For people in certain areas, the name Balboa brings to mind images of quaint little towns in San Diego, Panama as well as Balboa Island and Peninsula in Newport Beach, California. This seaside town in Orange County was the birthplace of the swing dance that was later named after it. A descendant of the Charleston, Balboa dancing originated in 1915 and gained popularity in the 1930s and 1940s.
At that time Lindy Hop dominated dance halls, but due to some of its dynamic moves like the swing-out, which was often banned as it required a lot of space; the Balboa (which doesn’t travel across the floor much), was created as an alternative to easily dance in small spaces. Many dancers make a distinction between two types of Balboa dance, “Pure Balboa” and “Bal-Swing.” Pure Balboa dancers maintain a close embrace, with torsos touching so that they move and turn as a couple. Whereas “Bal-Swing”, also known as “Randy Swing”, came from Charleston, so uses more dynamic movements which leave more space between partners, and allow for greater improvisation.
Incorporating fast footwork with little to no movement above the waist, this eight-count dance places great emphasis on communication between partners through subtle weight changes. This is a reason why Balboa is considered a dancers dance rather than for spectators, because viewers generally can’t see the subtleties and movements aren’t too showy. It has been said by long time Balboa dancers, that it can be hard to tell if someone is doing Balboa correctly, however one can tell if it’s being danced incorrectly if the dancers are calling too much attention to themselves!
Etiquette for Balboa doesn’t differ much from other swing dances. The standard rules and expectations apply, such as:
1. Be aware of others around you, and make your steps smaller and kicks lower while on crowded floors. If you do bump into someone, politely apologize.
2. Whenever live musicians are present, show them a little appreciation by applauding or even thanking them if you get a chance. Most of them play for the love not money, and bring so much to dance socials.
3. If you are not dancing, don’t stand on the dance floor and avoid wandering through the crowd in the middle of a dance. This can be a hazard to others and even to yourself. You should always wait until the song finishes to enter the middle of the floor, or stay close to the outer perimeter when trying to reach another side of the room.
4. Despite the tradition of dancers putting baby powder or wax on shoes and floors, some studios don’t allow this due to the uneven and therefore dangerous, slippery spots it can cause on floors. You should always check with who ever is in charge.
5. Since Balboa and other swing dances are a social activity that so many do for fun, you should always be friendly, polite and interact with as many people as you can. You will come to know more dance partners and will make the experience more enjoyable for yourself and everyone else!
Balboa can be danced to slow tempos of 100 bpm all the way up to tempos as fast as 300 bpm!
Check out this list of some of the most played songs in Balboa dance communities throughout the country.
Sidney Bechet – Joshua Fit The Battle of Jericho
Duke Ellington – Rockin In Rhythm
Django Reinhardt – Minor Swing
Jonathan Stout – Dark Eyes
Artie Shaw – Carioca
Edgar Hayes – Swingin In The Promised Land
Count Basie – Jumpin At The Woodside
Teddy Powell – Jamaica Jam
Teagarden – Harlem Jump Jack
Benny Goodman – St. Louis Blues