This weekend I went along to a beginners balboa weekend in Edinburgh, organised by Edinbop. It’s been just over a year since I started learning lindy hop at Full Swing in Wellington, New Zealand, which I continue to enjoy very much through classes, exchanges, social dancing and workshops here in Edinburgh.
I’ve seen people dance balboa on the social dance floor and thought that it looked nice, shuffley, sort of dainty and neat and contained in way and a bit wiggly, busy legs in other ways. It is a very close hold dance with the partners bodies touching, I think one of the teachers described it as having a hug and dancing! If you have issues around personal space, then this may not be the style of dance for you. However, all the usual partner dance etiquette applies in terms of where you put your hands, how you treat your partner (with respect) etc.
I thought I’d like to give it a try. I like learning new stuff, particularly in a dance and movement capacity.
Before I go on, I will say that this post aims to describe the things we learnt over the weekend, I may therefore not be explaining things in the best way possible. What I’m saying is, you probably won’t be able to teach yourself balboa from this post, but hopefully you’ll get an idea of what it involves :-)
Saturday – Learning Balboa Day 1
Our teachers for the weekend Toni and Jason explained that today we were going to focus on learning the basics of ‘pure balboa’ or ‘pure-bal’ this involved:
Things that you should just do when dancing balboa:
- Pulse – like lindy hop, like lots of dances, keeping a pulse is important to keep time and to keep the dancing together as a couple
- Tidy feet – making sure you keep your feet underneath you rather than doing your shuffle steps out wide or behind or in front
- Gather – Particularly relevant to when you’re dancing an up hold, more about that to follow.
- Shuffles – which are surprising energetic and somewhat tiring for such small steps!
- Single time basic – this is a shuffle step or a pony step (depending on the slipperiness of your shoes) on every beat of the music
- Half time basic – this is a shuffle step or a pony step on every other beat of the music
- Down hold basic – this consists of the following rhythms: single, single, half . Single, single, half. Single, single, half etc. You hold on the 4th and 8th beat. eg. single (1), single (2), half (3-hold 4) single (5), single (6), half (7-hold 8)
- Up hold basic – this consists of the following rhythms: step (1), step (2), hold (3), step (4), step (5), step (6) hold(7). Step, step, hold, step, step, step, hold. .
You hold on the 3rd and the 7th beat. eg.
On the hold make sure to gather the foot in the air to the one on the floor.
- Side scoots – based on the down hold footwork, this consists of single, single, half, scoot, scoot, scoot, basically as many scoots as the leader wants to do! Scoots you can do in either direction and can be good for getting into a space on the dance floor, or getting out the way of other dancers. They can also be in an arc or in a rotation.
- Come around – this is a combo of the down hold basic followed by the up hold basic in a turning motion.
- Lolly kicks – these come out of a come around and involve a swooshy kick followed by a step tap. These can be lead in a circle. There’s an element of compression and stretch to get this move right. Toni demonstrated that the follow can do all sorts of fancy things with our legs during this time, but for now, we stick to the basics! The all important exit from the lolly kicks comes with a step across from the lead.
Summary from the experts
Sorry, this is a bit dark and wobbly at times!
Illingworth’s experience of day 1 of learning balboa
It was a jam packed day, which whooshed by quickly, as things do when you’re enjoying them! On the whole I feel like I grasped the basics, but I had difficulty at times identifying when an up hold or a down hold was being led. I reckon this will get easier with practice, but for the time being I am just shuffling until I get what the lead wants me to do! This is where having and maintaining a pulse is important, because even if I can’t make out the up hold or the down hold, I can still move.
Another thing I found helpful with the basic foot work is closing my eyes. It really helps me tune out of everything else that’s going on around me and to focus on what my lead is telling me.
While dancing balboa as a beginner there’s a lot to think about as a follow, but the thing I was most aware of, to the point that at times I totally lost my basic patterns, was having tidy feet! It’s easy to slip into rock step lindy mode, so I was trying really hard not to let that happen, with mixed success!
