Personal Journey: She showed her sea legs by kicking up her heels

A cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas gave Kit and Chris Collins opportunities to show off their new dance-floor moves.

My life as a dancer came tucked in a nondescript white envelope perched on a Christmas tree branch. Chris, my husband of 27 years - and a man not generally known for grand romantic gestures - had, amazingly, given me a gift of ballroom dance lessons.

And so we, lifelong nondancers, began to waltz, more or less, in a herky-jerky, learn-to-drive-stick-shift sort of way. But it was fun. Kind of like a date. Our second month in, we recruited our friends Betsy and Earl Moyer, who had visions of dancing at their son's wedding. And we fox-trotted. And rumbaed. And tangoed.

A year and a half later, we were ready to take a few more tentative steps (literally and figuratively) out of the studio. We wanted to dance. Out-on-the-town dance. We wanted to go to dinner at a nice restaurant and, with casual elegance, slip from our seats and glide to the dance floor. But where was there such a place?

We decided to take a cruise. To dance. Not a dance-themed cruise, but a regular cruise, with exotic ports of call, lovely dining venues, formal evenings, live music, and, yes, gleaming dance floors.

We picked a January departure date and booked a six-night western Caribbean cruise. And our instructors, Lynn and Bob Kettenberg, scheduled a batch of remedial cha-cha and salsa lessons to whip us into shape.

Sailing on Royal Caribbean's Jewel of the Seas, we explored Key West, basked on glistening beaches at Cozumel and Playa del Carmen, and haggled for woodcrafts in Belize. We took in shows, cheered Earl to victory in the Ping-Pong tournament, competed in trivia contests, lounged in the hot tub.

And we danced every chance we got.

Casting caution to the wind, we danced happily and with surprising confidence, laughing at our missteps and for the sheer fun of it all. We danced the merengue to the beat of the steel-drum band on the pool deck at dusk. In the evenings, we danced in the 10-story Centrum, enjoying the mix of pop, swing tunes, and standards while dozens of our shipmates watched from their tables or the balconies. A few other couples danced - not many for a ship so large - but we were undeterred. We danced until the band packed it in.

Then we found the more intimate Safari Club. A dance band of four silver-haired Polish musicians soon recognized us and learned which dances we didn't know (the samba, for instance) and those we could handle.

As the sun began to dip at the end of one especially balmy afternoon, I stood alone, waiting for an elevator. A distinguished-looking couple came sweeping down the broad staircase, on their way to that night's formal dinner - she in a black, sequined gown, he in a tux.

They smiled at me, and the woman said, "Oh! It's the dancer." I grinned back.

Kit Collins lives in Quakertown.