Monday, September 21, 2009

If you're discovering the world of Balboa...

(See my introduction to this series of posts.)

...and need music to practice your basics...
  • Pretty much any music that you have for East Coast Swing or Lindy hop will do. In general, I would say that "Balboa music" encompasses an even broader array of music than does "Lindy Hop music." The dance was born to music from the Big Bands of the 1930's, so that is a great place to start searching.
  • Kyle Smith, a well known DJ and the music coordinator for the annual All-Balboa Weekend in Cleveland, posted a list of his "Top 20 Balboa Songs of All Time" on his blog. It's a great run-down. Try typing any of these titles into your music service of choice and you'll get a bunch of hits that are probably good balboa music.
  • As far as specific recommendations, I recommend the album B.G. in Hi-Fi, by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (even though it was recorded much later than the 1930s). Every track is danceable, they're all classic big band music, and the tempos range from 125 beats per minute all the way up to 230+, so you'll find tracks that are very easy to dance to and some that are very challenging.

...and like dancing to guitar-and-violin combos...
  • ...then you probably already know about Django Reinhardt. Minor Swing is probably his most well-known and popular track (at least among dancers). From what I can tell, some dancers love Django's style of "gypsy jazz" for balboa, while others don't care for it at all. If you want to decide for yourself, you might start with a basic compilation like The Best Of Django Reinhardt or the double disc set Swing from Paris.
  • For dancing, I also highly recommend the album The Swing Sessions, Vol. 1. It's a bit different than most of the Django you may have heard, because most of the tracks feature larger bands, with horns, reeds, and drums instead of just the usual fiddle and bass. The music is still as exotic and interesting as you expect from Django, but the style is closer to what you'd hear from other big bands around that time.
  • For modern recordings of Django-style music, you can't beat the Twin Cities Hot Club, led by guitarist Robert Bell. Their self-titled album has lots of interesting, danceable tunes. You also really should try to catch these guys live. Last time I heard them, Gary Schulte, the group's violinist, had everyone in the room completely hypnotized. This group (and Robert in particular) has a special gift for reading and responding to dancers, adapting their music to what they see and pushing dancers to listen closer and try to respond in turn.

...and want some old-time music but without all the scratch and hiss...

  • If you're looking for very authentic 1930's-style big band, but want a modern recording, look no further than Mora's Modern Rhythmists, a very talented and polished group from Los Angeles dedicated to playing music from the 1920's and 1930's. You can buy their albums and even download individual tracks on their website. Mr. Rhythmist Goes to Town is a good album to start with for balboa tunes. But heck why not just take advantage of their special offer of 4 albums for only $40. Can't beat a deal like that.
  • I guess it makes sense that bands that play good music for Balboa should come from California, since that's where the dance was invented. Another good current band, this one from the San Francisco area, is the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. Their music has that solid beat that's perfect for shuffle-shufflin'. Try their album Radio Rhythm.

Note: Dancers, DJs, and folks searching for music, let me know what you think of these recommendations, and please don't be shy about posting a comment to suggest some of your favorites too.


  1. Can't remember when, but Audra once told me a lot of hip-hop/rap music is really good for Bal, and surprisingly enough I have found that to be true. I wonder what's your take on this..

  2. I know that some people like hip-hop for Balboa. I'm just not too interested in it, personally and in terms of DJing. DJ-wise, it's too different a sound for me to play at a swing dance. I'd get annoyed if another DJ did something like that. And personally, I'm less interested in it because the phrasing and rhythmic nuance is different from jazz (though certainly influenced by it). So while you could technically execute balboa steps to hip-hop, it would feel like a totally different dance to me.