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The 5 dances: Cha Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doblé and Jive, are danced the world over both socially and in dancesport competitions. The dances are for couples, usually each consisting of a man and a lady. The holds vary from figure to figure in these dances, sometimes in closed ballroom hold, sometimes with the partners holding each other with only one hand.

The figures in these dances are standardised and categorised into various levels for teaching, with internationally agreed vocabularies, techniques, rhythms and tempos. But it was not always so. These 'Latin & American' dances have some diverse origins.


The name could have been derived from the Spanish "Chacha" meaning "nursemaid", or "chachar" meaning "to chew coca leaves" ,or from "char" meaning "tea", or most likely from another Cuban dance: the Guaracha. This dance has been popular in Europe from before the turn of the century.

It has also been suggested that the name Cha Cha Cha is derived from the sound of the feet in the chasse which is included in many of the steps which could be th reason it is sometimes called the "Cha Cha Cha".

In 1954, the dance was described as a "Mambo with a guiro rhythm". A guiro is a musical instrument consisting of a dried gourd rubbed by a serrated stick.

The Mambo itself was originally a Haitian dance introduced to the West in 1948 by Prado. The word "Mambo" is the name of a voodoo priestess in the religion brought by the Negroes from Africa so the Cha Cha had its origins in the religious ritual dances of West Africa. There are three forms of Mambo: single, double, and triple. The triple has five steps to a bar, and this is the version that evolved into the Cha Cha Cha.

The "Cha Cha Cha" is danced currently at about 120 beats per minute. The steps are taken on the beats, with a strong hip movement as the knee straightens on the half beats in between. The weight is kept well forward, with forward steps taken on the toes, and the torso movement is kept flat. The chasse on 4 & 1 is used to emphasise the step on beat 1, which held a moment longer than the other steps to match the emphasis of the beat in the music.


The Portuguese imported many slaves from Angola and Congo into Brazil in the 16th century, who in turn brought their dances such as the Catarete, the Embolada and the Batuque. These dances were considered sinful by the Europeans as they involved the touching of navels. The Embolada is about a cow with balls on its horns for safety, and became a term meaning "foolish". The Batuque became so popular that Manuel I passed a law forbidding it. It was described as a circle dance with steps like the Charleston done to hand clapping and percussion, and with a solo couple performing in the centre of the circle.

A composite dance evolved in the 1830's combining the plait figures from these Negro dances and the body rolls and sways of the indigenous Lundu. Later, carnival steps were added like the Copacabana (the name of a beach near Rio de Janeiro). Gradually members of the high society in Rio embraced it, although they modified it to be done in closed ballroom dancing position. The dance was then called the Zemba Queca, and was described in 1885 as "a graceful Brazilian dance". The origin of the name "Samba" is unclear, although "Zambo" means the offspring of a Negro man and a native woman.

The dance was later combined with the Maxixe. This was also originally a Brazilian round dance, described as like a Two Step. The Maxixe was introduced into the U.S.A. at the turn of the 20th century. The Maxixe became popular in Europe after a demonstration in Paris in 1905. It was described as having the steps of the Polka done to the music of the Cuban Habanera. The present day Samba still contains a step called the Maxixe, consisting of a chasse and point.

A form of the Samba called the Carioca (meaning from Rio de Janeiro) was revived in U.K. in 1934. It was popularised by Fred Astaire in Flying Down To Rio", his first film with Ginger Rogers. The Carioca spread to the U.S.A. in 1938. In 1941, its popularity was boosted by performances by Carmen Miranda in her films, particularly "That Night in Rio".

The Samba was further popularized in the 1950's by Princess Margaret, who played a leading role in British society. The Samba was formalised for international propagation by Pierre Lavelle in 1956.

The dance in its current international form still has figures with with very different rhythms, betraying the heterogeneous origins of the dance, e.g. the Boto Fogo is danced to a "1 & a 2" quarter beat rhythm, whereas the Natural Rolls are danced to the simpler "1 2 &" half beat rhythm. It still retains a hip movement on the half beats between steps (the "samba tic"), a flat carriage of the torso, and is danced with the weight forward, substantially on the big toes.


This had its origin with the African Negro slaves imported into Cuba, whose dances emphasized the movements of the body rather than the feet. It evolved in Havanna in the 19th century by combination with the European Contradanza. The name "Rumba" possibly derives from the term "rumboso orquestra" which was used for a dance band in 1807, although in Spanish, the word "rumbo" means "route", "rumba" means "heap pile", and "rhum" is of course an intoxicating liquor popular in the Caribbean, any of which might have been used descriptively when the dance was being formed. The name has also been claimed to be derived from the Spanish word for "Carousel".

The rural form of the Rumba in Cuba was described as a pantomime of barnyard animals, and was an exhibition rather than a participation dance. The maintenance of steady level shoulders while dancing was possibly derived from the way the slaves moved while carrying heavy burdens. The step called the "Cucaracha" was stomping on cockroaches. The "Spot Turn" was walking around the rim of a cartwheel. The popular Rumba tune "La Paloma" was known in Cuba in 1866.

The Rumba was introduced into the U.S.A. in the 1930's as a composite of this rural Rumba with the Guaracha, the Cuban Bolero (unrelated to the Spanish Bolero) and the Son. The British dance teacher Pierre Lavelle visited Havanna in 1947 and discovered that the Rumba was danced with the break step on beat 2 of the bar, rather than on beat 1 as in the American Rumba. He brought this back to Britain, together with the names of the many steps he learned from Pepe Rivera in Havanna. These together with dancing the break on beat 2 rather than beat 1, have become part of the standard International Cuban Rumba.

