Jude Lagarde has enjoyed ballroom dancing for a long time. Now, it’s a way for him to see the world.
Lagarde, 69, recently completed his first voyage as a “gentleman dance host” with Cunard, the British cruise line whose fleet includes the Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
One of the demographic certainties of cruises is there are usually more women than men aboard ship. Which is where the dance hosts come in. They provide dance partners for women who show up without one.
“Whenever we see ladies unaccompanied at their tables, we approach them,” Lagarde said. “We’re asked not to approach ladies with a partner unless they ask us: ‘My husband doesn’t like to dance.’”
Sometimes, a husband who doesn’t like to dance approaches the host so his wife can enjoy some dancing, Lagarde said.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Lagarde earned a degree in landscape architecture from LSU and stayed in Baton Rouge. He started in landscape architecture working for state government, then moved to other positions, eventually making sure construction plans submitted to the Department of Health and Hospitals complied with state and federal guidelines. He retired in 2006.
One of his DHH co-workers was Gloria Scott, who also owned the Dance World studio in Baton Rouge and taught Lagarde ballroom dancing. Scott died in 2008.
“In particular, she groomed me to attend ballroom dance parties, specifically to seek out and dance with single ladies who did not have anyone to dance with,” Lagarde said. “I did this for several years with Dance World, and still do today at other ballroom studio dance parties in Baton Rouge every weekend.”
Ironically, as it turned out, this is exactly the capacity in which the gentleman dance host serves.”
A friend told him about Cunard, so he inquired about becoming a dance host on its cruises. He was tested to show his ability to dance the waltz, foxtrot, cha-cha, rumba, swing and quick-step before being accepted. Cunard requires dance hosts to be single; Lagarde has never married.
Cunard’s cruises have dances each night from 8 p.m. to midnight, with four dance hosts. It can become an aerobic experience.
“That’s the tough part. I’m expected to dance every dance, and I get a 15-minute break about midway,” Lagarde said. That’s why I can eat all the great food on the ship that I want.”
The dance hosts are not paid and are considered passengers, not employees. But, their room and food is free, and Cunard also provides round-trip airfare to and from the port where cruises begin and end.
Cunard’s dance hosts are not allowed to socialize with their dance partners elsewhere during the cruise, but Lagarde said he has exchanged emails with several women he met on the dance floor during the October cruise, which allowed him to visit England, Portugal, Belgium, Spain and the Canary Islands.
“I could go on one every month if I choose to,” he said. “Of course, my schedule won’t allow that. I am retired, so I have a lot of other things going on in my life, too. But I expect to go on at least three cruises a year. In 2015, I want to go to Asia.”
“It’s a great deal,” he said.