In partner dancing, it takes two to foxtrot, waltz, rumba, salsa, cha-cha, and tango. And therein lies the charm.

"There's nothing more social than ballroom or swing dancing," said John Ross, director of The Ballroom dance school in Rohnert Park. "You're in somebody else's arms. ... It's intimate, but not so intimate that it scares people away."

The social aspect of ballroom dancing, in a time when people are often plugged into screens, has contributed to its dramatic resurgence in popularity over the past decade, say North Bay dance instructors.

Many also credit "Dancing with the Stars," a TV show that pairs celebrities with professional dancers, for bringing it back into the spotlight.

"When I first started teaching, I told people I was a ballroom dancer, and they didn't know what it was," said Cara Recine, who opened an Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Santa Rosa in January. "Now everyone does."

Ballroom dancing also provides a ready-made community where you can share your passion.

"With ballroom dancing, you make lifelong friends, and you see them every week," Recine said. "People need a sense of belonging."

Then there is the cardio benefit of twirling around the floor or swinging your hips to the fun, upbeat rhythms of bands like Pink Martini.

"People want to exercise, but they don't want to be bored to death on a treadmill," said Helen Andrade, director of Steppin' Out Dance Studios in Petaluma. "They want to do something that is fun and creative."

Although ballroom dancers range from teens to nonagenarians, the average age hovers around 45 or 50.

"We're getting into the baby boomers," Ross said. "They are an incredibly active generation, and they're not going to stop."

Caleb Reynolds, who worked as an instructor with the Nordquist program at the high school school level and now teaches at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, said many young dancers, including himself, first got hooked on West Coast Swing.

At Ellington Hall in Santa Rosa, David and Cirkle Janowski offer all kinds of dance lessons, from salsa to tango, but they are best known for their swing.

"We call it Jitterbug and Lindy Hop. But today, people call it West Coast Swing," said David Janowski. "We teach it 1940s-style, and it's about having fun."

Although studios do not usually impose a dress code, students often dress up for classes.

"There is a formality to it," Ross said. "Ballroom dance is one of the last classy things we do in our society. We don't even dress up for funerals anymore."

On a recent Thursday night at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, Jennie Orvino of Santa Rosa arrived for an intermediate cha-cha class wearing a sparkly sheath dress.

Orvino, who grew up dancing with her dad, has been doing partner dancing for the past 15 years, including tango, salsa and West Coast Swing.

"Argentine tango is very intense," she said. "And you have to get the clothes."

Orvino took a lesson with instructor Zach Crawford of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio and now has plans to dance with him at a showcase event in Foster City this month.

"When I dance with an instructor, I can really dance," she said. "That's because I follow well."

For singles and couples just starting out, instructors advise taking a private lesson first.

"In a group, you get a broad stroke of a paintbrush," Andrade said. "It's just not as personalized."

Beginners often choose between the Latin styles (salsa, mambo, cha-cha) and the ballroom dances (waltz, foxtrot, swing). The rumba fits in both categories.

Private lessons are also popular among young couples looking forward to the age-old ritual of the wedding dance.

"It's always the guys who get really nervous," Recine said. "Two steps on the dance floor, and they're already sweating bullets. ... But I've never met a person who can't learn."

Andrade teaches dance at senior communities throughout the North Bay. The program, called "A Dance to Remember," is aimed at dancers who are physically challenged.

"One 90-year-old lady is legally blind, but she loves the tango" she said. "She gets up and does the tango with me."

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com.