International Latin Technique/Cha Cha Cha

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Cha Cha Cha is often the first dance a beginner will learn when they take up latin dancing. The "two-three-cha-cha-cha" rhythm and 'chasse' (side-close-side step) characterise this dance. It is danced in 4/4 time, at competition to a tempo of 30-33 measures per minutes (120 bpm).

History of the Dances[edit | edit source]

Cha cha cha is a true latin dance. Originating in Cuba, it developed from the danzon, an older form of Cuban dance. In 1952, dance teacher Pierre Margolie visited Cuba and saw what appeared to him as a Rumba with extra beats. On returning to England he started teaching this dance separately, and the cha cha cha became a popular dance in its own right.[[1]]

The name is said to arise from the sound of sandals slapping against the floor in the cha cha chasse.

Mood of the Dance[edit | edit source]

The cha cha should be a very cheeky, sassy dance and quite fast with your feet. The dancers should be lively and interplay should be strong, though independent. Eye contact is important throughout the dance, and conveys the sexual tension between dancers.

Basic Steps[edit | edit source]

As dance instruction studios started springing up they often developed their own names for various steps. Names also differ if you are taught using an International syllabus. Therefore the names below may be very different than those you are used to.

Measure, Beat Man Woman
1 : 1 Place weight onto RF Place weight onto LF
1 : 2 LF forward, slightly across body, toe lead. RF back
1 : 3 Replace weight onto RF Replace weight onto LF
1 : 4 Small Side step with LF Small Side step with RF
1 : '&' Close RF to LF Close LF to RF
2 : 1 Slightly larger Side step with LF Slightly larger Side step with RF
2 : 2 RF back LF forward, slightly across body, toe lead.
2 : 3 Replace weight onto LF Replace weight onto RF
2 : 4 Small Side step with RF Small Side step with LF
2 : '&' Close LF to RF Close RF to LF
3 : 1 Slightly larger Side step with RF Slightly larger Side step with LF

Start again from Measure 1, Beat 2.

General Technique Tips[edit | edit source]

Footwork[edit | edit source]

In general, the footwork technique in latin dances is to place the ball of the foot first, then to lower the weight onto it, whilst squeezing down the heel. Feet should be placed a comfortable distance from the base (i.e. below the hips), not too close as a full movement cannot be developed; but not too far as though this can look impressive, the recovery from a wide step can take too long and therefore leave a person chasing the music.

Legs[edit | edit source]

In general, the basic technique taught to beginners is to keep the supporting leg straight. A more advanced dancer however might like to try to keep both legs as straight as possible throughout the dance. As with all latin dances, knees and thighs should pass one another quite tightly, and though feet should be turned out, this should not be to the extent of exposing the inner thigh. If the inner thigh is exposed the legs can bow, and an undesirable gap between legs is often visible, breaking the line from head to toe.

On taking a step in front of the body, like in the basic step, knees should lock together - you should feel the knee of the trailing leg in the crook of the leg that is in front (whilst remembering to keep them straight).

Hips[edit | edit source]

For a cha cha, hips should move smoothly in a figure of 8 movement. It is from hip motion that leg and weight placement should arise. Again, taking an example of the basic figure of this dance: On the back step, commencing it weight should be totally over the supporting leg. Foot and thigh should then be glided backwards away from body, and weight transferred onto them by rolling the hip round in front and out past the leg. To recover from the position, the hip should be rotated across the other leg, bringing weight back over the stationary leg and completing a figure of 8 with the hips.

In general, hips should not rise or fall, but stay on approximately the same horizontal level. The bottom half of the body (i.e. navel down) should be isolated from the chest and shoulders, which should remain primarily still. Movement should still be carried through, e.g. from the feet, but in a main, arms and chest line should be strong, focussing on opening out his body and asserting masculinity. The lady can afford to be more insular, using her arms to focus attention on her womanly bosom, wiggling her hips and bottom somewhat more with this movement carrying through her body.

Timing[edit | edit source]

As a beginner, spending a whole beat on steps 2 and 3, and half a beat each on 4, & and 1 is perfectly acceptable. However, as your dancing improves and matures, then so will the phrasing of your cha cha. There are a few considerations to take into account here, which generally are accepted as advanced technique:

  • The moving step (i.e. forward or backward on a basic - generally beat 2 of a bar) earns more of a developed movement than a simple replacement of weight and so spend more time on this.
  • On a cha cha chasse, the first two steps should be slightly smaller than the final step (see basic steps) and this lends more time to be taken over the final step, which produces a more developed cha cha phrasing.

