Pure Balboa – Balboa Shuffle

The original Balboa dance (Pure Balboa, Balboa Shuffle) is a style of dance which began taking shape in the late 20’s & early 30’s in Orange County, California to the big band swing music of the day. Specifically, it’s birthplace is said to have been in or around the Balboa Pavilion or around the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula of Newport Beach, California, thus giving the dance it’s original name, The Balboa Shuffle, and later just The Balboa or now days Pure Balboa (Pure-bal). On weekends at the Pavilion, you could listen to Count Basie, Benny Goodman, and the Dorseys. Phil Harris and his band played regularly on weekdays.

This Balboa dance being born out of it’s predecessors of the Shag, Jig Trot/Walks, Charleston and Swing mixture. It was originally called the “Bal-Hop” and “Balboa Shuffle”. Basically the dance evolved thru crowded dance floors and high tempos. A dancer getting tired would pull his partner close and do Balboa to catch their breath, then swing out again or it was just plain to crowded to dance and they did or had to do the Balboa all night.

Early innovators/influential dancers of this style include Bob & Marge Steinbrenner, Jim & Izzy Hignett, Gordon & May Almas, Dean & Nancy Raftery, and Hank Negley.

The dance is characterized by a very close upper body connection with your partner, and efficient, smooth, rhythmic footwork, often fast and with fancy syncopations on today’s dance floors. In its original pure form, the dancers would never break away from each other (or uses very little break-away’s, only a few turns) and would rarely even move off the spot on the floor where they started the dance. Most written articles of the time report that the Balboa was replacing the Fox-Trot in swing circles. Most of the larger Ballrooms were so crowded that they had signs posted “No Breakaways” which meant No Jitterbug dancing (such as the Paramount in L.A.) and the Balboa worked real well for overly crowded dance floors such as the paramount.

Pure Balboa is the subtle communication between the lead and follow, like weight shifts, that most viewers cannot see. As a result, Balboa is considered more of a “dancer’s dance” than a “spectator’s dance”.

Balboa is danced to a wide variety of tempos. Because the basic is so small, 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.

According to Sylvia Sykes (who, along with Jonathan Bixby, has made Santa Barbara the Balboa capitol of the world), the Balboa really isn’t a style of swing at all. It is danced almost exclusively in closed dance position and most closely resembles a dance the natives of 1930’s Chicago called the “Shag”. The Balboa has an eight count basic but the rhythm pattern isn’t like traditional single swing’s “slow, slow, quick, quick”. “It looks like cartoon dancing, close together, with lots of footwork, although the feet hardly leave the floor. The upper body remains still and the dance doesn’t travel much around the room. You could dance to very fast music – 190 to 250 beats per minute! while being dressed up. At one time it was popular up and down the west coast, from Seattle to southern California.”

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”

Information taken from: 

  • http://www.balboapavilion.com
  • Larrys Corner, Volume 8, Issue 5, May 2008


Comments are closed