Why Balboa

Swing dancers meet for a competition in Los Angeles in 1939.

In 2018, Herrang Magazine asked me to answer this question in 350 words. Here was that answer.


To some, it means boring. To some, it means confining freedom. To some, an excuse for not being able to dance Lindy fast.

To others, though, it means dancing you often taste more than you see. It means freedom by framework. And it means dancing comfortably to fast swing music all night long, all life-long.

“It is a poem,” you might have heard. One that might sit with you awhile before you realize how much you like it — how well it puts a thousand possible words into one, how beautiful the white space of the page around them is.

“Balboa” is not just one dance, but three. There’s what the old timers called “Balboa,” a pre-swing dance from an hour’s drive or, back in the day, trolley ride south of L.A. They tell us it was done on dance floors cramped with elbows and body heat and date night perfumes. In this thick jungle, the dance evolved accordingly — chest-to-chest, hardly moving, the feet shuffling to the music like wire brushes across a drum head. Hidden from spectators, the dancers moved glued together as one, floating, drifting this way and that, meditating in a sea of swing.

Then there was “Swing,” the dance the Los Angeles kids of that wild west town invented when bands became big and no-one from New York was around to show them a swing out. All they knew were the box-steps, trots and Charlestons of their parents. From that lazy ball-room shaped canvas, it was only a matter of time before they were twisting, turning, and stretching to the swing of the music in an orbiting dance. Their freedom lead to function.

On the dance floors of masonic temples and high school gyms, “Balboa” and “Swing” met, and a new dance was born, “Bal-Swing,” melting the two philosophies together — it became an introverted performance dance, an engineer’s game, a meditative explosion. A dance jungle gym with bars strong for climbing on — and swinging from. 

Lindy is only one of our family’s elders. “Balboa,” “Swing” and “Bal-Swing” are three other beautiful answers to the question, “Grandma, what does it mean to truly swing?”

This article appeared in an earlier form in an edition of Herrang magazine in 2018.

Venmo: @BobbySwungover

PayPal: Paypal.me/bobbywhite3

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