What are the cultural and historical factors of Cha- Cha dance? What are the fundamentals and aesthetic objectives of Cha-Cha dance?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The cultural and historical factors of the Cha- Cha dance is reflective appropriation and redefinition.  One set of cultural and historical factors that surround the Cha- Cha is its origin.  The Cha- Cha comes from Cuba.  It was an almost hybrid result from the Mambo and the Rumba dances.  The Cha- Cha is a product of the American influence in Cuba.  At the time of the 1940s and 1950s, American musicians visiting Cuba fused together the Mambo and Rumba dances.  In this sense, the Cha- Cha dance is the result of this cultural hybridization.  At the same time, Pierre Zurcher-Margolle visited Cuba and recognized that the distinctive style in the Cha- Cha could be modified into a ballroom style of dancing. He appropriated the Cha- Cha to a European audience.  It was at this point in which American dance instructor, Arthur Murray, modified the Cha- Cha so that he could add it to his studio's growing Latin dance repertoire in the 1950s.  The result of these cultural and historical forces helped to establish the Cha- Cha dance.

In terms of aesthetics and objectives of the dance, the Cha- Cha is seen as a bit more playful than its Mambo and Rumba origins.  The dance is lighter, and not as darkly intense.  It is  seen as more of an interplay between the man and the woman.  Composer Enrique Jorrin was instrumental in developing the Cha- Cha dance objectives and played a vital role in constructing its aesthetic:

From nearly the beginning of my career as a composer of dance songs, I watched how the dancers danced the danzon- mambo. I noted that most of them had difficulty with syncopated rhythms, owing to the fact that their steps fell on the upbeat (contratiempo), or in other words, the second and fourth eighth notes of the (2/4) measure. The dancers dancing on the upbeat and the syncopated melodies made it very difficult to coordinate the steps with the music. I began to compose melodies to which one could dance without instrumental accompaniment, trying to use as little syncopation as possible. I moved the accent from the fourth eighth note- where it was normally found in the mambo- to the first beat of the cha-cha-chá. And so the cha-cha-chá was born- from melodies that were practically danceable by themselves and a balance between melodies on the downbeat and the upbeat.

While the music is in 4/4 time, the dance moves feature some variation from traditional standard time.  The dancing does not happen "on the first beat," but actually on the second.  The difference in time enables the dancers to glide, allowing a transfer of weight from one foot to the next without missing a beat in time because of the starting on the second beat and not on the first. This helps to highlight how the lower body is essential to the cha- cha dance.  The off beat enables the lower body in terms of legs and hips to move in synchronicity with one another and in light of the music.  The aesthetic objective is to establish a more playful and light rhythm that enables one partner to follow the other.  

The ball room translation of the Cha- Cha has helped to create a bit more technical approach to the dance.  It is from this where the technical "one, two, cha-cha-cha" emerges.  While the original dance does not call for this regimentation, the cultural appropriation of the dance has enhanced this aesthetic.

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