by Chris and Terri Cantrell
Before the rhythm was called the ‘Cha Cha’ it was referred to as the ‘triple mambo’. The cha evolved from a desire to slow down the tempo and tame the aerobic and jerky actions of the mambo to make it easier for the general public to dance. The mambo was a fusion of jazz and Latin rhythms, qualities that much of the Cha Cha music of today retains.
Based on a variety of sources it appears that a British dance teacher, Pierre Leville, originally introduced the cha dance to the world in the early 1950s. He noticed that the rumba and mambo were occasionally danced with a couple of extra steps or hip movements. In 1948 in an almost parallel occurrence, bandleader Enrique Jorrin, of the Cuban dance orchestra America, composed the first known cha music. The music was a slowed down version of the mambo with syncopation in alternating measures (three step rhythm to two beats of music). The term “Cha Cha Cha” appears to have two origins: (1) from the shuffling sounds made by the feet of dancers to the syncopated portion of the music; (2) from the ‘cha cha’, seedpod producing plant, from the West Indies; these seedpods are used to create a small rattle also called ‘cha-cha’ also called the maracas.
A few of the other artists that strongly influenced the cha cha include: Chicho O’Farril, Pérez Prado, Tito Puente, Charles Aznavour, Rubén Blades, Willie Colón. Cha cha is still popular today in Latin, pop, and country music. “Cowboys swaying their hips, what is the world coming to?” (anonymous). Country cha cha is typically slightly slower and uses less change up of body movement than other chas. Parts of the cha cha rhythm can be heard in the music of: Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, and Gloria Estafan among others.
Timing: Cha Cha music is written in 4/4 time and is generally played at a tempo of 30-32 measures/minute (~126 beats/minute). In Round Dancing the typical timing used is: 1,2,3,&,4 (QQ Q&Q). In the traditional ballroom setting the timing is counted: 2,3,4,&,1 (QQ Q&Q) beginning the figure on beat 2 instead of beat 1.