A part of social American style ballroom dancing includes the Latin dances that originated in Puerto Rico, South America, Cuba, the Dominican Republic,  and other areas along the Caribbean. This dance genre includes the rumba, bolero, cha cha, mambo, samba, merengue, salsa and bachata, and others but these are the most popular Latin dances in the United States currently.  

This definition of Latin dance will be used in this blog rather than the definition used by the International Society of Teachers of Dance, ISTD or the DVIDA organization, both organization attempt to standardize the dance genres for judging panels at Dancesport competitions. In these organizations the cha cha, rumba, samba, bolero and East Coast swing are classified as “American style rhythm dances.”

The Latin dances influenced dance genres that evolved in conjunction with them and some of the dances that were developed later like West Coast swing and Nightclub 2-step.

Latin dance venues are currently very popular which feature either a live Latin dance band or a deejay with a great Latin dance  playlist. The Latin club venues frequently offer an early evening dance lesson in salsa, bachata or merengue. The venues are most often nightclubs but occasionally other venues are included like dance studios, dance halls and also dance cruises or portable dance floors at wedding receptions or private parties, etc.

Most of the Latin dances are spot dances with the exception of samba which moves around the floor. This means the Latin dances are popular on cruise ships, wedding receptions and small nightclub floors. Many wedding couples choose a Latin dance for their first dance at their wedding.

The focus of this blog will the American style cha cha but upcoming blogs will feature the other Latin ballroom and nightclub dances. A further distinction for the American style Latin dances might be the ones popular in ballroom dance circles like the rumba, cha cha, samba, mambo and somewhat less but also the bolero versus nightclub or “club” Latin dances like the salsa, merengue and bachata.

The cha cha developed in the 1950’s in Cuba with the slowing of mambo music and the insertion of a split on the fourth beat to create a triple rhythm. The Latin mambo dancers inserted a chasse splitting the fourth beat, counted 4&. The cha cha is considerably easier for dancers than the mambo which is danced to very fast tempo music.

There are essentially three arenas for cha cha, ballroom dancing, International style cha cha for competition and a club style cha cha for Latin venue nightclubs. At one time in the 1970’s there was a Disco Cha danced to Disco music, also in the 1990’s and early two thousands there was a popular country western cha, both partner and the Cowboy Cha Cha with a couples dancing in a circle to a pattern sequence. Country Western clubs, Latin club and ballroom dance studios still play cha cha as part of their regular dance venues.

One of the reasons cha cha has remained popular since it started in the late 1940’s early l1950’s is due to is versatility. The cha cha can be danced to a wide variety of music including Latin pop, country western, 40’s cha cha, soul, rock, contemporary pop, disco and funk. I think this is why dancers love the cha cha. Knowledgeable dance deejays know how to select songs that dancers can do several different types of dance genres like a mix of cha cha, West Coast swing or hustle works really well.

The dance frame in cha cha starts with an upright posture with the upper torso lifted by tightening the lats and the shoulders held down and arms held slightly more relaxed than in the smooth dances like waltz, foxtrot , tango and Viennese waltz. This lift allows more freedom in the ribcage and stretches the area between the bottom of the ribcage and the hips accentuating the Cuban hip motion. The ribcage and hips move in a contra movement rather than at the same time. The knee action creates part of the hip action by bending one knee at a time, so one knee is bent while the other is straight. The hips also use a figure eight movement to create not only lateral movement but also a twisting and stretching action. The ankles are used to press into the floor and to lift off. The inside blade of the foot strikes the floor first rolling the foot to the middle, heel leads are not used in cha cha. The cha cha uses static balance rather than the flight used in smooth dances.

In the category of performance dancing, Latin dances are often chosen due to their inherent aesthetic beauty.  While social ballroom dancing focuses on connection through lead and follow there is still room for self expression and aesthetics. This attention to aesthetics is important but should not divert attention from ones partner. It is essential that the dancer doesn’t sacrifice his/her partners comfort in order to achieve some level of perfection or beauty. The core element of social ballroom dancing is what the partners create together to the music through cooperation, communication and creativity. This is the essence of social partner dancing!