With only a transfer of weight from one foot to the other on beat 1 of each bar, and the absence of an actual step on this beat, the dance has developed a very sensual character. Beat 1 is the strongest beat of the music, but all that moves on that beat are the hips, so the music emphasises the dancing of the hips. This together with the slow tempo of the music (116 beats/minute) makes the dance very romantic. Steps are actually taken on beats 2, 3, and 4. Knee straightening, weight tranfer, and turns are performed on the intervening half beats. Again, as in the Samba, the weight is kept forward, with forward steps taken on the toe, and the torso movement kept very flat.

Paso Doblé

The Paso Doblé is the only one of the five Latin dances whose rhythyms do not originate from Africa. Originaly from France, it was danced by women on their wedding day to excite their new husbands for the wedding night.

From France it came to Spain and was given the name "Paso Doblé", which in Spanish means "Two Step". The Paso Doblé was one of many Spanish folk dances associated with various facets of Spanish life. In particular, the Paso Doblé became based on the Bullfight. The man portrays the Torero, and the lady represents his cape. It is danced to the characteristic march music used for procession at the beginning of a corrida. Bullfights date back to ancient Crete, but only in the 1700s were they held in Spain.

The competition version of the Paso Doblé is danced by both the man and lady with a high chest, the shoulders wide and down, and with the head kept back but inclined slightly forward and down. The weight is forward, but most forward steps have heel leads. Often it is choregraphed to the tune Espana Cani" (the Spanish Gypsy Dance), which has three crescendos in the music. These highlights are usually matched in the choreography by dramatic poses, adding to the spectacular nature of the dance.


This dance originated with the Negroes in the South East of U.S.A. In the 1880's, the dance was performed competitively amongst the Negroes in the South, and the prize was frequently a cake, so the dance became known as the Cakewalk. It often consisted of two parts performed alternately : a solemn procession of couples, and an energetic display dance, all done in finest clothes. The associated music became known as Ragtime, possibly because the participants dressed up in their best "rags" or clothes, or possibly because the music was syncopated and "ragged". The music and dances subsequently became popular amongst the Negroes in Chicago and New York.

This exuberant dancing and music amongst the Negroes contrasted with the limited and dour dancing of the upper white classes of the U.S.A. and U.K. in the wake of Prince Albert's death in 1861. With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, society perhaps felt more free to engage in more and energetic dancing, and a series of simple dances based on those of the Negroes become popular in white society e.g.: the Yankee Tangle, the Texas Rag, the Fanny Bump, the Funky Butt, the Squat, the Itch, the Grind and the Mooche. Many had animal names, betraying perhaps a rural and pantomimic origin : Lame Duck, Horse Trot, Grizzly Bear, Crab Step, Eagle Rock, Buzzard Lope, Turkey Trot, Kangaroo Dip, Fishwalk and Bunny Hug. The current Jive still has a Bunny Hug as one of the standard steps. The dances were all done to Ragtime music, with stress on beats 2 and 4, and syncopated rhythms. They all used the same elements: couples doing a walk, rock, swoop, bounce or sway. The closed position was considered by many to be indecent, and sometimes the lady wore "bumpers" to preclude body contact.

An interesting change occured around 1910, when the individual dances were brought together, and the dancers encouraged to do these in an arbitrary order. It made every male dancer into an instant choreographer. The change was described as a change of interest from steps to rhythm. It coincided with the publication of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1910, which rapidly became a worldwide hit.

As Ragtime evolved into Swing through the 1920's, new dances became popular. The Foxtrot was invented by Harry Fox for a stage show in New York in 1913. The Charleston was said to have originated in the Cape Verde Islands. It evolved into a round dance done by Negro dock workers in the port of Charleston, and became popular in white society after inclusion in the stage show "Running Wild" in 1923 by the Ziegfield Follies, which toured U.S.A. It subsequently became so popular worldwide that many sedate ballrooms put up notices saying simply "PCQ" , standing for "Please Charleston Quietly".

The Black Bottom became popular after inclusion in the stage show "George Whiter's Scandals" in 1926. The Foxtrot, Charleston and Black Bottom, and the various animal steps combined to form the Lindy Hop in 1927. It was named after Charles Lindbergh who made the first solo non-stop transatlantic flight that year, because of the amount of time the dancers appeared to spend in the air. In 1934, the dance at the Savoy in Harlem was described by Cab Calloway as like the frenzy of jittering bugs, so it soon became known as the Jitterbug.

The current version called the Jive has basic steps composed of a fast syncopated chasse (side, close, side) to the left followed by another to the right (right then left for the lady) followed by a slower break back and replace forward. The hips are moved half a beat after each of the steps, and the weight is kept well forward with all steps being taken on the toes. In the chasses, by keeping the leading foot high on the ball of the foot, and the trailing foot fairly flat, an optical illusion is created called the "moonwalk", which gives dancer an attractive weightless appearance.

In its beginnings, in 1927, the dance became equated with youth. Older adults disapproved of it and tried to ban it from dance halls by the rationalisation that because Jive was non-progressive, it disturbed the other dancers who were progressing anti-clockwise around the dance floor. The association with youth and this dance has continued through its subsequent metamorphoses as Swing, Boogie-Woogie, Be-Bop, Rock, Twist, Disco and Hustle.

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