On the good foot aboard Oosterdam

By Tom Stieghorst

Dancers on the Oosterdam modeled costumes that were worn on Dancing With the Stars.Four years ago, Ed L'Heureux and his wife began taking dance lessons at a community center near Vancouver, where they live.

"We were looking for something we could do together after we retire," said L'Heureux, 61, a software developer.

So it was hardly surprising that they were drawn to a recent Dancing With the Stars theme cruise to Alaska aboard Holland America Line's Oosterdam. "We chose the cruise for that reason," L'Heureux said. "My wife watches the [ABC television] show all the time."

They weren't alone. The first morning of the cruise they found themselves in the ship's main theater learning to cha-cha along with hundreds of other dance enthusiasts.

They watched a short video in which Kym Johnson, one of the professional dancers on the show, described the essence of the dance. Then, they learned a routine choreographed by Johnson and taught by cast members from the Oosterdam's resident dance troupe. Within an hour, L'Heureux was one of four passengers paired to cha-cha with a professional in a bid to be picked the best dancer on the ship.

Since February, HAL has been holding such a contest on each of its cruises fleetwide. It is the heart of a one-year partnership with "Dancing With the Stars."

The winner of the weeklong dance-off on each cruise will compete with winners on other Oosterdam cruises this year for a chance to represent the ship on a champion's cruise in January. Finalists from each of HAL's 15 ships will sail free for a week on the Nieuw Amsterdam, with one taking home a trophy modeled on the one awarded each season to the top-rated dancer on the show.

HAL said attendance has quadrupled at its onboard dance lessons since the affiliation began. Some passengers come just to watch, said Jason Venner, cruise director for Dancing With the Stars at Sea sailings.

"Nine hundred people showed up for cha-cha, almost half the ship," Venner said.

The cruise was one of six theme cruises this year and in 2014 to feature stars from the show, including Johnson and Irish dancer Tristan MacManus.

The stars judged the contests, had a photo and autograph session with passengers and did a poolside fashion show.

They were full of encouragement to contestants of all levels of ability.

There's a reason the show's stars dance, MacManus told one flustered passenger, "and it's because we like to do it, not that we always do it right. Your feet don't have the answer, ever. There's no point in looking down at your feet."

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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