How to Do the Cha Cha

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24-09-2016, 11:45
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The cha-cha is a popular Afro-Cuban dance that is often danced at ballroom dance events as well as Latin clubs. Cha-cha music is written in 4/4 time and around 30 measures per minute (120 beats per minute) with a medium-to-fast, syncopated feel. Cha-cha is generally done as a partnership dance, which means the "leader" (traditionally - though not necessarily - meaning the man) will control the flow of the dance, guiding the follower and deciding what patterns to do, etc, while the "follower" (traditionally the woman) will try to match the leader's movements and timing.


  1. This is the Basic pattern, also known as a Side Basic or Chasse Basic or Close Basic. It is described here from the leader's perspective (the follower's part is nearly identical; the most obvious difference is that she will take a backward rock when the leader takes a forward rock and vice versa). Note that other cha-cha patterns will replace some or all elements of the Basic with fancier elements. The Basic cha-cha pattern is counted 2-3-cha-cha-cha, or 2-3-4&1 if you know how to Count Music.
  2. Rock step forward with your left foot. A "rock step" means take one step (in this case a step forward), completely putting your weight on the foot (in this case, your left foot), but WITHOUT picking up or moving the trailing foot, then shifting your weight back completely onto that other foot (in this case the right foot). More detailed breakdown:
    • Small forward step with the left foot on the TWO beat of the music.
    • Rock (i.e. shift weight) back onto the right foot on the THREE beat.
  3. Chasse to the left, aka cha-cha-cha to the left. A "chasse" means you take a step, then bring your feet together and put your weight on the foot you just moved, then take a third step with the original foot. So it's like: step, together, step - as if one foot were chasing the other and catching up on every other step. Note that "together" means that you can actually feel your feet physically touching. In this case, our chasse is to the left, so it consists of three fast steps taken to the leader's left in two beats of music. Breakdown:
    • Take a tiny step to the left with your left foot on the FOUR beat of the music. (This is the first "cha" in "cha-cha-cha").
    • Bring your right foot together with your left foot and shift your weight onto the right foot; do this on the half-beat between four and one. (This is the second "cha").
    • Take a step to the left with your left foot on the ONE beat of the music. This is the third and final "cha" in "cha-cha-cha". It can be a slightly larger step than the previous steps, visually reflecting the emphasis on the 1 beat you hear in the music, though this is not a hard and fast rule.
  4. Rock step backward with the right foot. This is like the forward rock step, except going back, and with the opposite foot. Detailed description:
    • Small step backward on the right foot, on the TWO beat of the music. As with the rock step forward, put your weight completely on this foot, but don't actually pick the other foot up off the floor (the left heel can come up, but don't actually move the left foot back or lift it into the air).
    • Rock (i.e. shift weight) forward onto the left foot on the THREE beat.
  5. Chasse to the right. It's much like the chasse to the left, only it's to the right instead.
    • Tiny step to the right with the right foot, on the FOUR beat.
    • Bring your left foot together (that means feet touching each other) to your right foot, and put your weight onto the left foot. This happens on the half-beat between four and one.
    • Step to the right on the ONE beat of the music.
  6. Repeat from "rock step forward with the left". At this point, your left foot is hopefully free and able to carry out that forward rock step, after which you chasse to the left again, etc.


