Balboa Basics: I’m Gonna Learn a New Dance

I want to learn a new dance.  Well, it’s not exactly a new dance. In fact, it’s pretty old. But it’s new to me. Even though I’ve only actually seen one couple do it, I’m loving the Swingy feel of the Balboa. So begins my new dance journey to learn Balboa basics.

A bit of Balboa history.

This vintage dance’s popularity began in the 1930s on the Balboa Penisula in Orange County, California.  Heavily influenced by ballroom dances such as Foxtrot and Rumba, as well as some Swing dances like Charleston, Collegiate Shag, and Lindy Hop, it soon became all the rage.  

Balboa fever spread and to this day there are workshops and competitions held all over the world.  In addition, many couples adopted the old-time ways associated with this dance. They really enjoy creating an alternative lifestyle incorporating music, clothes, shoes, and accessories from Balboa’s early days.

balboa basics at balboa pavilion
The Balboa Pavilion in Newport Beach, CA hosted many nights of Balboa dancing.

What does the Balboa look like?

Hopefully, at this point, you have developed an interest in seeing the Balboa performed. To illustrate this dance, please enjoy the following video. It is from the 2018 International Lindy Hop Championships in Washington D.C. Dancers are competing in the “Open Strictly Balboa Finals“. After solo performances, all competitors are asked to return to the floor for the ‘Final All Skate’.

Personally, I like the way the dance goes so well with my new favorite music, Electro Swing. To learn more about Electro Swing, read the Dance Safari post, “Electro Swing…Funky, Feel-Good Music”. When you do, I’m sure you’ll agree.

How to dance the Balboa basics.

There are two basic Balboa styles.

The Balboa (Fast or Slow) has few breaks and it’s danced primarily in closed dance position. It’s said that club owners insisted on it so that more couples could be on the crowded dance floor at the same time.

Eventually, dancers began to add the turns, spins, and tricks that were being danced in Swing, Lindy Hop, and Shag. Hence, this style of Balboa became known as Bal-Swing.

Balboa basics in social setting
Bal-Swing Dancing.

Hold your partner.

Partners set up facing each other upright in a closed hold with body contact at the chest. The hold appears to be very much the same as it is in ballroom dancing. However, the leader wraps his right arm around his partner a bit more.

The beginner steps.

  • The leader starts dancing with his left foot; follower with her right.
  • Directional movement by the leader indicates to the follower where to go.
  • Basic timing is 8 counts danced as 1-2-3-4 (hold on 3), 5-6-7-8 (hold on 7). It sounds like this, “Step-Step-Hold-Step, Step-Step-Hold-Step”.

Characteristics of Balboa, a.k.a. Balboa style.

The first thing you’ll notice about this dance is the shuffling of the feet. In fact, you can even hear it. The result is a subtle pulse that gives the dance a sort of playful and energetic feel. Make no mistake, this is a fun dance done to exceptionally upbeat music. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with that.

There you have it, Balboa basics. I have to admit that I’m challenged by the timing. The fact is, I have never come across a hold on the “3” and “7” beats before. However, I practice the counts every chance I get and it’s starting to become easier. Looking forward to the day (or evening) when the dancing will be natural and expressing the feel-good music is a cinch.

line dancing and ballroom dancing


  1. Woo…. Hold on my little head; I know you’re spinning! 🙂
    What a fabulous dance, Barbara. I loved the video; so much energy and fun.
    I’m just wondering if I could keep that up for a ‘whole’ dance? Hahaaah..
    Great fun!

    • Great fun is right. But, I’m telling ya, I’m having trouble getting with the crazy timing. Working on it, though, cause I love the look and feel of it. The music can be a little slower, so that’ll make it easier to keep up with. What a way to stay in shape!
      Thanks for the comment, Carolyn.

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