Little Known Dance Takes the Spotlight at the All Balboa Weekend @GetHepSwing


Thu 6/11 – Sun 6/14

Most people know a thing or two about swing dancing and have heard of the foxtrot and the cha cha… but what about the Balboa? This little known dance comes out from the shadows and gets its own weekend, thanks to local dance aficionado Valerie Salstrom of Get Hep Swing.

Salstrom and friends present the All Balboa Weekend, Thu 6/11 – Sun 6/14, four days of live music, dance lessons, group dancing and the American Classic Balboa Championship. We talked to Salstrom about this little known dance and the vintage appeal it brings out.

CoolCleveland: Why Balboa? What prompted a whole weekend devoted to this style of dance?

Valerie Salstrom: I was smitten from the first moment I saw Balboa when I was at a swing dance at the Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island in the mid 1990s.  I soon found out that this quirky and quick vintage dance from Southern California was in jeopardy of dying out because not that many people were doing it any more and hardly anyone east of the Mississippi had ever even known about it.  I convinced my swing dance partner Joel Plys to learn Balboa and a few years later we decided to try something that had never before been done.  In 2001 we organized the first annual All Balboa Weekend, an event dedicated solely to the preservation [of] Balboa and Bal-Swing.

What can attendees expect?

The over 500 attendees from around the world can expect:
– three days of dance instruction from top notch, champion Balboa dancers
– four nights of social dancing to international swing DJs
– two nights of dancing to two bands including, Craig Gildner’s ABW All Stars featuring the Midiri Brothers from Washington, DC and NYC and The Mint Julep Jazz Band from Raleigh, North Carolina
– Exciting dance competitions that culminate in the finals of the American Classic Balboa Championships on the evening of Saturday, June 13th
– vendors selling vintage and vintage reproduction clothing, shoes, and accessories

What is the history behind Balboa (and Bal-Swing)?

It’s hard to get a consensus view concerning the origins of Balboa. Many dance historians state that the dance was a derivation of Foxtrot, others believe it evolved from the Charleston or Collegiate Shag. Willie Desatoff, an original Balboa dancer of great distinction, has stated Balboa evolved from the Rhumba.

One thing is for certain — the “Balboa” got its name from the Balboa Peninsula at Newport Beach, situated on the coast about 40 miles south of Los Angeles in California. The dance was first done at the beach pavilion and then later at the famous Rendezvous Ballroom. The dance developed in the 1920s. By the early 1930s it had become sufficiently well known to be given its name. The dance spread up the coast through the beach resorts of Huntington, Long Beach, San Pedro, Redondo Beach, Venice Beach, and finally into the greater LA basin area.

Balboa has two forms — Pure Balboa and Bal-Swing.

Pure Balboa

Danced completely in closed position, Pure Balboa evolved in conservative dance halls where space was limited. Some of these dance halls had strict rules or codes of conduct that prohibited the Charleston and other exuberant dances. Pure Balboa is characterized by a fairly upright posture with both partners standing ‘chest to chest’ in close contact. You never break away from your partner, there are no spins or turns, and you remain completely in contact through the chest at all times. The dance’s simplicity and economy of movement make it very well suited to fast tempo music. This fact has meant that Balboa is often mistakenly thought of as just a fast dance. Indeed many of the original dancers could dance at amazing speeds. However, they also liked to dance to slower music and the dance has always been done to music of all tempos


After a while some of the original Balboa dancers tired of doing just pure Balboa and started to introduce fancier variations which forced the ‘chest to chest’ connection to be broken. In this form anything goes; spins, turns, dips, tricks, and even air steps! All these things are allowed provided the overall style, feeling, and framework remain true in spirit to the original dance. In explicit terms it might be said that these open patterns should be combined with recognizable Balboa footwork.

There’s some dispute over exactly when this form got its ‘Bal Swing’ name. It is clear though that for some time many people originally referred to it as just ‘Swing’ dancing. Other forms of swing dancing also existed around that time in different areas, these were clearly not derived from Balboa. So only swing dancers in the immediate LA region might have been doing what we now know as Bal-Swing.

Balboa and Bal-Swing are primarily done to 1930s style big band music.

Is this event for expert and amateur dancers alike?

Absolutely!  We have six levels of lessons dedicated for absolute beginners all the way up to masters’ level dancers.
You can give Balboa a try without dedicating an entire weekend to it also.  You may buy a one day pass or come dancing with us for just one evening.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The All Balboa Weekend attendees love vintage dance, music and attire and you can often find them dressed head to toe in vintage apparel.

People attending the All Balboa Weekend love Cleveland and arrive a few days before the event and stay a few days after to explore our museums, restaurants and vintage shops.

Dancers come from 36 states and 14 countries around the world including Australia, Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria, Germany, Ireland, England, Belgium, France, Russia, Israel and Canada.

Dress up in your finest vintage gear and spend a weekend trying out the Balboa with Valerie and friends.




Cool Cleveland correspondent Sarah Valek studied art and writing at Ithaca College. After graduation, she came back to Cle and served two years as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. She can be found on all sides of the city in pursuit of homeschooling activities for her son and the perfect soy latte. Contact her at or via Twitter.





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