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Cha Cha Clinic Notes

by Wayne & Barbara Blackford

"CHA CHA CHA" The name itself seems to promise an exciting rhythm, and it is one of the most delightful and brightest rhythms we have. Cha Cha is the fun dance of the Latins. It is exciting and uplifting and can be thoroughly enjoyed with ease of movement, balance, and control. It's origins are in the Mambo, and the Mambo is an outgrowth of the Rumba. These Latin dances have almost identical character and floor patterns. It is the rhythm that makes each dance different from the other. The tempo of the music will determine which dance is to be done. The fast tempo is Mambo; the medium tempo is Cha Cha; the slow tempo is Rumba.

The Mambo originated from religious voodoo music and dancing in the West Indies where a rattle made from seed pods called "cha-cha" was used as the guide instrument to set the timing. Though the Mambo became very popular in the late 1940s, the craze didn't last long, as the dance was very fast. During the next decade, there evolved a slower Mambo rhythm, then the addition of a triple step, and finally by the late 1950s, Cha Cha.

The Cha Cha is said to be a combination of the Mambo and the American Swing. The rhythm is that of Mambo, the style of dance is similar to Rumba, and it is open and swingy like the Triple Jive. It is a carefree dance and reflects a light, breezy mood.

The music of the Cha Cha first appeared in the United States as a form of slow Mambo. The first and perhaps most famous orchestration is Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White done by Perez Prado in the 1950s. In the authentic music, a very definite rhythmical link can be heard between each measure resulting in an overall rhythm of 123&4 (Sometimes, a more advanced dance is written to a "4&1" count: 234&1) with a beat value of 1,1,1/2,1/2,1.

Every step is taken with pressure on the ball of the foot, with the knee flexed, and as the weight is taken to the foot, the heel should lower, the knee straighten, and the heel of the opposite foot should be released as the hips move softly sideways in the direction of the stepping foot. This movement is less pronounced on steps having half-beat value. The shoulders should remain quiet when not in normal dance hold and the free arm moves fluidly between the dance positions.

The Cha Cha may be danced in either a closed or open position, facing the partner with one or both hands joined. Often, the partners are apart from one another completely. Often, the man holds the woman's right hand with his left, so she must maintain a certain firmness in the right arm because he leads through it.

Remember, body control is an important factor to good Latin dancing. This can be achieved to a great degree by simply keeping the steps small and the knees flexed. The greater the distance the body weight has to be moved to keep up with the feet, the greater the chance of the body momentum being propelled too far, which creates "loss of balance" -- particularly when moving to fast-tempo music. As each step is taken, the whole body should move over the foot to give stability.

Acquiring the basic knowledge and dancing skill of Cha Cha will surely take you to a more enjoyable world of dancing. Remember, Plato was quoted as saying, "A good education consists of knowing how to sing and "DANCE" well.


From clinic notes prepared for the URDC annual convention, 1994. This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, May 2013.


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