This combination was taught at the 1962 Chicago National Association of Dancing Masters Ballroom Workshop by Grace Hanson. The combination is entirely socially leadable and features a side by side open box and concludes with a open walk and underarm turns for both follower and leader. * This combination requires leaders to change timing twice and therefor is recommended for the experienced dancer.
Notice the timing of 1, 2, 3&4 in the basic description.
In the image above you may have noticed the basic step timing is described as 1, 2, 3 & 4. Such timing was occasionally taught for one of several reasons.
Some songs of the time did have that Cha Cha Cha timing, especially those written by American recording artists (one such example is Sam Cooke).
This was often used as a beginner count since it started on the first beat and utilized timing that was familiar to many Americans who danced Lindy Hop. Later the students would be taught to shift to 2, 3, 4 & 1 timing after acclimating to the cadence and music.
Some texts are written is step timing and not musical timing, thus the counting would be then applied to the appropriate musical timing. This method is still taught as step count timing to instructors today as one method of teaching.
Above is combination 4, which is featured in the video breakdown.
Edmundo Ros And His Orchestra - Hollywood Cha Cha Cha GMB - YouTube
This is the 1959 album recommended to practice to in the above text.
Another Edmundo Ros Cha Cha Cha album which you can add to your spotify playlists.
In 1961 New York City dance halls, a new sound was being heard, it wasn’t the driving rhythms of the Mambo or Merengue, nor was it the undulating Cha Cha Cha. This was a complex and melodic sound that was both energetic and yet also sophisticated, that sound was the Pachanga! The Pachanga in the U.S. is most commonly associated with the famous NYC Palladium theater that claimed itself “Home of the Mambo and Cha Cha Cha”. While it is true that the Palladium openly embraced and helped promote this new music and dance, it’s creation, success, and ultimate downfall reside in the hands of others. To truly understand the story of Pachanga we need first to understand the land and times of its origin.
Pachanga is the title of a song written in 1959 by Cuban composer and band leader Eduardo Davidson.
Eduardo Davidson and Rosita Fornes dance Pachanga
This was the same year that Fidel Castro seized power and It was to be the last big break through from Cuban airwaves to reach the U.S. On August 6, 1960 television began to be nationalized in Cuba and was immediately censored and utilized for political propaganda, by May 24, 1962 all media in nationalized. Most artists saw this censoring as unbearable for it limited their expression and a mass exodus of musicians ensues. On April 16, 1961 Castro declared Cuba a socialist state and on February 7, 1962 the U.S. Congress banned all imports from Cuba to the U.S. and with this deathblow nearly 40 years of cultural exchange come to an abrupt end. But not before one last export in the form of El Pachanga!
The song El Pachanga! debuted in a live performance on May 21, 1959 on the CMQ television’s musical program “Casino de la Alegria” and proved a hit almost immediately. For that performance Davidson hired dancers to interpret Pachanga music in five different Cuban ethnic styles. Truly an ingenious idea to appeal to a wide market, but he had actually choreographed a specific dance already, one tied to the music.
The actual roots of the sound lay in a Bembe-Samba hybrid. Brazilian Samba rhythms were combined by Davidson with Bembe music from the Afro-Cuban Lucumi culture utilizing a Charanga orchestral lineup. Charanga orchestras utilize a wooden flute, violins, bass, piano, guiro, timbales, and tumba to produce a delicate yet rhythmic sound. Originally Eduardo Davidson’s choreography was based Afro-Cuban Lucumi dance, which came by way of the southwestern Nigerian Yoruba tribes Bata dances. Cuban culture is deeply tied to its African roots and nowhere is it more evident than in their music and dance.
Bata dancers of the Nigerian Yoruba tribe
It is estimated that 700,000 West Africans were shipped via the slave trade to the island of Cuba and of those 60% were from the Nigerian Yoruba related tribes. In Cuban culture the term Lucumi refers to the Yoruba people of four specific tribal ancestries that accounted for approximately 45% of the slave population. With the Yoruba people came their language, religion, music, and dance, much of which has survived to this day.
An interesting and easily confused side note is the mislabeling of the original sheet music as Merecumbe, a sort of Merengue-Cumbia musical form attributed to Colombian composer Pacho Galan. Davidson later explained he knew Pachanga was possibly a best seller and intentionally hid it under a unassuming genre heading on the sheet music, in order to throw off his musical rivals to the true constructs of this new sound. It was also labeled as Merengue on U.S. sheet music, publishers felt it would sell better if associated with a style already popular in the U.S. market.
While Davidson’s original choreography envisioned the dance being based on Lucumi Bembe style dances with flourishes of Samba no pe’ (a solo form), other dancers and trends within Cuban culture would just as quickly come to redefine it . Two of the most respected Cuban Orchestras of the time Jose’ Fajardo and Orquesta Aragon quickly capitalized on the new sound and collaborated with Davidson. These polished acts featured dancers who took elements of Davidson’s material and blended it with theirs, thus influencing the dance.
Pachanga performed by Orquestra Aragon of Cuba - YouTube
The influence of 40 years of Jazz music and dance on Cuban performers is quite evident in Pachanga as well. Many of the core elements of dance can be directly traced to dances popularized in U.S. cities during the roaring twenties Jazz, Swing, and Bop eras. Dance moves bearing names like Truckin’, Susie Q, St. Louis Hop, Drag Hesitation, Bop, and Shag had long since left their mark on Cuban chorus dancers who were keen to keep up with American trends for performances that often catered to wealthy American tourists. Cuban movie theaters often played American films and by the mid 1950’s T.V. was streaming American television programs into Cuban homes. Youth especially were tuning in with shows like American Bandstand disseminating all the latest fads.
