by Harold & Meredith Sears
4 beats/measure; 26 - 34 meas/min
Along with Rumba and Mambo, Cha developed in Haiti and in Cuba and migrated to the United States in the 1950s. These rhythms are closely related — we can think of Mambo as a fast Rumba and Cha as a triple Mambo. These three rhythms have many figures in common.
Cha is danced with a loose hold and with sharper, more staccato movements than in Rumba. The tempo of Cha is about the same as that of Rumba, but we are fitting five steps into a measure instead of only three in Rumba, so Cha feels a good bit faster, too. Where Rumba is danced quick, quick, slow; Cha is danced quick, quick, quick/and, quick; or 1, 2, cha/cha, cha; In Latin music, you can hear the "cha-cha-cha." That is, you can hear some instrument being played on the "and" count (in other rhythms, the "and" can just be silence between two sounds).
Most Cha steps are taken ball-flat, although the quickest steps might be taken ball only. Step with the left, press into that step without weight, straighten the left knee and roll your weight onto the left leg, and bend the right knee. This will move the left hip to the side and back. More specifically, step foreward with a ball/flat/straighten/hip, and back ball/flat/straighten/hip to get a rhythmic and rolling Cuban or Latin hip action. Use the inside edge of the ball of your foot and big toe, and this will move the non-supporting knee in front of the supporting knee and add even more to the Cuban hip, but don't exagerate. Don't "wiggle your hips." The hip movement is not independent but comes from the feet and knees. The whole body is flowing with the music.
Round dancers dance almost all of their Chas beginning on beat 1 of the measure, the strong downbeat — 123&4 — but ballroom dancers (and a few round dances, such as Wheels Cha by Jim & Bonnie Bahr) begin on beat 2 — 234&1. In round dancing, we call this 4&1 Cha, to distinguish it from the more common 3&4 Cha.
If you'd like to try 4&1, any round-dance Cha can be danced that way. Just hold the first beat, step on beat 2, and continue to the cues. Or start with the trail foot free, step side on beat 1, begin the first figure on beat 2, and continue to the cues.
One advantage to dancing the 4&1 timing lies in the fact that Latin music often emphasizes that part of the phrase. You end up dancing your "cha-cha-cha" where the music says "bum-ba-bum." Another advantage is that 4&1 timing lets you put the last "hip" — of a Half Basic, for instance — prominently on the downbeat. You would dance: 234&1/hip., This might feel good to the music, really Latin, sensual. I don't know. Try it. Let "the music tell you what to do."