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What is the Cha Cha?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The cha cha, cha-cha, or chachacha is a popular Latin dance inspired by the mambo dance craze of the 1940s and early 50s. Enrique Jorrín, the leader of the popular band Orchestra America, is credited with introducing the rhythm based on mambo music, which created the offshoot dance.

Jorrín may have been inspired by the variant of the dance already being performed in Cuba, sometimes referred to as the mambo-rumba. Conversely, the cha cha rhythm is often thought to have been derived from the use of bells or maracas to define the chachacha aspect of the count.

The easiest steps are based on slower music with Common Time, 4/4. The first two steps are slow, taken on beats one and two. This is followed by the cha cha action of three staccato steps, the first on three, the second on the half beat of three, and the third on four. The slow steps allow, particularly in more traditional Latin music, for a certain amount of hip undulation. The steps are usually taken close together, which provides ease in producing the quick step and redirects back to the slow step.

More advanced forms of the cha cha may begin the slow count on 2, and end the count on one, providing a nice counter-beat to the music. Both Ballroom and Cuban cha cha start on the 2 count, while country western versions begin on the one count.

By the late 1950s, the cha cha in America had replaced the mambo in popularity. It was quickly added to the Latin Dance repertoire of competitive ballroom dancing as well. The ballroom version performed today tends to be danced to much quicker music, which eliminates some of the elements that made the dance initially popular. Quicker music does not allow for the hip undulation and reduces the sensuality of the dance.

While beginning cha cha steps are fairly easy to master, the transitions, turns and tricks may be a bit more difficult. Most can master a few steps by way of the many DVDs that can teach basic elements of ballroom dancing. These are widely available on the Internet. In addition, there are some free sites dedicated to the steps of the dance.

More advanced footwork is probably best learned in a classroom setting where a teacher can correct mistakes and position. The most frequent mistake made by new learners is taking chachacha steps that are too big. These steps really must be small, light and close together.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Musical Expert contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Musical Expert contributor, Tricia...
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