I enjoyed the moves we learnt and again feel like I got them on a basic level. I know they weren’t danced to perfection, but they were there :-)
Let’s move on to Sunday’s learning…
Sunday – Learning Balboa Day 2
Today was balboa swing time which involved learning the following:
- Out and In – this follows the same rhythm as the down hold foot work we learnt yesterday and goes something like; out, out, in, hold, out, out, in, hold. On the hold you do that gather with the foot in the air to the foot on the floor. There’s the concept of stretch and compression in this move too. Make sure to bring the feet together on the out steps, otherwise there’s a real possibility it can become a rock step and that is not what we’re looking to do here, at all.
- Crossovers – this is really a lead thing, as the follow does not crossover their feet. This move can come from the out and in as it follows the same foot work. The lead foot work goes something like: out, together, cross, out, together, cross. There’s some direction work involved in this move as the leader moves the follow in an L or a V shape, using the out, together, cross footwork, with a little pivot for direction. Follows continue with the standard out and in foot work, with the pivot for direction, as per the lead. To exit the crossover a come around can be led back into basic foot work of up hold or down hold.
- Throw out – this move is a bit of a combo of the come around, to a lolly kick position and then to bring the follow back round to basic foot work. That, is as far as I’ll go in explaining that one! Well, the only other thing I want to mention, is the element of stretch to allow the follow to wind up to create the moment for the collection and that totally makes sense when you actually dance the move! Honest! Oh and you can do continuous throw outs if you like too, obviously as a follow, that depends on the lead :-)
Tea dance – putting what we learnt into a social dance
Following the teaching on day 2 there was a tea dance so that we could put what we learnt into a social dance setting. Ordinarily that would have freaked me out a bit, but because it was people we’d been learning with, it actually felt really nice and it helped that Toni and Jason were there to ask for a dance or for help or both.
Summary from the experts
This one is a bit brighter, but probably still a bit wobbly!
Illingworth’s experience of day 2 of learning balboa
I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the basic up hold and down hold seemed to have stayed in my muscle memory from yesterday. However, that didn’t last and as the day went on I seemed to be unravelling a bit on all the moves! I think I only had a couple of giggle outbursts and only one time that I just totally stopped. That sort of thing used to happen loads when I was starting to learn lindy! After congratulating myself on the feeling ok about the basics, I had totally forgotten the come around, but somehow still managed to come around with some strong leads :-) Blimey, poor leads!
I also had some odd moments with the throw out in that I felt like I was getting my feet muddled on the collection to go back to the basic foot work. However, turns out I wasn’t winding up enough before even getting to muddled feet on the collection! What a sausage!
There were also a couple of times that I wanted to go into 6 count lindy, I think that was once I was collected from the throw out.
Oh and the question on everybody’s lips, well, my sister Sam’s and brother in law Ben’s is, did I perfect my balboa face? Well, with my limited balboa experience, I’ve decided that there are two versions of the balboa face, neither of which I can do! The serious, I’m really good and I take it really seriously and I love it and I look ace balboa face and the serene, I’m really good and it’s really effortless and I love it and I look really cool balboa face. I think there may also be a third balboa face, which is a I’m dancing balboa, but I’m not quite sure what I’m doing, but it’s ok because I’m still having some fun face and if in doubt I just shuffle and I think that’s the one I was mostly rocking this weekend, when my face wasn’t practically in the leads armpit! Being a short follow that happens sometimes…
On the whole though, I think I’ve done some good learning over this weekend, thanks to good teaching and a bit of a practice both during the teaching and the tea dance.
Will I continue with the balboa? I think I would like to. A beginners weekend is brilliant and while we covered a lot, well, to me it felt like a lot, there’s not really the opportunity to consolidate the learning. I think that’s where attending a block of classes will help for sure, so that might be the way I’ll go next on the balboa dancing journey. I’ll also continue with the lindy hop, as I’ve loads more learning to do with that and it’s really fun.
So, there. Now, go and do some dancing!