History of Dances

International Style Cha Cha

When the English dance teacher Pierre Lavelle visited Cuba in 1952, he realised that sometimes the Rumba was danced with extra beats. When he returned to Britain, he started teaching these steps as a separate dance (Lavelle, 1975, 2).

The name could have been derived from the Spanish 'Chacha' meaning 'nursemaid', or 'chachar' meaning 'to chew coca leaves' (Smith, 1971, 161), or from 'char' meaning "tea' (Taylor, 1958, 150), or most likely from the fast and cheerful'Cuban dance: the Guaracha (Ellfeldt, 1974,59). This dance has been popular in Europe from before the turn of the century. For example it is listed on the program of the Finishing Assembly in 1898 of Dancie Neill at Coupar Angus in Scotland (Hood, 1980, 102).

It has also been suggested that the name Cha Cha is derived onomatipeically from the sound of the feet in the chasse which is included in many of the steps (Sadie, 1980, 5/86). This would account for it being called the 'Cha Cha Cha' by some people, after the rhythm:

whereas others call it the 'Cha Cha' after the rhythm:

These differ only as to which beat of the musical bar is stressed by the dancing: beat 4 in the first case, beat 1 in the second (Rust, 1969, 105).

In 1954, the dance was described as a "Mambo with a guiro rhythm" (Burchfield, 1976, I/473). A guiro is a musical instrument consisting of a dried gourd rubbed by a serrated stick (Burchfield, 1976, I/1318).

The Mambo was originally a Haitian dance introduced to the West in 1948 by Prado (Burchfield, 1976, II/809). The word "Mambo" is the name of a voodoo priestess in the religion brought by the Negroes from Africa (Ellfeldt, 1974, 86). Thus the Cha Cha Cha had its origins in the religious ritual dances of West Africa. There are three forms of Mambo: single, double, and triple. The triple has five (!) steps to a bar, and this is the version that evolved into the Cha Cha Cha (Rust, 1969, 105) (Sadie, 1980, 100).

The "Cha Cha" is danced currently at about 120 beats per minute. The steps are taken on the beats, with a strong hip movement as the knee straightens on the half beats in between. The weight is kept well forward, with forward steps taken toe-flat, and with minimal torso movement. The chasse on 4&1 is used to emphasise the step on beat 1, which may be held a moment longer than the other steps to match the emphasis of the beat in the music.