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The Dancing Purser Oriana

Joining Oriana back in I973 as a junior assistant purser I did not realise the extent that I would be involved with entertaining the passengers. I had expected a little involvement, but the repressed thespian soon surfaced shortly after joining the ship.

During school and college l did a lot of ballroom and old-time dancing so was quite accomplished on the dance floor. Which of course came into play the moment I stepped onto the floor in the Carnival room and old first-class ballroom next to the Monkey bar.

The Old Girls loved to dance

Some of the special evenings on Oriana the purser’s department were expected to take part in, mainly Horse Racing Night and Casino Night. Yes, it is hard to imagine a cruise ship these days that does not have a Casino to rake in the dosh from the punters. But back in the day except for One Armed Bandits dotted around the ship that was it as far as gambling was concerned. Apart from of course Casino Night and Horse Racing once a cruise. As far as I remember passengers bought chips from a table manned my assistant pursers, while other officers ran some of the tables. The stakes were low, and it was all done with a lot of fun and anyone lucky enough to have any chips left at the end of the evening cashed them in.

Horse racing night was a little trickier as once again the pursers were co-opted to operate the Tote system. The horses were wooden cut outs on a track and propelled by punters winding the handle. One certain staff captain ( Sammy) would lurk around the tote table to make sure that everything was run fair and square.

Although I enjoyed all the themed evenings on board, my favourites were the ones where I donned my dance shoes and tripped the light fantastic. At the time Suzanne was a hostess who had been a dancer with the Black and White Minstrels. Together we did quiet a few routines in the various shows on board.

One evening the ship was moving around rather a lot and our Charleston routine involved a couple of lifts (common place nowadays with strictly) which became very tricky with a heaving deck.

It wasn’t long before I became known as the Dancing Purser. Along with a couple of WAPS we would start a dance off in the ballroom. We soon realised that whilst we were dancing the passengers just wanted to watch and were very hesitant to get onto the dance floor. So, we developed this routine where we would get on the floor, do a dance routine then split up and each get a passenger onto the floor, this had the effect of breaking the ice and getting the ballroom jigging.

However, my dancing did not go down to well with Capt. Wacher who fancied his chances on the dance floor with the lovely lady passenger. The message filtered down to me that when he came into the ballroom l had to disappear and go to the other ballroom. So of course, l had no choice but to oblige and not step on his toes or his ego.

Before long some of the engineer officers wanted to learn to dance, with the sole purpose of “Wheeling In” so I started dance classes in the Table Tennis room which was uncarpeted so one of the few spaces suitable. By this time, I was also teaching some of the WAPS to dance.

Geoff Galan (Ships Surgeon) as the dying swan with Suzanne Jones and myself and a group of Australian passengers on Oriana Christmas 1973

Another staple of the cruise shows was the dying swan routine from Swan Lake. Usually a couple of offices would be involved who knew the routine inside out, but the rest of the cygnets would be made up of passengers usually big and butch, who would prance around in tutu’s. Always brought the house down.

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