Learn all about the Cha-Cha!

What is the Cha-Cha?

The cha-cha is one of the five main Latin ballroom dances most frequently taught in dance schools around the world. The steps are compact and based partly on the rumba and mambo, with plenty of hip and pelvic movements. The basic forward movement is supplemented with various turns, dips, and slides.

History of the Cha-Cha

Like the rumba, the cha-cha can trace its roots to the Afro-Cuban community in Havana. Big bands from the U.S. mainland made their way into the exciting clubs that populated the capital and developed a unique fusion of rumba music and American jazz that eventually came to be known as the Mambo.

When famed dance teacher Pierre Lavelle (aka “Monsieur Pierre”) arrived in Cuba to study local dance in the early 1950s, he noticed the additional steps that many performers added to the typical mambo and rumba. He returned to England and began teaching these extra steps as an entirely different dance, which later came to be known as the cha-cha. A number of theories attempt to explain the origins of the name: the Cuban dance known as the guaracha, the gliding steps of the chasse, and even supposedly the sound of a type of Haitian bell. Whatever its true source, however, there’s no question that the cha-cha has become one of the most popular Latin dances in the world.

How to Dance the Cha-Cha/Basic Dance Steps

The cha-cha endures as a popular ballroom dance partly because of its appealing mix of breezy movements and smoldering sensuality. Some things to keep in mind as you perform the cha-cha:

  • Cha-cha music is in 4/4 time.
  • Steps are small and compact, with most of the movement happening in the hips and pelvic areas.
  • Although this is an oversimplification, think of the cha-cha as being a series of sliding steps, with weight constantly shifting from one foot to another as you rock back and forth between each step. Keep your legs flexible and supple, bending and straightening them as you shift your weight.
  • The dance typically commences on the music’s second beat.
  • The lead begins with the left foot, while the follower begins with the right.

The basic forward movement is a must for beginners interested in learning how to dance the cha-cha:

  • Slide your Left Foot forward, shifting your weight onto that foot. Keep your Right Foot stationary.
  • Shift your weight to your Right Foot.
  • Step back to the side-left and shift your weight to your Left Foot. As you do so, close with your Right Foot.
  • Shift your weight onto your Right Foot. Shift your Left Food to the side and shift weight onto your Left Food. Keep your Right Foot stationary.

Great Cha-Cha Dance Songs

  • “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas” (various artists)
  • “Smooth” (Rob Thomas and Santana)
  • “Kokomo” (Beach Boys)
  • “Under the Boardwalk” (The Drifters)
  • “Bailamos” (Enrique Iglesias)

Cha-Cha in the Movies

  • Flower Drum Song” (1961)
  • Grease” (1978)
  • Dirty Dancing” (1987)
  • Shall We Dance?” (2004)