What is Balboa?

Balboa (original Balboa or Pure-Bal) is a dance that originated in Southern California during the 1920s and 1930s. Balboa also now refers to a fusion of dances that originated from that era.

The original Balboa dance is a form of swing dance that started as early as 1915 and gained in popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. It is danced primarily in close embrace, and is led with a full body connection. The art of Balboa is in the subtle communication between the lead and follow, including weight shifts, which most viewers cannot see. As a result, Balboa is considered more of a “dancer’s dance” than a “spectator’s dance”. Its exact origins are obscure, especially as most of the original Balboa dancers have since died.

Balboa is danced to a wide variety of tempos. Because the basic step takes up such a small space, Balboa can be danced to fast music (over 300 beats per minute). Balboa is also danced to slow music (under 100 beats per minute), which allows more time for intricate footwork and variations.

Brisbane Balboa Swing Dance


Designed to take up only a small space, Balboa involves chaining two-step movements together into groups of eight count patterns with two sets of four steps each while shuffling the feet on the floor.

The dance was originally a response to overcrowded ballrooms where the swing-out or breakaway (a move popular in Lindy Hop at the time) was often difficult, if not actually banned by the venue. Balboa is often perceived as a restrained or introverted dance, with most movement occurring below the knees; however, part of its appeal is its variations on turns and twirls that allow the lead to show off his partner’s legs—an effect that is heightened when the follow is wearing an effective skirt and high heels.

Modern Balboa dancers sometimes distinguish between two types of Balboa, “Pure Balboa” and “Bal-Swing.” In Pure Balboa, dancers stay in close embrace for almost the entire time, their torsos touching, doing variations based on footwork, turning as a couple and moving as a couple. Bal-Swing, in contrast, incorporates movements in which there is more space between the partners and thus more latitude for dynamic movements, including turns for one or both partners, and so forth.

Bal-Swing was originally known as just “Swing”, or sometimes “Randy Swing” in newspaper articles of the time. The Bal-Swing dance style came from Charleston, and its earliest known use was a contest in Venice Beach in 1932.

Venice Beach Balboa
Venice Beach Balboa


Balboa came from Southern California during the 1920s and increased in popularity until World War II. Balboa is named after the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California, where the dance was invented.[2]

Alma Heaton included two pages on Balboa in his 1954 book “Ballroom Dance Rhythms”,[3] and a page of instruction in “Techniques of Teaching Ballroom Dance”.[4]

A small, active Balboa community has always existed in the Los Angeles area. Today, Balboa is resurging worldwide due in part to the efforts of Jonathan Bixby and Sylvia Sykes.

Some original Balboa dancers’ quotes:

“We can’t tell you how to dance Balboa, but we can tell you when you are not dancing Balboa.”
“As soon as you start attracting attention to yourself, you [are] not doing Balboa anymore”

Comparisons between Balboa and Lindy Hop

Balboa is a contemporary of Lindy Hop, so comparisons are hard to avoid.

  • Both dances evolved at the same time with the same swing music. Both are considered evolutionary descendants of Charleston. Though some consider Balboa to be an adaptation of various Latin dances such as the Rumba done to American big band music, the latter were not yet popular with American swing dancers when Balboa was developed, so a connection to Latin dance is doubtful. Balboa had also typically been recognized as a regional dance done in Southern California whereas Lindy Hop was more widespread nationally, but that is no longer the case among modern swing dancers: today, most consider Balboa and Bal-Swing legitimate forms of swing dance.
  • Both Bal-swing and Lindy Hop would have been considered dances done by jitterbugs during the 1930s and ’40s, unlike Balboa, which was done by more mature dancers who wanted to avoid the Jitterbugs’ energetic and eccentric floor work.
Balboa Swing


Body position

Communication through subtle weight shifts and body language is essential. The dancers stand close, touching upper front outer sides of torsos along outer edge of pectoral muscle and ribcage. Sometimes the connection extends down to knees, depending on the degree of room needed for specific variations within pure balboa. Height difference between partners can cause the connection to vary considerably. They are offset by about 1/4 of their body width, creating a slight “V” between their torsos and allowing the feet and legs to offset to a greater degree than in ballroom styles. The balboa follower often dances in heels to get the proper “forward” connection. This can be misinterpreted however. The follower still has her own weight. Foot balance is neutral with slightly more pressure on the ball of the feet for the follow, but generally across the entire foot for the lead.

