History of the Cha Cha Dance

History of Cha Cha Cha Dance

The Cha Cha Cha (often shortened to just Cha Cha) is a Latin dance that originated in Cuba, in the late 1940s. It is derived from 3 earlier dance styles:

  • Danzón - The Cuban National Dance, popular in 1890s - 1920s
  • The Cuban Són - Mix of African instruments into Danzón music 
  • Triple mambo - Marriage of Cuban Son & Swing 

If this sounds like a lot of strange names all at once, don't worry! You'll see some examples of these as you read on. 

Social Dancing was already quite popular by the time the Danzón came about. The Danzón, as a musical and dance style, challenged the more conservative European style of social and partner dancing, such as the Waltz and Polka. Remember.. this was the early 1900s. People were conservative back then. So it was a big deal when the style of Danzón allowed couples to dance more closely together than they ever did before. That, along with addition of swaying hips, made the Danzón a very provocative and almost taboo dance at that time. 

As the Danzón started to borrow more Afro-Cuban instruments into its music and dance moves, it evolved into the Cuban Són. Ultimately, the marriage of Cuban Són and Swing,  gave birth to the Mambo, which grew up into the Cha Cha Cha! 

What does the Cuban Danzon, Son, Mambo and Cha Cha look like?

By now, you must be wondering... oh my, it sure would be nice to get a visual of what these dances look like and hear the music that influenced each style. So, I found modern dance clips of these styles to share here. My disclaimer is that, being no dance historian, I hope they represent at least some of what the cultural style of Cuban dances would have looked like. 

Traditional Cuban Danzon 

(performed in modern day)

Can you see the simplicity in the 3 count basic step (2,3,4)?

What do you notice about the closeness of the couple?

Traditional Cuban Son 

(performed in modern day)

What do you notice about the music rhythm here?

What similarities are there between this and the Danzon steps?

What do you notice about the closeness of the couple?

Traditional Cuban MAMBO 

(performed in modern day)

Did you see any triple steps? 
Did you see any interesting body timings? 

What do you notice about the music? 
What do you notice about the vibe of the dance?

What is Cha Cha Cha?

The Cha Cha Cha is sort of like a quick Mambo, with the addition of triple steps. The mambo steps to the counts of 2, 3, 4. Because no footwork happens on the count of 1, it became popular to dance a triple step within those 2 counts. The sound of the dance heels doing the triple step, created a "Cha Cha Cha" sound, which then became the name of the dance! Hence, the basic Cha Cha foot rhythm of 1, 2, 3, 4 & 1, is born. 


(performed in modern day)

Evolution of the Cha Cha Dance Style

The Cha Cha dance became popular in the 1950s, and started to spread to America and European countries. In the 1960s, the Cha Cha Cha evolved into a much more formal, competitive dance style called "Latin American Dancing" also known as Ballroom Cha Cha.

Ballroom Cha Cha is the style of Cha Cha that you will see on popular TV shows of today, such as Dancing With The Stars (USA), and Strictly Come Dancing (UK). You will also see this style danced in formal ballroom dance competitions all over the world. 

In 2020, the Cha Cha dance is one of the most recognizable and beloved latin dances. In fact, even the Mambo is still around. However, their predecessors, the Danzón and the Cuban Son are rarely danced today. 

Watch a sample video of our Cha Cha below, dancing to a classic Cha Cha song - Tea for Two.

Where to find Cha Cha Dancing TODAY

The Cha Cha is a hot staple in social and competitive ballroom scenes, as well as in salsa clubs. Today, the Cha Cha is most often danced in 3 public venues: 

1. Ballroom Social Dance Events

(typically held in a dance studio/ dance hall/ community center etc.)
These venues are for social dancing and usually play a mix of all kinds of social dances, including: waltz, tango, foxtrot, quickstep, cha cha, rumba, samba, salsa, merengue, jive, west coast swing, hustle, night club 2 step and more. It's like a dance mixer! 

2. Ballroom Dance Competitions

The Cha Cha is one of the primary latin dances you will see at a ballroom dance competition. 

3. Salsa Social Clubs

This is usually a salsa club that is for salsa & bachata dancers. They will mix in some occasional cha chas. 

Being an uptempo and lively dance, it is one of the most sought after dances and one reason is because it can be danced to many popular pop songs today!  

Less than a hundred years old, this popular latin dance is actually quite a young art form. It'll be exciting to see how this dance continues to evolve with time. 

Where to learn the Cha Cha Dance?

You can start right now with us, using our free beginner cha cha video tutorials, right from your own home!

1. https://www.britannica.com/art/Latin-American-dance/The-Caribbean 
2. Danzon: Cuba's First National Dance
3. Differences between Cuban Son & Mexican Son

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