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Matt:

I read somewhere that California has an official state dance, the Western Swing. Can this be possible?

-- Wondering, San Diego

In Sacramento, all things are possible. But right at the top, to fend off any potential mail-with-attitude, the official state dance of California is the West Coast Swing. Western Swing is something else entirely. Requires cowboy boots and old Bob Willis records, I think.

Whatever else ailed us in 1988, California's elected reps quickly solved the crisis of our being one of the few danceless states in the union. Senator Quentin Kopp of San Francisco sponsored a bill proposing the West Coast Swing to fill that void. The bill passed 21 to 9 with a minimum of smart remarks. But in the state assembly, the square-dance lobby bought a few key legislators (lifetime bolo tie discounts, maybe?), who held out for an amendment making square dancing California's official folk dance. A brief floor revolt by salsa radicals came to nothing. So, wallflowers no longer, California's official dance card is now full.

West Coast Swing is a Hollywood adaptation of the East Coast's Lindy Hop (a.k.a. jive, shag, bop, jitterbug). The story goes that early movie directors, lacking wide-angle lenses, couldn't film a dance floor full of fast-moving, athletic Lindy Hoppers. So choreographers developed a version in which the man remains more or less in one spot and moves his partner back and forth in a linear pattern. It's less athletic, and the beat's a little slower than the Lindy, but the footwork and other moves are fancier. For Hollywood's purposes, this kept everybody in the frame and in focus.

Now that you've been alerted to that underground square-dance lobby, you might keep your eye on them. Consider that half of our states claim square dancing as their official dance and you can see the influence they have. They've lost only a few skirmishes with polka brigades in the upper Midwest and some well-entrenched cloggers in North Carolina.

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