By John Toth
I’m not much of a dancer, nor a willing participant when it comes to going on stage or performing some skill (I’m not good at) in front of hundreds of people.
This presents problems sometimes when we cruise, since a lot of the activities involve audience participation. I like to stay on the sidelines and just watch others who have had too much to drink to do the volunteering.
On our latest cruise, I was on the lookout for these situations so that I could avoid the limelight. I’m not shy, but if I’m going to perform in some way in front of a crowd, I want to make sure that I’m good at it.
I spent more than 20 years teaching defensive driving weekly and often several times a week at our school, Stand-Up Defensive Driving, in Lake Jackson and our other locations. I watched the comedians whom I hired to teach the class and drew up a curriculum outline, complete with where the jokes and interaction opportunities would be placed.
I liked the spotlight, and I think I was pretty good at the comedy part – sometimes too good, and I had to scramble to catch up with the curriculum. I thoroughly enjoyed performing in front of a roomful of students and also teaching something that could save their lives.
Many came back year after year. Either they liked the class, or just didn’t listen and sped home. One woman who stayed after class to chat asked me why I didn’t do a particular joke that she heard the year before in my class.
My response was: “I forgot. But come back next year, and I’ll do it.” She did, and I did. That’s the last time I saw her, though. Maybe the message between the jokes sank in.
I have always enjoyed public speaking. Several organizations have invited me to talk about my background – escaping from communism with my mother when I was 10 years old. I’m used to public appearances, just not used to doing something that I have not rehearsed or outlined to make sure the presentation turns out like I want.
Last year, when Sharon and I sailed on the Carnival Breeze, there was a hula hoop contest broken down by age. The competition in my age group was not very challenging. But I have not spun a hula hoop around my waist since I was a young child. I sat on the sidelines and watched.
“You know what I’m planning?” I asked Sharon. She didn’t. “I’m planning to buy a hula hoop and practice for a year. The next time we go cruising, I’ll be ready. I’ll win the whole thing, not just my age group.”
I never followed up, though. Two cruises later, I have yet to see another hula hoop contest on board.
There is a version of the “Newlywed Game” on every ship we have been on. I cannot see Sharon and I volunteering to be contestants, although we would probably get every question right after being together for this long. And I mean together - working and being married.
There are some things that sober couples who did not buy the drink package should not do – this is one of them. But I don’t mind sitting in the audience and watching others reveal their most private secrets in front of hundreds of people. That’s not a bucket list item for me.
When the cruise director’s assistants were combing through the crowd, looking for dancing contestants, I pulled back and stood behind a pillar so I could not be seen. I stink at dancing.
The alcohol-induced dances were not too bad. One younger guy did some break dancing, which was halfway decent. If I could do something like that, I would have raised my hand and screamed “pick me, pick me.” But I couldn't, so I stayed behind the pillar.
Another activity I shy away from is karaoke. I can not sing worth a nickel and am not about to do it in front of people. Others do, however, regardless of talent. I have to admire them.
Alcohol-induced or not, they are brave people. But most of them are awful. None of the notes sound like those in the song.
I would need months, if not years, of professional voice coaching to do it right.
I stuck my head out from behind the pillar. The activity director’s assistant was looking and pointed straight at me. Nope, I don’t exist. Sorry. He then headed towards me. I got nervous.
It would have been easy to hide behind the pillar again, but I stood my ground. The guy behind me screamed his head off and was jumping up and down. He was too good to pass up. He ran forward and actually wasn’t all that bad – but not as good as the break-dancing kid.
Close call, but I made it. I clapped for all the participants. The break dancer won. That’s it. I’m taking break-dancing lessons, and next time I’ll be ready. And I’m buying that hula hoop, just in case.