Cha-Cha-Cha Genre: Latin Ballroom dance Time of origin: 1950s Time signature: 4/4 Country of origin: Havana, Cuba
Cha-cha-cha is a dance performed in Dancing with the Stars.
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This Latin dance originated in Cuba in the 1950s. It is known for its sharp hip and leg action and footwork.
It is one of the five Latin dances currently competed internationally by professional dancers, along with the Samba, Rumba, Jive, and Paso Doble.
Cha-cha-cha was introduced to Dancing with the Stars in Season 1 and has been a regularly-performed style ever since. It is often performed in the first week of competition.
In the early 1950s, Enrique Jorrín worked as a violinist and composer with the charanga group Orquesta America. The group performed at dance halls in Havana where they played danzon, danzonete, and danzon-mambo for dance-orientated crowds. Jorrín noticed that many of the dancers at these gigs had difficulty with the syncopated rhythms of the danzon-mambo. To make his music more appealing to dancers Jorrín began composing songs where the melody was marked strongly on the first downbeat and the rhythm was less syncopated. When Orquesta América performed these new compositions at the Silver Star Club in Havana it was noticed that the dancers had improvised a triple-step in their footwork producing the sound “cha-cha-cha”. Thus the new style that Jorrín had developed came to be known as “cha-cha-cha” and became associated with a dance step where dancers perform a triple step.
The basic footwork pattern of cha-cha-cha (one-two-cha-cha-cha) is also found in several Afro-Cuban dances from the Santeria religion. For example, one of the steps used in the dance for the orisha Ogun uses an identical footwork pattern. These Afro-Cuban dances predate the development of cha-cha-cha and were known by many Cubans in the 1950’s, especially those of African origin. Thus, some have speculated that the step of cha-cha-cha was inspired by these Afro-Cuban dances.
In 1953 Orquesta América released two of Jorrin’s new compositions, “La Engañadora” and “Silver Star” on the Cuban record label Panart. These were the first cha-cha-cha compositions ever recorded. They immediately became hits in Havana and other Cuban charanga orchestras quickly imitated this new style. Soon there was a cha-cha-cha craze in Havana’s dance halls were both the music and the associated dance became popular. This craze soon spread to Mexico city and by 1955 the music and dance of the cha-cha-cha had become popular in Latin America, the United States, and Western Europe, following in the footsteps of the mambo which had been a worldwide craze a few years earlier.
Cha-cha-cha is danced to authentic Cuban music, although in ballroom competitions it is often danced to Latin Pop or Latin Rock. The music for the international ballroom cha-cha-cha is energetic and with a steady beat. The Cuban cha-cha-cha is more sensual and may involve complex polyrhythms.
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Styles of cha-cha-cha dance may differ in the place of the chasse in the rhythmical structure. The original Cuban and the ballroom cha-cha count is “two, three, chachacha”, “four-and-one, two, three” or “one, two, three, chacha”. The dance does not start on the first beat of a bar, though it can start with a transfer of weight to the lead’s right.
Nevertheless, many social dancers count “one, two, cha-cha-cha” and may find it difficult to make the adjustment to the correct timing of the dance, “two, three, cha-cha, one”.
International Latin-Style Cha-Cha
Cha-cha is one of the five dances of the “Latin American” program of international ballroom competitions.
As described above, the basis of the modern dance was laid down in the 1950s by Pierre & Lavelle and developed in the 1960s by Walter Laird and other top competitors of the time. The basic steps taught to learners today are based on these accounts.
In general, steps are kept compact and the dance is danced generally without any rise and fall. The modern ballroom technique of Cha-cha, and other ballroom dances, do undergo gradual evolution, particularly in competition dancing, but in essence this dance is still firmly based on its Cuban origin in the 1950s.