Cha Cha Cha

Dancing Cha-Cha-Cha and Drinking Champagne

The Cha-Cha-Cha is a coquettish flirt on the dance floor. You even dance it with your eyes. It is joyful, exuberant and sparkling like a bottle of champagne. During the dance you only have eyes for each other – together for a moment outside of the world. You provoke each other and play with each other. But you stay uncommitted. After the mutual flirt comes the separation. Everything is superficial. Nothing lasts.

A Detailed History of the Cha-Cha-Cha

The Cha-Cha-Cha belongs to the Latin and North American dances. If you want to understand it and its origin, you first have to take a look at the Cuban Mambo, from which the Cha-Cha-Cha descended. In this respect it should be pointed out however that we have to draw a line between the music and the dance of the Mambo; the music of the mambo comes from a very old tradition, deeply rooted in the heart of Africa. The Mambo dance, on the other hand, is an artificial creation.

The Mambo music consists of a complex netting of different rhythms. To the untrained ear, it sounds like rhythmical anarchy. The word “Mambo” was not originally a term for a dance, but simply an Afro-Cuban name for “polymetry”. Every real Afro-Cuban dance is therefore danced like a “Mambo” – so polymetric – and this means rhythm against rhythm. The music at first sounds like each musician is playing his own rhythm, as if there is a complete chaos. But there is no chaos. The whole thing has its order. The Mambo is a complex composition, in which each seemingly lose line of rhythm subordinates itself skillfully to the whole in a harmonic way. So it’s a kind of music which has grown out of its great tradition of African origin; the Mambo is the music of voodoo, the music of the people.

But how did this dance come to life? During the Second World War Cuban musicians came to New York. At that time, Cuban jazz was very popular there. This substantially influenced the Mambo music of the Cubans. Especially the typical emphasis of the swing on the second and the fourth beat fascinated them. From these new rhythms a new kind of music was born, and to match this music, so to say out of need, an “artificial” dance was created. Because the Cubans called their music Mambo, the new dance was named Mambo as well, for they used their Cuban steps for it. This original Cuban step became the basic step of the Mambo. The quick pace of this step gave the new dance something very dynamic. The hips are moved quickly and backwards on the mentioned second and fourth beat. This way of dancing is more like the Rumba, though.

It was just this similarity that generated great confusion after the war, since the English held on to the Mambo under the name Rumba. Nonetheless they separated between the two dances, because except from the identical stressing, the two dances had little in common. The confusion however soon disappeared, the rhythmically so difficult Mambo dance was soon pushed away by its descendant, the Cha-Cha-Cha.

The Cha-Cha-Cha is very young compared to many other competition dances, even younger than the Jive. It was developed by Enrique Jorrin in Havana around 1953 and is therefore an artificial creation, just like the Mambo. The name Cha-Cha-Cha is an echoism, a so-called onomatopoeia. The Cha-Cha-Cha is a name for a kind of triplet, emphasized in a definite and clear way. The orchestra mostly uses the maracas for this purpose, whose sound is very close to that of the Cha-Cha-Cha; we are talking about pumpkin skins filled with grist or seeds. This concise, clear rhythm is the big advantage dancers of the Cha-Cha-Cha have compared to the much more complicated Mambo. At the same time, it is the characteristic which clearly separates the two dances from each other. The Cha-Cha-Cha is therefore like a “triple Mambo”, which was actually its former name. Another name was Mambo-Cha-Cha-Cha. The Cha-Cha-Cha, however, must be played more slowly than the Mambo, with only 35 beats per minute, so that this characteristic triple can come through clearly. Just like the Mambo – or like the Rumba – the Cha-Cha-Cha is also like an erotic game between the dancer and his partner – but in fact it is rather like a harmless flirt.

The couple doesn’t unite, they just fancy each other. Nothing is taken seriously, they are charmed by one another and they play with each other. Everything is joyful, cheeky and like the sparkling of champagne. This is of course also expressed through the music; it inspires the dancers to do great figures. They clap their hands while dancing, they throw their legs up, they push their partner with the hands, they separate, and they even threaten each other with gestures and looks. But after the separation there is the reunification. Nothing lasts very long; everything is temporary and stays somehow open. In addition to this, the Cha-Cha-Cha is enriched by amusing figures, sometimes funny, sometimes a bit frivolous and often seemingly saucy. It sparkles with radiant youthful cheerfulness. The Cha-Cha-Cha is full of variations, a floating game of the body. Arms, legs, hands, yes even fingers and eyes are part of an ever surging wave of rhythm and music.

In 1958 this dance broke all records. This was also the time when it finally arrived in Germany. The dance instructor Udo Bier from Wiesbaden and the dance instructors Traute and Gerd Hädrich from Hamburg brought the Cha-Cha-Cha to Germany already in 1955. They presented the dance to the German ADTV dance instructors at a congress in 1957 and recommended it as a new “vogue dance” at the time. This description does no longer fit the Cha-Cha-Cha nowadays, as vogue dances are passing fancies – the Cha-Cha-Cha is exactly the opposite; it has become a classic and is still the most popular of the Latin and North American dances among all ages. Due to its slow pace and lack of continuous turns it isn’t very difficult to dance, even though it looks very swinging and dynamic.