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Two Popular Rhythms -- Cha and Foxtrot

by Joan & Ralph Collipi

Cha --

A Cuban innovation of the old basic Latin form, Danson, the Cha Cha Cha is said to be a combination of the Mambo and American Swing. A close look shows its rhythm to be that of a triple Mambo, its style that of the Rumba, and its open swingy variations that of the Triple Lindy. It is not as heavy in quality or as large in foot pattern as the Mambo, nor has it the smooth sophistication or the conservative figures of the Rumba. But it reflects a light breezy mood, a carefree gaiety, and a trend, in the challenge steps, for dancers to ad-lib variations to their hearts content. Consequently, one sees variations in almost every known position.

Cha Cha Rhythm -- In 4/4 time, the catchy rhythm and delightful music of Cha has brought dancers and musicians alike a treat in its undeniable Latin flavor. Like the Mambo, this dance was originally done starting on the off-beat of the measure, but there is widespread acceptance of the on-beat rhythm as an easier way to learn. Cha will be described here as starting on the first beat of the measure with the accents on beats 1 and 3. The first two counts represent the break beats, and counts 3 and 4 represent the familiar "cha cha cha" triple.

Cha Cha Style -- The Cha may be danced in either a closed position or an open position facing partner with one or both hands joined. The Cha, with its light bouncy quality is delightfully latin, as it carries with it some of the subtleness of the rumba movement. The foot should be placed nearly flat on the floor and the knees are easy and lead forward with the step. The back step is a toe step(instead of a flat step, which tends to give the appearance of a sag), holding the body firmly so as to avoid the sag. The Cha triple is taken with very small steps in place or traveling, but kept very close to the floor.

The upper body is held comfortably upright and the head focuses on the partner in a somewhat flirtatious manner. The arm and hand, when free, are held up parallel to the floor in a bent-arm position, palm down.

There's a little bit of latin in all of us, that's waiting to pop out when we hear that latin beat, so relax and let's "Cha Cha Cha."

Foxtrot --

The Foxtrot, as a present-day form, is of relatively recent origin. The only truly American form of ballroom dance, it has had many steps and variations throughout the years. The Foxtrot gets its name from a musical comedy star of the years 1913-1914, Mr. Harry Fox, who danced a fast but simple trotting step to ragtime music in one of the hit Ziegfeld shows of that time. As an additional publicity stunt, the theater management requested that a star nightclub performer and dance teacher, Mr. Oscar Duryea, introduce the step to the public but found that it had to be modified somewhat, since a continuous trotting step could not be maintained for long periods without exhausting effort. He simplified the step so that it became four walking steps alternating with eight quick running steps. This was the first Foxtrot.

Since that time, under the influence of Vernon and Irene Castle and a series of professional dancers, the Foxtrot has been through a gradual refining process and has developed into a beautifully smooth dance. It claims considerable popularity today.

Music from ragtime through the blues on down to modern jazz and swing has had its effect on the Foxtrot. The original Foxtrot was danced to a lively 2/4 rhythm. Its two parent forms were the One Step and the Two Step. Both of these forms are danced today but have given way to a slower, smoother 4/4 time and a more streamlined style. It is danced to three different tempos: slow, medium, and fast. The slow Foxtrot is currently more popular, brought on by the tempo introduced by the Big-Band Era. The fundamental steps of the Foxtrot can easily be adapted to all three tempos of the music.

Foxtrot Rhythm -- The modern Foxtrot in 4/4 time, or cut time, has four quarter-beats or their equivalent to each measure. Each beat is given the same amount of time, but there is an accent on the first and third beats of the measure. When a step is taken on each 1-2-3-4, it is a One-Step rhythm and these are called "quick" beats. When steps are taken only on the two accented beats, 1 and 3, they are twice as long and are called "slow" beats. A use of these quick and slow beats and a combination of them into rhythm patterns form the basis for all of the modern Foxtrot steps. For example, any one measure of 4/4 Foxtrot time can have all four possible combinations of slow and quick beats.

Foxtrot Style -- Foxtrot style truly reflects its American origin. It is the least affected of any of the ballroom dances. Completely without stylized or eccentric arm, foot, head, or torso movement, the Foxtrot is a beautifully smooth dance. The body is held easily erect and follows the foot pattern in a relaxed way. The dancer normally glides along the floor and blends the various steps together without bobbing or jerking. This gliding effect is accomplished by long reaching steps with only as much knee bend as is needed to transfer the weight from step to step smoothly. It gives the Foxtrot a streamlined motion and a simple beauty of form which can be enjoyed without strain or fatigue, dance after dance. As one becomes more and more skillful at putting together steps for the Foxtrot, there will be increasing joy derived from the tremendous variety of quick and slow combinations.

Let's enjoy the Foxtrot and imagine each one of us someday dancing like Fred and Ginger. We can dream, Can't We?

From a 1990 NSDC/ROUNDALAB Educational Panel handout and published in the ROUNDALAB Journal, Winter 1991. Published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, June 2012.


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