The lights are dim. The music is playing. People chat among themselves while sipping cocktails. It's the perfect setting to grab your partner and sway to the beat on the dance floor.
Except, wait. There's dancing, but not necessarily with a partner.
This is a world where it's not only socially acceptable to get on the dance floor sans partner, it's downright cool. Welcome to the world of line dancing.
"There are a lot of benefits to [line dancing]," says Patricia Townes, while taking a break from the dance floor at Strawberry's 5000 nightclub in the 7900 block of Pulaski Highway. Seconds before, Townes, 40, had been on the floor sliding to the right, tapping her right foot, then sliding to the left.
"It's like an aerobic workout because you will sweat. And you don't need a partner," she says. "You can get up there and dance on your own."
Townes demonstrates on the dance floor by doing a quick swirl and a deft dip. She's doing the exact same moves as at least 30 others. It's early on a Friday evening, and she and many of the folks are shaking off the work-week stress by line dancing.
Townes' husband introduced her to line dancing, but on this evening, Townes, who is a graduate student in mass communication at Towson University, is at Strawberry's 5000 with two girlfriends.
She enjoys line dancing so much that she does it once or twice every week, usually accompanied by friends. "My husband dropped out of it and left it to the girls," she says.
Line dancing in the Baltimore area has two very distinct forms. There is what is known simply as "line dancing." The music is usually rhythm and blues, and the folks on the dance floor are usually dressed in their nightclubbing best.
Then there is country line dancing, for which fans will sometimes dress in western wear. The predominant music is country, of course. But increasingly, there are other types of music being played, says Steve Moody, a country-line-dancing DJ and a former DJ at WPOC radio (93.1), where he now works in production.
Moody's country-line-dancing venues include Martin's Eastwind in the 9000 block of Pulaski Highway. He holds forth there on Tuesday nights -- "country nights."
"It started back in the early '90s," Moody says of the current line-dancing scene.
Although country line dancing is his beat, he wants people to know that they don't have to be big lovers of country music to enjoy country line dancing.
"Some people come dressed in western wear, but others who don't ordinarily listen to country music come out for this," he says.
As for the variety of music now being played at some country line dances, Moody explains: "A lot of country music is now slow songs, and that is not conducive to line dancing; that's why they branch out. It's almost becoming line dancing and not just country line dancing."
Moody knows of more than 100 country line dances and says new ones are coming out all the time as older ones fade into obscurity.
Among the country line dances currently being done in the Baltimore area are "the watermelon crawl," "the tush push" and "slap leather," Moody says.
And, yes, "the electric slide" is still being done.
In fact, it's the great equalizer dance, the one that remains a favorite among both line dancers and country line dancers.
"The electric slide is done at regular parties and weddings," says Moody. "Beginners do the electric slide. If I know I have a lot of beginners, I will play the electric slide," Moody says.
The dance has a limited number of moves and is relatively easy to pick up.
Back at Strawberry's 5000, Townes and her friend, Nadine Huntley-Hall, 34, took a few moments from the dance floor to see how many line dances they could name. "Let's see," Townes says. "There are 11 of them that I know of."
Between the two of them, they managed to name all 11 dances, among them "the ripp," "the skate," "the kick and slide" and "the New Jersey strut."
At Strawberry's 5000 on this night, Randy Dennis, a DJ at radio station Majic 95.9, has the mike.
"OK. Pace yourself," he calls out to dancers on the floor, which has become very crowded. "Let's hit it! To the right. Let's hit it to your left. All right. Let's travel y'all. Let's travel around the world. Kick and slide, let me see you stride. Temptations to the right. Four Tops to the left. Hit it! Hit it! Don't play with it!"
If you haven't a clue what Dennis is talking about but wish you did, don't despair. There are people around who will gladly teach you any form of line dancing you are interested in.
Moody has a Web site -- www.stevemoody.com -- that will lead you to local links where you can find teachers, dances and local country line dance associations. There also are beginners' line-dance classes at several centers and clubs around town, including Martin's Eastwind, where Moody deejays. (See the accompanying box for other locales.)
Another helpful Web site is www.countrydance.net; it will lead you to local Web sites.
And, if you head straight out to a nightclub where there are no teachers, someone in the crowd will gladly show you the way.
Ron Lawrence Sr. was inspired to learn "the electric slide" after seeing it so many times. He was coached by others on the dance floor. "I wanted to know how to do it because when I go to a wedding, it seemed as if I was the only one who didn't know how," he says.
Now he's at Strawberry's 5000, trying to learn additional line dances. "I'm trying to hang with everyone and watch everyone's feet," he says.
Yvonne Stewart also watches feet on the dance floor, but she does so to guide them in the right way. She runs a part-time business teaching line dancing at the Arch Social Club at North and Pennsylvania avenues, in Baltimore's Upton community. Her classes are held from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
"We've been teaching since 1993," says Stewart of the group she founded, called Stepping Out Productions.
"Right now, line dancing is booming, spreading like bonfire."
Anyone for "the tush push" or "the New Jersey strut?"
Martin's Eastwind, 9000 Pulaski Highway, Rosedale. Tuesdays 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Cost $12. 410-686-8500.
Northwood Recreation Center, 1517 Winford Road. Mondays and Thursdays 7 p.m.-9 p.m. Cost: one-time registration fee of $5 and a $5 per class fee. 410-396-6696.
La Fontaine Bleu, 7514 Ritchie Highway, Glen Burnie. Wednesdays 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Cost: $12 (must be 21 to attend). 410-760-4115.
Richlin Ballroom, 1700 Van Bibber Road, Edgewood. Mondays 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Cost: $11 (under 21 must be accompanied by parent). 410-671-7501.
Pikesville Senior Center, 1301 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville. Mondays 1:15 p.m.-2:15 p.m. Cost: $12 for 10 sessions. 410-887-1245.
The Arch Social Club. North and Pennsylvania avenues. Wednesdays 7 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Cost: $5. 410-669-9856.
The Five Mile House. 5302 Reisterstown Road. Wednesdays 6 p.m.-10 p.m. Cost: $5. 410-542-4895.