Do you care to dance?

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By Roger Snodgrass

A gentleman from Los Alamos, Mike Hertrich just got back from voyaging out of England on a springtime cruise.

His ship, Cunard’s Queen Victoria, stopped in Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome on the way out. On its way back, the five-star luxury liner hit Mallorca and Gibraltar.

For some of the passengers, it was a dream. But for Hertrich, that was just the first 12 days of a kind of job.

Highlights of the next three excursions included Cannes for the film festival and the fjords of Norway.

Hertrich is a dapper fellow, who would not appear out of place on a corporate board. He looks much younger than his years, with thick white hair and a sparkling smile

“I’m enjoying life full time,” he said, with the modesty of a cat, downplaying the incident with the canary.

His job, if you could call it that, is to serve as a gentleman host and dance with women without partners on cruise ships around the world.

He is not paid, but the cruise and various other perks, are free.

“We’re there for the sole purpose of the travelers,” he said, explaining some of the rules. “There are many single women, but not all are into dancing. Some might have a husband who can’t or is unable to dance. If a lady is sitting with a man, we can’t ask her to dance. But if she asks, we can’t refuse.”

Don’t think it’s all fun and cha-cha-cha.

There are tea parties, sail away parties, senior officer parties, cocktail parties, dance classes and balls. Nearly every night, there is dancing, at least until midnight and sometimes into the wee hours.

There are boundaries. Passengers are not allowed in gentlemen hosts’ cabins and gentlemen hosts are not allowed in theirs.

“You can get worn out,” he said. “You can wake up with a charley horse.”

There are professional standards to maintain.

“You’re ship’s crew and you will act like it,” he said sternly, although he acknowledged that what one does off ship is his own business, as long as he does not show favoritism to the women while he is on board.

You can drink, but you don’t carry your drink around with you.

“And you can’t be married,” he said. “That’s the number one mandatory requirement.”

Hertrich is a retired machinist from Los Alamos National Laboratory. He grew up in Ohio and was attracted to northern New Mexico during vacations in the Rockies.

Twenty-three years later, he took an early retirement with the idea that he could enjoy life part time, but ended up working another 10 years with a laboratory contractor, before breaking free.

After a divorce, dancing became a passion and not only helped him socialize, but also gave him confidence.

He took as many courses from as many different instructors as he could which helped him develop his own personal style. He became a regular at the dancing scenes in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

On vacations, he alternated his passion for ocean cruises with periods of backpacking, and still does both.

Then he got his break, passed his tests to be a host and now has assignments pretty much when he wants. He’ll do another three voyages before next spring.

By tradition, the business side of things is handled by a just a few national agents. Hertrich works for Compass, a company that also provides speakers and entertainment. The company receives a fee and he gets the cruise.

He’s taken a 24-day cruise on the exclusive six-star Silver Sea, among many other high-end trips to exotic destinations.

He’s been all the way up and down the Mississippi, on the Mississippi Queen from New Orleans to St. Louis and on the American Queen from St. Paul down.

On one of these trips there was a memorable celebrity moment when he met Barbara Billingsley, the actress who played June Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver.” One morning he walked by while she was sitting alone on deck.

“Do you need time alone?” he asked. She said no.

“And it was just wonderful,” Hertrich said. “Two hours later we were still talking. That’s a thrill.”

There are still places he wants to visit, including a trip up the Amazon and further explorations of New Zealand and the South Pacific, but he wasn’t sure how long a trip he could handle until recently when he was out for 37-days.

“And I was not ready to get off the ship,” he said. “And that tells me that if I requested a half-a-world cruise that would be 50 days, I could do it. I would probably peak out at three months on a ship.”

There are dozens of new ships coming on line in the next few years, Hertrich said, and some concern about having enough dance hosts to man the ones that offer the service.

One extra benefit: you don’t gain weight. You lose it on a cruise.

“I lost five pounds on a 30 day cruise,” he said.