The modern style of dancing the cha-cha-chá derives from studies made by dance teacher Pierre Zurcher Margolie (‘Monsieur Pierre’), who partnered Doris Lavelle. Pierre, then from London, visited Cuba in 1952 to find out how and what Cubans were dancing at the time. He noted that this new dance had a split 4th beat, and to dance it one started on the second beat, not the first. He brought this dance idea to England and eventually created what is known now as ballroom cha-cha-cha. The validity of his analysis is well established for that time, and some forms of evidence exist today. First, there is in existence film of Orquesta Jorrin playing to a cha-cha-cha dance contest in Cuba; second, the rhythm of the Benny More classic Santa Isabel de las Lajas written and recorded at about the same time is quite clearly syncopated on the fourth beat.
International Latin Cha-Cha
The checked first step is a later development in the “international cha-cha” style. Because of the action used during the forward step (the one taking only part weight) the basic pattern turns left, whereas in earlier times Cha-cha was danced without rotation of the alignment. Hip actions are allowed to occur at the end of every step. For steps taking a single beat the first half of the beat constitutes the foot movement and the second half is taken up by the hip movement. The hip sway eliminates any increase in height as the feet are brought towards each other. In general, steps in all directions should be taken first with the ball of the foot in contact with the floor, and then with the heel lowering when the weight is fully transferred; however, some steps require that the heel remain lifted from the floor. When weight is released from a foot, the heel should release from the floor first, allowing the toe to maintain contact with the floor.