Basic ballroom

Barbara Hart of Towson and instructor Stephen Nadeau of Bel Air practice a step during an advanced ballroom class at Towson Dance Studio. (Sarah Pastrana, Patuxent Publishing / August 21, 2012)

The music swelled, the big ballroom — lined on one side by a mirror — looked beautiful, and my 16-year-old daughter and I were waltzing. She led; I followed.

We'd come to the Towson Dance Studio to take a lesson in ballroom and see just what it might take to learn some of the basics of social dancing. In just one class, we learned steps for the waltz, swing and fox trot.

We took a group lesson with two other couples, and, sure, at first it was a little awkward. We went to the left a time or two when we should have gone right, but we caught on pretty quickly. Really, you learn the basic pattern of a particular dance: forward, forward, side, together, and you actually do that enough to get a little cocky before adding to it with a turn or a twirl. Yes, twirl. In the first lesson, you actually twirl and don't fall down.

What we discovered in a short amount of time is that ballroom dancing is physical enough to get your heart going, and it's also a challenge for the mind as you try to learn steps and patterns — or figures, as the instructors call them. One of the hardest parts initially is committing to the idea that only one person is the leader, and the other is the follower. As a follower, it's tempting to try to move ahead and not wait for the lead or even to correct your leader by telling him (or her, as the case may be!) what exactly she's doing wrong.

Don't sweat what to wear. One guy in our group wore flip-flops and shorts, and that worked. Put on whatever is comfortable and allows you to move. Although if you stick with ballroom dance, you will soon want to upgrade into some sort of specialty dance shoes with soles that help you move across the floor with more grace.

Ballroom dancing allows you to enjoy music, physical movement with a partner and the satisfaction of accomplishing new or different steps — even if you are a beginner. It's a great way for couples to spend the evening together, looking at each other and working as a team instead of parking themselves in front of a TV.

And if you don't have a partner — the good folks at Towson Dance Studio will supply one. Or why not ask your teenager?

Towson Dance Studio

9486 Deereco Road, Timonium. 410-828-6116 (towsondancestudio.com)

The studio offers group and private lessons. Group lessons are one night a week, four weeks in a row. Dances taught include waltz, fox trot, swing, salsa, Argentine tango, rumba, cha-cha and samba. No contracts; call for rates.