“I want my damn respect.”
These are Lebron James’s words after clinching his fourth NBA championship title with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2020. After a season interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Kobe Bryant’s tragic passing, the ageing star—thought to be en route to former greatness—wound back the clock, rallied his team, and produced a supernova performance that reminded basketball and sports fans that form is temporary; class, though, is immutable and permanent.
If cha-cha was a person it would probably echo James’s sentiments.
First developed in 1950s Cuba cha-cha achieved worldwide fame as a partner dance in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Since its glory days as a staple of ballroom dancing in the preceding decades its appearances on dance floors waned in the 90s. It did experience a weird bubble in that dubious decade of baggy clothing, though. Anyone remember Mr C The Slide Man’s Cha-Cha Slide?
Yeah, the less said about that the better.
Cha-cha’s time in the limelight was ticking down until the early 00s when Marc Anthony’s I Need To Know, Carlos Santana’s Smooth, and Debelah Morgan’s Dance With Me did much to restore some life to this grand dance via the mainstream pop and rock genres. The Pussycat Dolls, too, tried to give the genre the kiss of life with their rendition of Sway which became the soundtrack of 2004’s Shall We Dance starring Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere. Still, life has not been quite the same for what was one of the world’s most vogue partner dances.
Crowded out by salsa’s infectious party rhythms and bachata’s romantic sensuality, cha-cha often takes a backseat at dance studios, socials, and festivals. It is looked upon as a grandpa dance—something for the old heads at a party. Nonetheless, something about its melodic structure and its appeal to elegant and fluid movement lend it a timeless nature: it is technically demanding and its rhythms can be found in numerous genres such as pop, funk, R&B, rock, rap, and hip-hop.
And just like Lebron James, its longevity, evolution, and power to still produce some of the best dance music around deserves praise: because popularity is temporary, but cha-cha’s rhythm is forever.
Mama Sissoko, Dámaso Perez, Salsa Celtica, Havana Mambo, and Jaël are scintillating examples of exquisite cha-cha songs that demand respect and rhythm.