Basic and Standard Figures[edit | edit source]

As previously mentioned the figures are grouped in on interpretation of what should be learned at what level. This gives a good indication for a dancer still learning the ropes the order and difficulty level of each variation.

Beginner[edit | edit source]

Basic Movement (Closed and in place)[edit | edit source]

General Notes[edit | edit source]

The cha-cha-cha basic is danced with the lady in the closed position. The lady is held in closed hold with the man stepping to the side on the 1. Forward on 2 back on 3 and to the side on 4&. This happens in the opposite for the back step. Like most descriptions it is difficult to imagine without you actually seeing it.

One of the main things a beginner should learn is the straight leg action on the 123 of the cha-cha-cha. The leg is actually locked which translates quite naturally into the hip action. To get the movement sharper the 1 can be delayed to allow the foot to shoot forward for the to or backwards for the 2. Keep the foot not carrying the weight straight and pointed.

Feet and Legs[edit | edit source]

Man 1 side with R foot 2 Forward left foot 3 Back R foot 4 Side left foot (small step) & Close R to Left foot 1 side with L Foot 2 Back with R Foot 3 Forward with L Foot 4 Side right foot (small step) & Close L foot R foot

Head[edit | edit source]

This figure is dance in the closed hold therefore the partner are in front of each other and they are looking into each others eyes.

Arms[edit | edit source]

This is a closed hold therefore the mans left hand is holding the ladies right hand and the mans right hand is placed on the ladies left shoulderblade. The ladies left hand is placed on the man's upper back, behind his shoulder.

  • Time Step
  • Switch Turns
  • underarm Turns Right and Left
  • New York (Open Counter Promenade into Open promenade)
  • Hand to Hand
  • Three Cha cha cha's (Forward and backward and in CP and OPP)
  • Shoulder to Shoulder
  • There and Back

Bronze[edit | edit source]

  • Shoulder to Shoulder (From Hockey Stick)
  • Open Basic
  • Side Steps(Left and Right)
  • Spot Turns(Left and Right)
  • Fan (From closed hold Compact Chasse only)
  • Alemana
  • Hockey Stick(Compact Chasse only)
  • Natural Top (in Full)
  • Natural Opening out Movement
  • Close Hip Twist

Silver[edit | edit source]

  • Closed Hip Twist
  • Open Hip Twist
  • Reverse Top
  • Opening Out from Reverse Top
  • Aida
  • Spiral
  • Curl
  • Rope Spinning
  • Cross Basic (no Quapacha timing, no Underarm Turn)
  • Cuban Breaks (Including Split Cuban Breaks)
  • Ronde, Twist & Slip Chasse

Gold[edit | edit source]

  • Alemana (Right to Right hand hold)
  • Chase
  • Advanced Hip Twist
  • Turkish Towel
  • Sweetheart
  • Follow My Leader
  • Foot Changes
  • Cross Basic (with Underarm Turn and Guapache timing may be used)
  • Runaway Chasse
  • Syncopated Open Hip Twist
  • Advanced Hip Twist

Basic (Closed) *

In Place
Side Basic
Open Basic

Time Step *

Spot Turns (Solo):

to Left #
to Right $

Under Arm Turns:

to Right #
to Left $

New Yorks:

Check from Open CPP $
Check from Open PP #

Hand to Hand; Also with Three Cha Cha Chas$#

Cross Basic *#; Also with Lady's Solo Turn

Fan #*

Alemana : Finish A#; Finish B:

from Fan Pos
from Open (Facing) Pos

Hockey Stick #

Natural Top : Finish A; Finish B

Opening Out to Right

Close (Closed) Hip Twist #: Basic; Advanced

Open Hip Twist #

Cuban Breaks:

in Open Pos
in Open CPP
in Shadow Pos on Same Foot

Split Cuban Breaks:

in Open CPP
from Open CPP and Open PP
from Open PP and Open CPP
in Shadow Pos on Same Foot

Three Cha Cha Chas : Fwd; Bwd; CPP; PP

Shoulder to Shoulder

Turkish Towel *

Methods of Changing Feet/Foot Changes

Reverse Top


Rope Spinning


Follow My Leader

Close Hip Twist Spiral

Open Hip Twist Spiral

Curl #


Opening Out from Reverse Top

Notes[edit | edit source]

Cha Cha Cha Chasses may be replaced by: Lock Step Fwd, Lock Step Bwd, Hip Twist Chasse, Crossover Chasse, Ronde Chasse, Ronde Close Chasse, Open Hip Twist Chasse and Forward and Backward Runs where applicable.

Guapacha Timing may be used during figures marked *.

Figures marked # may be finished in Open CPP.

Figures marked $ may be finished in Open PP.

References[edit | edit source]