Vernacular cha-cha as danced by teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s
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.
TURNS AND SPINS
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.
CLOSED POSITION AND OTHER FIGURES
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).
INDIVIDUAL FOOTWORK VARIATIONS
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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