Learn All About the Cheeky and Lively Cha-Cha Dance

From the history to the basic steps, here's your guide to the cha-cha

Couple dancers ardently perform the latin american dance on a large professional stage with sparkle fireworks
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The cha-cha is a popular, social Latin dance. Lively and flirtatious, the cha-cha is full of passion and energy.

Cha-Cha Characteristics

The cha-cha is a vibrant, flamboyant and playful dance. The light and bubbly feel of the cha-cha gives it a unique sense of fun.

The cha-cha requires small steps and lots of hip motion (Cuban motion), as it is danced in 4/4 time. The fourth beat is split into two, giving it the characteristic rhythm of 2, 3, 4 and 1.

Therefore, five steps are danced to four beats. You may have heard it counted like, "One, two, cha-cha-cha." 

History of the Cha-Cha

Also called the cha-cha-cha, this unmistakable dance originated in Cuba in the 1940s. Composer and violinist Enrique Jorrín developed the dance as a variant of the mambo and rumba. The name is onomatopoeic, derived from the sound of dancers' shoes as they shuffle around the floor.

Cha-Cha Action

To dance the cha-cha like a professional, dancers must master Cuban motion, a common hip movement in Latin-style dancing. Cuban motion is a distinct way in which the hips move up and down. The hip movements mainly come from alternately bending and straightening the knees; as one knee bends (or straightens), the same hip drops (or raises).

The basic components of the cha-cha are triple steps and rock steps. Quick, small steps must be maintained throughout the dance. The movement of the hips results from the constant bending and straightening of the knees.

Dancers must synchronize each movement as they dance parallel to one another.

Distinctive Cha-Cha Steps

Because the cha-cha is similar to the rumba and mambo, several steps coincide with the steps of these dances. The main difference between the dances is that the slower steps of the rumba and the mambo are replaced with a triple step in the cha-cha.

The following are a few basic cha-cha steps:

  • The cha-cha chasse
  • The fan
  • The hockey stick
  • Manita a Mano
  • The New York
  • The New York bus stop
  • El Mojito
  • Underarm spot turns
  • The liquidizer
  • The Alemana turn
  • El Paseo
  • The peek-a-boo
  • The zigzag

Cha Cha Rhythm and Music

Because of the carefree nature of the cha-cha, its music should produce a happy, party-like atmosphere, with a tempo of 110 to 130 beats per minute. The cha-cha is often danced to authentic Cuban music but can be performed to all music genres, including country, funk, and hip-hop.