In 1930s California, two swing dances dominated the dance floors –– a subtle chest-to-chest dance called “Balboa,” and a wilder, energetic open-position dance called “Swing.”
(What we call “Pure Balboa” today)
Balboa was a pre-swing era chest-to-chest dance that famously grew up on very crowded dance floors in the Balboa Peninsula area of Southern California. Old Timers even talk of signs on the ballroom walls that said “No Break Away.” Since it grew up in such cramped conditions, it was not a performative dance, but instead a “partner’s dance” — geared towards moving meditatively as a partnership to the swing of the rhythm.
Also, because it grew up on a crowded dance floor, it was characterized by small steps, minimal arm movement, subtle rhythmic play, and efficient movement.
(What we call “SoCal Swing,” or “L.A. Swing” today.)
“Swing” was a dance that grew up on the more open dance floors of Los Angeles and Southern California when the swing craze hit in the mid-1930s. It was a dance that came from a loose, casual Ballroom position.
This dance was invented by teenagers, for teenagers. There were very few rules, and dancers would steal, adapt, or invent whatever steps they wanted.
Out of the casual ballroom dance hold, though, some common mechanics arose: Twisting (like what we see in the move Lolly Kicks), turning partners from that twist (like what we see in the move Toss-Outs), and stretching away from partners to the swing of the music (like what we see in Out & In movements).
(What we today call “Balboa” in general. Sorry, we know it can be confusing. )
“Balboa” dancers and “Swing” dancers often danced at the same dances. So it was inevitable that some of the original dancers combined the two into what we call “Bal-Swing.” And, for good reason: The “Balboa” fit very nicely into the “Swing” recipe, and created a beautiful, dynamic dance.
This Bal-Swing, and the modern interpretations of it, are done across our modern world by a passionate community. (The modern community also has a place in its heart for the un-combined dances, “Pure Balboa,” and “SoCal Swing.”)
Over the years, the modern community has come to simply call itself The “Balboa” community, or the “Bal” community.
For a much deeper look at the history, please see this Swungover article, written by Bobby on his vintage swing dance history & culture blog, Swungover.