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Cha Cha Cha

by Irv & Betty Easterday

The round dance world was introduced to the "south-of-the-border" rhythms in the mid-1970s. Many of the "old-timers" who introduced new routines at festivals were positive that these Latins would never become an integral part of the round dance activity. Little did they dream that within twenty years Latin dances would comprise over half of every round dance program. The interest that has awakened our dance world to these exciting rhythms is phenomenal. Latin rhythms introduced into round dancing since 1975 include swing, jive (single, double, and triple), west coast swing, lindy, disco, rumba, bolero, cha cha, mambo, merengue, salsa, samba, paso doble, bossa nova, and conga.

The cha cha is an outgrowth of the mambo as the mambo is of the rumba. The character and floor patterns are almost identical. It is the rhythm that is different. The cha cha is especially popular. It is gay and not quite as subtle as the other rhythms, and it is easier to perform.

Although the cha cha is the name of the dance, when we speak of the three steps from which the name originated, we call them "cha cha cha." When the cha cha cha is done, each step is a gentle slide on the floor, which means a soft sound, not an ordinary step. Each one is done in the rumba movement, that is, the foot placed with no weight, knee bent, followed by the weight and the straightening of the knee. In most of the basic steps the man holds the woman's right hand with his left. She must maintain a certain firmness in that right arm because he leads through it. In some cases the partners are separated entirely.

Originally, the cha cha was done entirely on the "offbeat" -- the "2, 3, 4&1 beat." The authentic music has a very definite rhythmical link that can be heard in each bar resulting in this "2, 3, 4&1 beat." However, as the general public latched onto the cha cha, the rhythm of the dance changed from an offbeat to a "downbeat" -- 1, 2, 3&4 beat." The latter was not surprising, inasmuch as the offbeat rhythm presented technical difficulties for the social dancer. Competitive dancers are required to maintain the "offbeat rhythm." We, as recreational round dancers, have embraced the "downbeat rhythm" and in so doing have discovered a feeling of true accomplishment in this Latin rhythm.

Latin HipThe music for the cha cha is in 4/4 time, the primary accent occurring on the first beat and the secondary accent on the third beat. This rhythm is interpreted by the dancer with foot movements on 1, 2, 3&4; giving a beat value of 1, 1, 1/2, 1/2, 1. Every step should be taken with pressure on the ball of the foot, with the knee flexed, and as the weight is taken onto 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 hip movement is less pronounced on steps having only a 1/2-beat value.

The cha cha cha is an exciting rhythm. Remember that this Latin dance, as well as its music, is flirtatious, snappy, sharp, crisp, and fun. Enjoy! Let yourself go!

From clinic notes prepared for the URDC annual convention, 2000, and reprinted in the DRDC newsletter, December 2014/January 2015.


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