Salsa Music and Cha Cha Songs

Salsa Fresca CD coverA couple of Gloria Jones’ Beginner Ballroom Dancing students recently asked me to recommend some songs for them to practice to. They also take Gloria’s Salsa class, but we were winding down the Ballroom class when they approached me. I don’t actually have a very long list of salsa music or cha cha songs, but I suppose I should start compiling one.

I did send them an email with some suggestions. I had to do a little research, although I have a few Salsa CDs that I listen to. Actually, I think most of my CDs are packed up in storage in Florida. I can only find a handful of them, some of which I keep in a carry case in my car.

For anyone who wants a great random sampling of 1990s and 2000s style club Salsa songs, you absolutely need to get Salsa Fresca. It’s probably recommended on more Web sites than any other Salsa CD and it is one I personally own. There may be other great collections out there, but this one is a classic. You could pretty much just play and dance to this CD all night if you wanted to have a Salsa dance party.

The two best-known classic Salsa artists are Celia Cruz and Tito Puente. Tito is also known for many other styles, including Cha Cha. His songs are classic and you still hear them in the clubs decades after they were first recorded. Bands still cover them in their live performances. And Celia was a legend, the queen of Salsa.

Cha Cha lovers know Santana songs intimately. “Black Magic Woman”, “Oye Como Va”, “Smooth”, and “Evil Ways” are songs I have danced Cha Cha to many times, usually with my friend Maggie. You can also dance Cha Cha to Sade’s “Your Love Is King” and “Smooth Operator” (can you imagine dancing to the long version?). The Pointer Sisters are extremely popular with Cha Cha enthusiasts. I think Gloria plays “Fire” quite a bit in her Cha Cha lessons (but I have to admit, when I hear her Cha Cha songs, I just start grooving).

Yelba, who lives and performs mostly in Houston, offers some free download samples from her “Latin Fire” CD. She’s simply incredible, and she has good Cha Cha (“Derroche”) and Salsa (“El Talisman”, “El Tamalito”) songs in her list.

You could dance a very, very slow Salsa to Cha Cha-suitable songs. In fact, many teachers combine their Cha Cha and Salsa lessons because Cha Cha basically uses all the steps in Salsa, with the addition of the three sliding “cha cha cha” steps on the 4-and-1 beats. That is, you count 1-2-3-4-and-1-2-3-4-and-1. The “cha cha cha” slide is performed on the 4-and-1.

Another great slow Salsa song is “Olga, Mire, Vea” (or “Oiga, Mire, Vea”) by Orquesta Guayacan. I’m not sure about the spelling. I first heard this song somewhere in the distant past. But I heard it often at Elvia’s Cantina in Houston while watching (or participating) in Johnny Walden’s free dance classes. You could probably dance Cha Cha to it, although I’ve never tried. Or maybe I have. It’s hard to remember.

Della Reese, perhaps best known to general audiences for her acting (Touched By An Angel) is often cited on Cha Cha music lists. I’ve not actually heard any of her songs (and recognized her as the performing artist), but so many recommendations are probably very reliable.

I don’t know much about Ballroom music in general. Gloria teaches the basic Rumba step to the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love”. There are probably a few other slow Bee Gees’ disco-style songs that are suitable for Rumba. Almost anything 50s Rock-and-Roll may be good for Jitterbug, I suppose, although Jitterbug goes back before the 50s. I tease the Ballroom students and tell them they are ready to be extras on Happy Days after they learn the Jitterbug basic. It seemed like that was the only dance they knew on that show. Could just be my memory, though.

Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight” is good for FoxTrot (at least a slow FoxTrot). Usually Maggie just says, “Michael, Foxtrot!” and I trot out to the dance floor without a clue about what song we’re dancing to. I admit it: Maggie usually backleads me in Foxtrot, although I’m getting better at it. My friend Trent is totally intimidated by International Foxtrot (or so he says). Don’t know. Haven’t tried it.

International Ballroom dancing is supposed to be more difficult than American style Ballroom. American Foxtrot is about as simple a dance as you can learn, with its slow-slow-quick-quick step. It can be a very elegant dance when two experienced partners take it to the floor. But it’s a safe social dance for inexperienced dancers to get out on (if they have a partner who knows the timing). If you can dance the Two Step (a popular Country Western dance), there should be no reason (in my opinion) why you cannot learn American Foxtrot. And vice versa.

Of all the Ballroom dances I’ve learned so far, Cha Cha is my favorite. Unfortunately, the clubs my friends and I go to seldom play Cha Cha. Johnny tells me that Salsa is also a Ballroom dance, but though I love Salsa it’s just not as sexy and smooth as Cha Cha. When you get out on the floor with a Cha Cha song moving through your veins, you feel totally sensual. It’s just a really sinuous, feline dance that any man can look good at.

And when the ladies learn to dance Cha Cha, whoa! Do they look good. It’s a pity May didn’t come back to the Ballroom dance classes. She would love Cha Cha, I’m sure, though she was intimidated by it. Cha Cha is unquestionably the hardest of the Ballroom dances to learn because of the syncopated step. A lot of people lose their timing as soon as they try to do that first “cha cha cha”. It just takes practice.

But when a girl knows how to dance Cha Cha, and she hears that music, all she needs is a man who understands what it’s all about and then she shines like a star. It doesn’t matter what she looks like, how she feels about herself before and after the song plays. It’s just magical to watch the women come to life with Cha Cha. They look, feel supersexy. They become incredible.

For a few brief moments, Cha Cha dancing transforms your world, and you are lifted up into the company of angels. You never forget the first time you get it right, and you never stop wanting to get it right again after that.

That’s what good dancing is all about.