Body lead

There are many variations on how dancers move during the Basic step. Each variation looks different. Each variation communicates movement to the follower differently. Dancers can do all of the following (from the lead’s point of view):

  • In a regular Balboa Basic dancers stay in place while doing the footwork.
  • In a Maxie Basic, dancers move back and forth between 2 positions on the floor
  • In Fox Trot dancers Move in a box: back – side – middle – forward – side – middle.

Regardless of basic variation, the “Basic” is done in place without any traveling on the floor.

Basic footwork

The Maxie Basic is performed to 8 counts of the music, with typical footwork as follows (assuming both dancers shift forward and back between two positions on the floor 4 to 8 inches or 10 to 20 cm apart):


  1. Step back with left foot.
  2. Step back with right foot, bringing feet together.
  3. Slide left foot forward.
  4. Slide left foot back beside right foot.
  5. Step forward with right foot.
  6. Step forward with left foot, bringing feet together.
  7. Slide right foot back, bringing heel off the ground.
  8. Slide right foot forward beside left foot.


  1. Step forward with right foot.
  2. Step forward with left foot, bringing feet together.
  3. Slide right foot backward, bringing heel off the ground.
  4. Slide right foot forward beside left foot.
  5. Step back with left foot.
  6. Step back with right foot, bringing feet together.
  7. Slide left foot forward.
  8. Slide left foot back beside right foot.

Note that the lead and follow footwork is identical, although offset by four beats. That is, both perform the same footwork when moving backwards and forwards.

In the Original Balboa the dancers do the same or similar footwork utilizing the same rhythm, however it’s done in place. To do so easily, the dancers shuffle their feet and avoid stepping,or bouncing.

Also note that some people might argue that the Balboa basic is just “step-step” and any “upholds” (the slide-slide is an uphold variation) are already variations to change direction and/or feet. Not getting too attached to this 8-count basic pattern helps when learning Ad-libs (aka “one-steps”) and moves that don’t fit into the 8-count scheme, since it’s then more natural how to sync back to the music. The follower must be aware that this pattern is just the most common pattern, and needs to feel the lead leading her into doing the upholds.

Footwork variations

Dancers vary their footwork, to respond to the music or their partner.

Many footwork variations can be done independently of the partner. The three most common footwork variations are single, double, and triple time.

  • Single time or down hold: Counts 3-4 and 7-8 are step-holds.
  • Double time or up hold: Counts 3-4 and 7-8 are kick-steps. This is the most common variation.
  • Triple time: Counts 3-4 and 7-8 are triple steps.
  • Foot Fan step: In single time, the left foot fans out to the left, on the 3-4 for leads or 7-8 for follows.
  • Slide step: When moving the left foot back or the right foot forward, slide it.
  • Dig Dig Step: Counts 3-4 or 7-8 are kick – kick – step. This move crosses double time motions with triple time timing.

Some footwork patterns require cooperation with the partner.

  • V Slide: On the 3-4 or 7-8, slide both feet out in a V to hit a break. Use the following 1-2 or 5-6 to return to the basic pattern.

Main variations

Five loose categories of variations are pure, throwouts, lollies, crossovers, and fancy. Variations done in closed position are called “Pure Balboa”, and moves done in open position are called “Bal-Swing”. Bal-swing also borrows moves from other dances, especially Charleston and features moves in open position.

Most of the following moves would be done strictly in Bal-Swing. However, these moves can be seen sometimes in Balboa if they are done very small, with feet on floor and no travelling.

