History Of Cha-Cha
You can call it Cha-Cha or Cha-Cha-Cha. The likelihood is that only professional ballroom dancers really care (I call it “Cha-Cha” simply because it is quicker to say). Without a doubt though… Cha-Cha is the one Latin dance rhythm that has been integrated into more American pop music than any other.
When you try to research its origins, you get a few different stories that do sort of tie in together.
One person who undeniably had a lot to do with it was a Cuban violinist named Enrique Jorrin. In 1954, while a member of the Orquesta America Charanga, he made several recordings wherein he slowed down the orchestra’s mambo beat because several ladies had complained it was too fast.
It turned out many people liked it. The orchestra continued to play and promote the new dance and by 1959 people all over America were ‘ga-ga over the Cha-Cha‘ and it was said to be the one of the most popular latin dances in America. It later incorporated many rock and roll attributes as well as became a common theme sound in commercials and shows…like “I love Lucy”, “Tea for Two”…I’m sure you may have heard others.
This orchestra came from Cuba and they claimed that when Cuban ladies danced, their heels smacked the floor making a sound that was later described as ‘Cha-Cha’.
Sounds plausible doesn’t it?
Another explanation I’ve heard is that the name ‘Cha-Cha’ first popped up in Haiti where it was the name of an instrument used to keep time. This is the instrument that later became the ‘guijro’ which is used in all latin percussion ensembles today. One of my favorites too!
The instrument originally was made from a plant in Haiti that has seedpods called ‘Cha-Cha‘. Locals made small rattles from them known as ‘Cha-Cha’ and the music was played by Voodoo bands (really! I’m not making this up!). The leader of the band used the ‘Cha-Cha’ as a metronome to keep the group in rhythm.
So….I think that it might be that the guys in the band who coined the term ‘Cha-Cha‘ had already heard the sound made by this ‘bean’ instrument. Sounds possible too, doesn’t it?
Anyway….the dance became very popular in America and even today it is one of the five top Latin American dances in professional ballroom competitions.
The modern style of dancing cha-cha comes from a dance teacher named Monsieur Pierre Zurcher-Margolle. He brought it back to England from a trip to Cuba in l952. Dancers found the rhythm and the music very infectious and this is probably how it got into the area of popular social and professional competition dancing.
Cha-Cha Is Unique
There are a few things that are very unique about Cha-Cha. First of all… The hip movement and staccato footwork. It is very, very “latin”, sexy and sensual. Its unique rhythm and sound is considered very flirty, infectious and upbeat…although it can also sound very nice slowed down. It is a really fun dance and it can really distinguish you on the dance floor.
Nowadays, in the salsa clubs, you really don’t hear too much Cha-Cha. Certainly not as much as I’d like. Of all the latin ‘street dances’….Cha-Cha seems to be the hardest to learn as many find learning the beats to be a challenge.
Finally, if you want some Cha-Cha trivia….In 1958 at age18, Bruce Lee won the Hong Kong Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship.