There is a problem with cha cha. But the problem isn’t the dance itself. Cha cha, actually, is my favorite dance. I like it even more than bachata.
The real problem with cha cha is that many people do not have the desire to dance it.
Cha cha (typically) takes courage; it takes personal expression; it takes patience, and connection. Not many people feel particularly compelled by those ideas, or up to the task.
The thing about mambo is that it’s got familiar patterns we can all rely on. Leaders can get away with doing turn patterns the whole dance. You can go seamlessly from one familiar move to another, tossing a follow this way and that, and pretty much everybody will think that you’re ‘dancing.’
While I do agree that this is ‘dancing’ and that people who dance this way are quite good at it, shuffling through partnerwork in various 1 2, 3, 5, 6, 7 patterns that you’ve learned and drilled doesn’t necessarily fly in cha cha.
The distinctive – and glorious – thing about cha cha is that it slows you down. The basic for cha cha takes nearly twice as much time as a basic in mambo (generally speaking). You have a lot more time to simply take your steps; therefore you have a lot more suspension, and a lot more empty space to fill. A whole library full of instructions or youtube channels of “moves” will help you, but not all that much.
All of this extra time does two really great things: for one, you can better dial into your partner and connect with them. To me, one of the best things about cha cha is that it helps foster an emotional bond between partners. With a slower basic, I find that in cha cha my partners and I have more time to just be present with and listen to one another. We settle into each other’s embrace, we make eye contact, we feel the counter of each other’s bodies and movement. Plus, with typically killer tracks, I find that my partners and I get much more in tune with what the other person is thinking and feeling. I feel my dance intensely, while at the same time I feel their dance intensely. Cha chas have a really great potential to be deeply shared experiences (though this not untrue of mambo as well, given the right partner).
The other great thing the slowness of cha cha does is give space for expression and play. This you can do both with your partner and by yourself. With your partner you can change the speed of your steps, be very precise and connected through slow movements, keep an eye on each other and intertwine your shines, and in general really play and connect with each other as you dance. By yourself, you rather have the opportunity to go wild and do as you please. People often take their sweet time about shining throughout a cha cha. Cha chas tend to be fairly dynamic songs, and they provide ample opportunity to really experience and express your feelings.
This means that, in a sense, cha cha is a much more vulnerable dance than mambo. With all of the space that it provides, it gives you more room to dance and to express yourself. It opens you up to your partner, then, in a way that may not be typical and may feel scary. It also opens you up to everyone else in the room who may catch a glimpse of your dance. Cha cha challenges you to dance at the edges of what you have been taught and what you have learned. It gives you space to be yourself and express that, and to do so in a way that is connective. It is vulnerable.
For many people, this is a turn off.
For me, it feels passionate and alive and connected and the perfect combination of my own expression intertwined with my partner’s.
Now, I acknowledge that there are valid alternatives reasons you may refrain from dancing cha cha. For example, some people don’t hear cha cha on2 very easily. I understand that this can pose a challenge, it did for me when I was getting started. But this period for me did not last long because I saw what the dance had to offer, so I made the effort to learn the music.
Many other people would object and say that cha cha simply isn’t played or taught enough, so they don’t know the steps very well. This is fair. I have sympathy if you consider yourself one of these people. However, I would encourage you to peer closely at your reasons for feeling hesitant anyway. Why do you feel no passion for it or desire to learn, or to at least give it a shot with a forgiving friend? Might it have something to do with the safety and comfort of mambo partnerwork?
I suppose also people might actually not like the music of cha cha, but guys seriously!
If you actually want to dance cha cha, there are people who can teach you! 🙂 Also, On2 salsa is translatable to On2 cha cha. Many people muddle through a few dances and then kind of rather get the hang of it. Plus, if you are a leader, I can assure you that no follower expects a particularly complicated cha cha. So many followers love cha cha (as evidenced by London cha cha socials always being dominated by followers) in part because of the simplicity and freedom to play that comes with cha cha. Give them a high quality basic for the whole dance, and chances are good they’ll be quite happy.
The vulnerability you’ll share with them is what is so beautiful about cha cha.
It is also why it is so hard, and why I think we should do it anyway.