It didn’t take long for a Miami based record shop named owner Sidney Trott to catch wind of the new craze. Sidney had previously lived in Havana Cuba and owned the largest dance studio there for many years. He was also an accomplished record producer while in Cuba and was very connected to the music industry in Both Havana and New York City.
One of his friends from his days as pro dancer, Bernie Sager, had also relocated to Miami from New York City. Sidney wasted no time and called Bernie from Havana, convincing him to take a research trip to Cuba in January of 1960 to learn it first hand.
Bernie upon arrival took to the streets and literally carrying a stack of bills threw money at anyone who could teach him a new Pachanga step. Sidney later recalled with amusement the massive crowd that soon formed around Bernie. After returning to Miami Bernie devised a Ballroom (partner) version of the dance using the most common Pachanga steps. Bernie debuted the Pachanga to a crowd of 15,000 in Miami on May 21, 1960 at a concert featuring the quite famous Jose’ Fajardo’s Charanga Orchestra (no doubt Sidney helped line the show up). Sidney then traveled to New York City, teaching it to many prominent instructors there. It didn’t take long and by May of 1961 New York’s Latin dance scene was Pachanga crazed.
How to Dance Pachanga With A Partner - YouTube
Sadly, there were not enough Charanga bands outside of major cities to introduce the sound to the greater public, nor was the energetic polyrhythmic dance within the grasp of most casual dancers. Pachanga soon faded into obscurity almost as quickly as it arrived, surviving now in movements adopted into Bachata, Cha Cha Cha, or shine steps in Salsa.
The writing may have always been on the wall though. John Lucchese a prominent New York dance master who literally wrote the book in 1961 on Pachanga alluded to Pachanga’s future fate. Lucchese felt the music and dance where simply too complex for the average person, and that while Mambo and Cha Cha Cha where firmly established, Pachanga simply wouldn’t take root. He correctly surmised that it’s only hope for survival was in being adapted as steps to add to the already established forms Mambo and Cha Cha.
In 1936 a sound and was being introduced to New York city ballrooms by Cuban band leader Eliseo Grenet. It didn’t take long for Latin American dance instructor Rodolfo D’Avalos to realize Conga’s potential and adapted a ballroom version from the movements of Cuban Nanigos carnival performers . Today only the Conga line variant survives, reduced to little more than forming a line and meandering about the ballroom. The Conga of old was both simple enough to learn quickly and yet varied enough to engage the seasoned dancer. Conga originally allowed both partner dancing and social mixing to coexist in one dance. This mixer served the role of getting people to interact as a group in a light hearted and creative way, a truly worthy goal for any social environment. So with that I invite YOU to learn this Cuban inspired original from our past.
Conga music is played in 2/4 time at a tempo range of between 58-64 measures per minute, with an accent falling on the second beat of every other measure. Each figure will require two or more measures to complete i.e. each step/movement discussed takes a beat.
The dance character is similar to American style Rumba utilizing a compact frame, hip action, and loose knees throughout, while feet remain close to floor utilizing ball-flat during steps
How To Dance The Conga! - YouTube
A simple instructional video breaking down the most common Conga figures
*Note: Step descriptions are given for lead, follower does natural opposite unless otherwise noted
The Conga Rock Partners can assume closed, open, or conversational dance positions in this figure. There are four steps total taken in this figure.
Progressive Open Conga Rock
Left forward count 1, Right forward count 2, Left small step forward count 3, Replace weight to right on count 4 at same time lightly kick Left leg forward from the knee.
Cross Basic Danced in closed position
Counts 1-4: 1 step Left foot to Left , 2 Cross Right foot in front of Left, 3 Step Left foot to Left, 4 Drop Left heel while at same time extending Right toe to side to accent. (pictured below)
Reverse figure to Right for counts 5-8. (pictured below)
*Progressive Basic in Open or Conversational Position (pictured below)
Footwork is almost identical to Cross Basic except all steps are taken forward on counts 1-3 (picture 1 at right) and 5-7 (picture 2) for both Leader and Follower. On counts 4 and 8 free leg brushes forward.
(above) Progressive basic in open position
*Open Cross Basic danced in Open or Conversational Position (pictured at right)
Footwork is almost identical to Cross Basic except counts 1-3 are taken forward by BOTH lead and follow, then right leg (for leader) is kicked up behind. On counts 5-7 Both lead and follow step back, cross, back finishing figure with a kick forward with left leg (for leader) on 8
*Cross Basic Turns Footwork and timing same as for regular Cross Basic, however Leader does a free spin to Left on steps 1-3, while Follow does free spin to right on steps 1-3. Turn may be reversed on second half of Cross Basic with leaders rotating to Right and Follows to the Left on counts 5-7.
(above) Criss Cross step count 8
Criss Cross Turns Counts 1-4 same as Cross Basic, on counts 5-8 Leader does Rock Basic in place while the Follower does a regular Cross Basic. Partners should end in a right hand hold at arms length. Both lead and follow now begin Cross Basic Turns to their Right for counts 1-4 and then Reverse directions Both turning Left for counts 5-8 from a left to left handhold. From a Right to Right hand hold Both lead and follow Reverse directions again turning Right for counts 1-4.. Leader then marks time with a Rock Basic in place while he to free spin Left from a Left to Left handhold. Leader finishes figure by returning to a closed dance hold.
Conga steps were commonly incorporate into other dances like Rumba/Bachata (utilizing cross timing) and Merengue (utilizing rock timing). Conga figures and styling are fun easy ways to spice up these related dances, so have at it!
For researchers and educators wishing to dig deeper, I have made some primary sources from my collection available below.
Below: The article as it originally appeared in American Dancer Magazine
(above) American Dancer Magazine: fourth quarter 2018, Ask The Historian pages 20-21