Vernacular cha-cha as danced by teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s
Richard Powers

Chalypso is an American vernacular dance.  It was 1950s teenage Cha-Cha characterized by:
       1) mostly facing your partner but not touching them
       2) angling the body on the two diagonals
       3) frequent solo turns
       4) danced with a swing-like body motion instead of Latin stylizations
       5) extreme personal variety
       6) danced to pop and rock music instead of Latin cha-cha music

THE NAME:  On his television show American Bandstand, Dick Clark named this teenage-style of cha-cha "Chalypso," to differentiate it from ballroom Latin cha-cha.  However many 1950s and 1960s teens simply called this style "Cha-Cha."  This style began around 1957 and continued through the 1960s, but the term "Chalypso" only lasted for the first few years.

MUSIC:  1957 and later popular teen's music.  Some of the top Chalypso tunes were "La Dee Dah" by Billie and Lillie, "Love Is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia, "Louie Louie" by Richard Berry, all from 1957, and "Everybody Likes to Cha Cha Cha" by Sam Cooke, 1959.

TEMPO:  116 to 140 beats/minute

FORMATION:  Couples, with ptnrs facing each other, not necessarily touching.  The 3 most common dance holds were, in order of prevalence:  (1) Facing, not touching,  (2) Holding one or two hands with ptnr,  (3) Ballroom dance position.

STYLING:  Highly individualistic, but overall it had a swing-like style, with a somewhat (or very) bouncy motion which drops during the downbeats.

LEADING / FOLLOWING:  Since most teens didn't touch their partners in Chalypso, the lead-follow connection was visual.  One dancer simply began dancing, and the ptnr watched for a moment and synchronized.  It made no difference whether the first dancer in motion was M or W.


Version A, for M:

Break Step:  Step fwd L angling the body to face the R diag (ct1)
               Shift back onto R (ct 2)

Triple Step:  Rotate the body to face the L diag then step side L to the rear L diag (ct 3)
               Close R to L (ct &)
               Side L (ct 4)

Break Step:  Rotate the body to face the R diag then step side R to the rear R diag (ct 5)
               Shift back onto L (ct 6)

Triple Step:  Rotate the body to face the L diag then step side R to the fwd R diag (ct 7)
               Close L to R (ct &)
               Side R (ct 8)

W does the same but commencing on M's ct 5, Break Step back R.

Note:  This timing is often referred to as "break-on-one," meaning dancers do the initial Break Step on ct 1 of the music.  Many ballroom dancers at the time preferred to do the Break Step on ct 2 of the music, but not the teens.

Even though Version A was the most common basic, only about a third of the teens danced it in that timing.  Chalypso was learned one-on-one from partners, each having their own step timing.

Version B:  Also break-on-one, but W begins fwd L as M begins back R. (about 20%)

Version C:  Also break-on-one, but M begins fwd R as W begins back L. (about 7%)

Version D:  Also break-on-one, but W begins fwd R as M begins back L. (about 7%)

Version E:  M begins with a fwd R-L-R triple step on cts 1&2, then breaks fwd L on ct 3, continuing the basic. (about 20%, which makes this timing tied for the second most common version.)

Version F:  M begins with a forward LRL cha-cha triple on cts 1&2. (about 7%)

Version G:  M begins with a backward LRL cha-cha triple on cts 1&2. (about 7%)

Version H:  M begins backward RLR on cts 1&2. (rare)

Overall, the break-on-one timings were danced by about two-thirds of the dancers.  Triple-step-first was danced by about a third.  Significantly, none of the 100 dancers Richard studied did break-on-two Cha Cha, even though break-on-two timing was being taught by many ballroom dance studios in the 1950s.


To maintain description consistency, the following descriptions of figures and stylizations will all be based on Version A timing.  In many cases they were actually done in one of the other seven timings.

All descriptions are for the M's timing unless otherwise noted.  So if M turns CW on music cts 1-2, W would do the turn on music cts 5-6.