  • Latin motion is about five billion times easier if you take small steps (though it can be done with somewhat bigger steps).
  • Practice! It takes three-hundred repetitions to build a muscle memory but it takes up to ten thousand to make it purely instinctive.
  • Bring your feet together on the chasse. Together . A hitch step instead of a chasse looks sloppy. Incidentally, this is much, much easier to do if the first step of the chasse was a teeny-tiny baby step. Did we mention take small steps?
  • Don't look at your feet; keep your head up. Trust your sense of body-positioning to tell you where your feet are. If you need to see your feet, use a full-length mirror positioned such that your can see your feet while keeping your head totally erect. Resist the temptation to look down. In fact, don't even cast your eyes down in an effort to see the floor, as it will subconsciously cause your head to move a little forward and downward.
  • Take small steps. Smaller than that. No, even smaller.
  • Once you have mastered the Side Basic pattern above, mix things up with some more advanced moves. This assumes you are doing the lead part, since the leader ultimately decides what pattern to do. The easiest pattern to describe textually is probably the Passing Basic, also known as a Forward-and-Back Basic or Progressive Basic. To do a Passing Basic, after you complete a rock step backwards on your right foot and replace onto your left, do a cha-cha-cha moving forward (three quick steps, right-left-right; this takes the place of the chasse to the right), then rock forward on the left foot as normal (and shift back onto the right foot as normal), cha-cha-cha backwards (left-right-left) instead of the chasse left, and finally rock step backwards on the right and replace. Then you can either repeat that, or chasse to the right (going back into the Side Basic). To summarize, the rock steps in the Passing Basic are identical to the Side Basic; the only difference in the pattern is that you are going forward and backward on the cha-cha-cha part instead of side to side. It's called a Passing Basic because your feet actually pass each other during the cha-cha-cha rather than just being brought together.
  • Cha-cha is one of the more complex ballroom dances. The patterns are complicated (albeit not as complicated as West Coast Swing), and the tempo is fast (though not as fast as Viennese Waltz). This guide may get you started, but it's extremely difficult to learn any dance by description. Seek out a teacher and classes. A group class would be a much cheaper introduction than private lessons, by the way.
  • Latin hip motion is hard to master, and probably impossible to learn just from a textual description of it, but you can start with your feet, which play an important role in creating latin hip motion, and add in the knees once you get your feet going. To get your feet and knees going in something that may vaguely resemble the beginnings of latin motion, whenever you take your weight OFF a foot, lift the heel of that foot, letting the knee bend, but keep the ball of the foot in firm contact with the floor, then slide the foot to its new position, ball still touching the floor, and come down flat on the foot as you put your weight on it and straighten the knee, causing the other heel to come up as the weight comes off of it. So, in other words, you are stepping with the balls of your feet, but come down flat onto the foot when you change weight (or "ball-flat, ball-flat, ball-flat" as you will hear ad nauseam if you ever take Cha-cha or Rhumba lessons). The weighted foot is always flat on the floor with knee straight; the unweighted foot is touching the floor but with the heel up and knee slightly bent. Neither foot ever completely loses contact with the floor.
  • Leading and following is accomplished by having a firm connection between the partners through the arms/shoulders/back, muscles engaged. This locks the two dancers together in a "frame" that enables the leader to move them both in unison. The follower does not have to know ahead of time what patterns the leader will do.


  • In the ballroom dance subculture, you should generally not refuse if someone asks you to dance at a social dance type of event, nor should you feel jealous if people are asking your significant other to dance sometimes. Within that subculture, it is considered normal and polite for a man to go around and dance with everyone else's wife and girlfriend, one after the other.
  • There are a number of regional or cultural varieties of cha-cha, some of which are more of a "ballroom" style and some of which are more of a "street" dance. Comparing the different versions or varieties of cha-cha is beyond the scope of this article, as is trying to determine which is more "authentic" or "correct". This article focuses on one "ballroom" style of cha-cha: American-style. International-style cha-cha is similar, at least in the basic steps. Country and western style cha-cha is less similar, but still recognizably cha-cha.

Things You'll Need

  • Music: Some good cha-cha songs include "Sway" by the Pussycat Dolls (or Dean Martin or Michael Buble or Julie London), "Todo, todo, todo" by Daniela Romo (or by any of the tons of other people that have recorded that song), "Let's Get Loud" by Jennifer Lopez, "Save the Last Dance For Me," by Michael Buble, or just search YouTube for "cha-cha music".
  • A partner: although you can theoretically learn the steps on your own, you won't learn how to lead or follow unless you practice leading and/or following, and that can only be done with an actual human partner.
  • A smooth-ish, uncluttered floor: an actual hardwood dance-floor is ideal of course, but not necessary. Tile floors work fine, though your feet may hurt more after a while. Carpets on the other hand are hard to do turns on, and dancing too much on a carpet will wear it out quicker than you might think (they don't call it "cutting a rug" for nothing).
  • Shoes that can slide and pivot easily, i.e. smooth-soled shoes. You don't need "dance shoes" per se; dressy shoes with leather soles work fine. Sneakers are much harder to dance in (although dance sneakers do exist, and do work, they are pretty expensive-- plus who wants to go ballroom dancing in sneakers?). Flip-flops are a no-no since they come off too easily.
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