ashore with all guests.

►Dancers! Especially men who have taken social ballroom dance classes.

►Kind, honorable and smiling, community-minded volunteers.

Tip

When you’re drinking at the bar on the ship, think twice before you leave a tip for the bartender. In most cases, gratuities are included in the fees you pay. If you’ve received a special service, go ahead, but otherwise, your server probably has already received a 15% tip.

travel@latimes.com

@latimestravel


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