CW Turn (the most common turn):  Solo CW turn in place on cts 1-2, continuing to turn on the Triple Step cts 3&4 to complete a full turn, ending facing ptnr.  Cts 5-8 continue with the Basic Step, facing ptnr, not turning.  Note that you start turning CW on ct 1.

CCW turn:  Ct 1 is basic fwd L, without any turning.  Pull L shoulder back as you step back R.  Turn full turn CCW on cts 3&4.  Cts 5-8 continue with the Basic Step, facing ptnr.  Note that you don't start turning CCW on ct 1, but wait until the cts 3&4 Triple Step.

Break-Away:  After beginning the the CCW turn above, M faces exactly away from W on the ct 3&4 Triple Step.  Then M does a Break Step forward R (ct 5) facing directly away from W, replaces L (ct 6), turning back to his right, then does the ct 7&8 Triple Step turning toward his ptnr.  W begins musical ct 5.

The Chase:  Turn halfway CW on 1-2, 3&4, in a slow lazy turn, to end facing away from ptnr; then snap-turn halfway CCW just before ct 5, facing ptnr.  Cts 5-8 continue with the basic, facing ptnr.
Ptnr does not have to mirror this movement. This can also be done with smooth turns both times (i.e. no snap turns).

Side Breaks:  On ct 5 of a Basic Step, M faces L and does a forward R Break Step out toward the L side. Replace L (ct 6) facing ptnr.  Then do a sideways R-L-R Triple Step.  Repeat out to the R side, with a fwd L Break Step toward the R side (ct 1), then a sideways L-R-L Triple Step facing ptnr.
Note: Dancers don't have to match most of ptnr's variations, but this one is satisfying to mirror.  That's why M waits until ct 5 to commence this figure, when he's blocking her fwd path and therefore easier to visually lead.

Rollaway Exit:  As an optional conclusion to Side Breaks, M does a full CCW turn in place (a Rollaway) on cts 5, 6, 7&8, as he leads W to turn CW in place.


Side Door:  Take closed Ballroom pos for cts 1-2, 3&4 of the Basic Step.  Start to change into Closed Promenade Pos. facing toward M's L side on ct. 4.  On ct 5 M breaks fwd R and W breaks fwd L in promenade position "out the side door" and then rock back on ct 6.  Do a Triple Step backing the W on cts 7&8.  Repeat this several times.  One cpl did a slightly dipping leap fwd on ct 5.

Di-Si-Do:  Pass each other fwd by the R shldr, move to your R, then back to place by the L shldrs.  To lead it, M breaks fwd L (ct 1), close R to L (ct 2), then Triple Step fwd L as W is going forward on her Triple Step (cts 3&4).  Side R (ct 5), cross L behind (ct 6), then back up on the R Triple Step (cts 7&8).


These were highly individual, not intended to be copied by others.

Crossover:  Break fwd L (ct 1), cross R tightly over L (ct 2), then continue with the backing Triple Step.  One teen also did 3 small hops: before ct 1, before ct 2, and before the backing Triple Step.  So the count would be "and-1-and-2-and-3&4."  Counts 5-8 are an unmodified basic.

Hooked Triple Step when going fwd.  This replaces the forward R-L-R Triple Step.  Step fwd R, hook L tightly behind the R, step fwd R, on cts 3&4 (or cts 7&8).
The backing equivalent is to cross the second step over in front.

Bop Touch-Step when going fwd, also replacing the fwd Triple Step:  After the Break step back R, twist the body diag toward the L and tap R toe close to the L, w/o wt (ct 3) then step side R (ct. 4).
The backing equivalent is Tap L near the R then step back diag L.

Twist:  Some W stayed in place after their back-R break step and did the figure that would soon be called the Twist.  1) Step back R twisting the body to the R;  2) don't move the feet but twist the upper body to the L;  3) twist the lower body to the L as you twist the upper body to the R. Continue the Twist through the 8-count cha-cha phrase.

Reconstruction and dance directions Copyright 2006-2012 Richard Powers

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