The Sunday Times Magazine: Cruise

Last night a dancer saved my life

When the Costa Concordia ran aground the ship’s British entertainers saved passengers’ lives. Katie Glass sets sail to see what’s beneath the glitz

Katie Glass Published: 24 June 2012

All service staff on cruise ships are trained to handle emergencies (Jocelyn Bain Hogg)All service staff on cruise ships are trained to handle emergencies (Jocelyn Bain Hogg)

The moment the Costa Concordia hit the rocks, the cruise-ship dancer Rosalyn Rincon was in Magic Martin’s magic box. It went skidding across the stage with the 30-year-old from Blackpool still inside, as the ship, taking on water through a gash in the hull, began sinking. In the on-board theatre, the lights went out. As details of the panic that followed emerged, it was moments like this that stuck in my head. The 19-year-old dancer James Thomas, from Sutton Coldfield, stretched his body like a human ladder between the ship and a lifeboat to allow people to escape. The delicate blonde dancer Rose Metcalf, 23, one of the last onboard, raced against the sinking ship to climb to its helm, flashing a helicopter with a torch to be hoisted to safety. Who were these British kids, from a teeth-and-tits dance troupe, and how had they ended up at the epicentre of the largest maritime disaster since the Titanic? Such catastrophes are mercifully rare, but it’s a fair bet that where there’s a cruise ship, there’s a troupe of British dancers hoofing away.

The passengers waiting to board the Thomson Dream in Palma, Majorca, for the Mediterranean Medley Cruise goggled up at the white wall of the ship, the biggest in Thomson’s fleet: 243 metres long, 32 metres wide, 55,000 gross register tonnes; a sea of candyfloss hair, liver spots and bald pates interrupted by young couples looking like they had made a mistake. Greeting us all was the sun-kissed face of Irish dancer Damien Guthrie, 24. There are four dancers in the Dream’s 10-strong show team — all young, all British. There’s Damien, two gorgeous blonde sisters from Corby, Gemma King, 21, and Samantha Guy, 24, and Reiss Thomson, 21, who graduated from the same performing-arts college in Leicester as the Costa’s James. Checking passengers on and off, they’re not just pretty faces; they’re the British face of the ship.

Cruising sells itself on a very British idea of glamour, from the unlimited steak-and-kidney pud in the buffet, to the Cliff Richard music playing on deck where glacé-cherry-topped  pina coladas are served. It’s a floating Little Britain. The onboard entertainment is just a part of this, with dance troupes drawn almost entirely from show-biz-crazy women and men from the British Isles.

The Broadway Show Lounge is the plushest place on the ship; a dimly lit red amphitheatre that seats 800 on deep burgundy sofas. Here the dancers perform “a little slice of the West End” twice a night, six nights a week: Singin’ in the Rain, Queen, the Lion King, burlesque, Les Miz. The girls in lime-green G-strings, bikinis decorated with plastic pearls, cascading hair extensions, plumage fanning from their behinds; the boys in lime-green leotards with flared sleeves. They bound around the stage in a whirlwind of glitz. In choppy seas they have pirouetted right off the stage. Last Christmas kids were being sick in the front row.

Still, the show-team’s real purpose onboard is subtler.

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