  • Maxie Basic: Maxie Dorf is credited for modifying the traditional Balboa Basic to this variation. The basic Balboa footwork is traditionally done on the spot in a shuffling fashion. Maxie added a forward and backwards movement, so as on the 1-2 the lead steps backwards, and on the 5-6 the lead steps forward. The lead can simply keep going backward or forward for as many steps as desired. This Maxie Basic is also easier to learn, so has become a common starting place for teaching Balboa.
  • Transition Step: This step is performed to transition from a closed dancing position to an open dancing position, and is also used to lead to other moves. It has been noted by some of the original Balboa dancers that a Transition Step preceded almost all Bal-Swing moves. For example, a Throwout can be led by simply initiating rotation and “throwing” the follow out, or rotation for the Throwout can be initiated after a Transition Step has been used to separate the lead and follow, and this way is said to be more correct.
  • Paddles: Can be done clockwise or counterclockwise. The leader rotates in place on the pivot foot, paddling with the free foot. For counterclockwise paddles, the lead begins with the usual back left, together right, step left, hold. During the step hold the lead starts turning. The lead then turns with a step right – step left – step right – step left. The lead continues turning with this pattern, until he changes to another variation. Clockwise paddles begin by starting with the hold on counts 7-8. From a pure-bal point of view, a paddle is just two steps turning either left or right.
    • Serpentine: A combination of paddles. Paddle and neutral, paddle opposite direction and neutral etc. Using down-hold footwork, turn slightly counter-clockwise on the 8. Then the lead paddles right on the 1, step right foot in place 2, step left foot together3 down hold and pivot counter clockwise 4, Paddle with right 5, left foot in place 6, Step right foot together 7 down hold 8 to pivot clockwise. Repeat as desired. This will move the couple across the floor in a zig-zag.
  • Ad-libs:
  • Scoot Steps:
  • Crab Walk: This variation is similar to one steps or ad-lib timing, but adds a sideways movement. Crab walks are normally led on 1 or 5, following a hold step on 3-4 or 7-8. The pattern for crab walks beginning on 1 would be back – sidestep – forward – sidestep (repeat). In this example we started on 1, so the crab walks would move towards the lead’s right. If the crab walk was lead on the 5, the movement direction would be toward the lead’s left. This move is quite difficult to follow, as the difference in feeling from this move to other single step moves is quite subtle.
  • Crossovers: Crossovers can have an in-out feel, or a side-to-side feel. The name Crossover comes from the footwork. See also Crossovers (dance).
  • Lollies: Kick step, kick step. Usually, the lead slowly walks around the follow, who spins in place.
  • Come Around or Break Step: This is the first part of many variations, especially Throwouts.
  • Apache: aka Texas Tommy: This move involves the lead placing the follows hand behind their back and rotating to a throw out in the usual fashion. This causes an extra spin from the follow, and also causes the lead and follow to be connected via a right-to-right hand hold. A common variation to this move is where the lead faces away from the follow at the conclusion of the throw out and does a V Slide.
  • Pop Turns: The lead “pops” the follow in a rock – step motion, and can then use his right arm to start the follow spinning (also letting go of the left hand), or step down on 3 to initiate rotation together which then often leads to a Throwout move.
  • V Slides: The follow does standard footwork. The lead pushes the follow a little bit on the 5-6 to create some space between them. Then the lead does a V Slide on the 7-8. A V Slide can also be performed as a variation within, or at the end of, other moves.
  • Push and Pull: with twists
  • Swivels: Swivels are similar to Lollies, but are executed at twice the rate. Lollies is tap-and-kick-and-tap-and-kick-and, swivels is swivel-swivel-down-hold-swivel-swivel-kick-step. The key to swivels is using your hip rotation to drive the move.
  • Charleston: It is very common to add Charleston variations.
    • Fall off the log: By default, the kicks occur on the 3 and 7 counts. Both step in front and behind variations.

Transitions between moves are often made on the slow (3-4 or 7-8) counts, but many moves can begin on 1 or be longer than 8 beats.

Balboa on a beach
Balboa on a beach


  1. ^ Ballroom Dance Rhythms. Alma Heaton. 1967. Brigham Young University Press. pages 75, 76
  2. ^ http://www.balboapavilion.com/history.html
  3. ^ Ballroom Dance Rhythms. Alma Heaton. 1954. Brigham Young University Press. pages 35, 36
  4. ^ Techniques of Teaching Ballroom Dance. Alma Heaton. 1965. Brigham Young University Press. Third Edition. pages 161,162

source: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balboa_(dance)