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Interview with Valerie Salstrom, mastermind behind the All Balboa Weekend

June 1, 2010

Valerie Salstrom, a professional swing dancer, founded the very first All Balboa weekend with Joel Plys in 2001, and developed the event with Marty Klempner for many years before taking it all over alone. As the event turns towards its 10th year, she talks to us about working with Maxie Dorf, reflects on the growth of Balboa, and reminds us that often times, when about to do something great, it’s only natural to feel you are possibly doing something stupid.

So, how exactly did All Bal start to be an idea, a possibility?
I saw bal at Swing Camp Catalina back in “the day” and fell in love…and from then on was forever trying to get someone to hug me for three minutes straight. In 1998 when Joel and I teamed up to teach swing dance full time in Cleveland I knew that bal could have a chance. Joel seemed pretty much game for anything. Sylvia was the person who I was referred to when I was looking to learn bal. I wanted to bring she and Jonathan to Cleveland to teach. The first time we had them out we had them teach practically every style of dance they knew…including bal. They must have hated us.

We got a really good response from people at the workshop that weekend. The Clevelanders seemed pretty taken with bal….in part due to the fact that Joel and I made an effort to dance it EVERY time we went out. Which back then was literally every single night of the week. More and more out of towners seemed to take a shine to bal too.

The next time Joel and I talked about bringing in Sylvia and Jonathan we discussed the option of focusing only on balboa. We went back and forth about whether it was really a good idea or not. We eventually decided to just go for it in 2001.

How was the response to that camp/idea?
I think we had about 80 people sign up and it went over really well. To be honest, we were kinda nervous that we had done something pretty stupid. But we also had a very loyal group of students in Cleveland and the surrounding area who we knew would pretty much come to anything we organized.

How did the teacher’s respond to the request for an all bal weekend?
They were actually pretty excited. Especially Sylvia. She had made a commitment to Maxie to carry on “his bal” for him….and now she would really have the perfect vehicle for it.

Speaking of Maxie, did you worked with him at some point, or am I crazy?
Yep. Joel and I had to send an “audition” tape to him before he would even agree to meet us in person. I am pretty sure he wasn’t all that impressed by our dancing because one time when we tried to mention a move we did on the tape he kind of just changed the subject and mentioned that he recorded a TV program over the tape we sent him.

I don’t know why, but he eventually decided to let us bring a group out to Las Vegas to work with him. Sylvia must have put in a good word for us.

What can you remember about Maxie? What was it like working with him?

He liked to eat pie and drink coffee, and Joel could always count on him to not finish his meals. Joel would always plan his meals around what Maxie was ordering…knowing he would get half of what Maxie got.

Maxie INSISTED that all of the gals wear heels and either skirts or dressed EVERY TIME we met with him. He was super sweet to us and we eventually became really great friends with him. He would call the studio at least once a week and we gab with him for at least an hour or so every time.

It was funny and a little confusing to work with Maxie. Some days we got blasted for doing too many basics. The next day he would ask us, “What’s wrong?” “You don’t like the basic anymore?”

We finally decided that we needed a translator and that we needed to have Sylvia involved in our meetings with him. We flew Maxie to Santa Barbara so that she could run interference for him.

Sometimes he would say stuff to us and we would have absolutely NO clue what the heck he was talking about. He would say do it like this not like this. –and both thises would look identical to us. Sylvia would be behind him mouthing the words “Don’t worry about it. I will explain later.”

The best part about working with Maxie is that both Joel and I got to dance with him. He is the most dreamy 3 minute hug I have ever had.

He didn’t just dance to the music; he was IN the music. He made me hear and feel things in the music that were only revealed when I danced with him. He had such finesse. It was really incredible.

What do you think he would think of Balboa today? All Bal, and how big it’s gotten?
I think he would be really happy. He might have to pretend to be annoyed or something, but I think he would give Sylvia a really big hug and tell her “thank you.” Then he would probably ask if the Denny’s across the street had good pie and coffee.

So, All Bal this year, tenth anniversary. I’m going to ask you the incredibly lame sports commentator question: How does it feel?
Is there a standard lame answer I am allowed to give?

Touche.

It is pretty cool to think back on it all. To remember how different each year was. First at the Lakewood Masonic Temple. Then the Bohemian National Hall, Then Quaker Square. And now at the Holiday Inn in Independence. How we have sooooo many teachers now, and how the comps have grown too. Am? Pro? What? I would have never thought we would have been able to eventually have so many divisions. I am excited, and nervous. (I guess I will always be nervous.)

And the birth of the Balboa Showcase division!**
We will have people from Japan, Sweden, Canada, the US and more competing in that. And to think that there was a time when people said that balboa was used for when you got too tired to dance lindy. HA!

Well, I think that’s a great note to end on. Was there anything else you wanted to say to all the admiring fans out there?
Long live Balboa! (And ABW!)

** I have since discovered Montreal Balboa Revue 2009 was the first event to have a Balboa showcase competition.–Sorry, Gang!**

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