Daily Bruin columnist Christi Carras’ limited dance background consists of bingeing episodes of “So You Think You Can Dance,” grapevining her way through high school show choir and stumbling through rehearsals at a daycare-like dance studio until the age of 8. As a personal experiment, she attended workshops and lessons for 10 campus dance groups fall quarter and documented her experience as a nondancer for Dance Break.
If the rumba is a romantic commitment, the cha-cha is a one-night stand.
Dancesport Club at UCLA instructor Taylor Daymude applied the latter comparison to the fun and flirtatious dance style we learned at the club’s first lesson of the school year on Oct. 6.
The workshop was easily the most beginner-oriented course I’ve taken so far in my miniature dance journey. By the end, I was confident I had formed a cha-cha foundation solid enough to catapult a competitive career in Latin ballroom if needed.
Daymude, clad in a button-up shirt, dress pants and glasses, introduced himself as a fourth-year mathematics student and warned us of his tendency to break dance rhythms into complex numeric divisions – admittedly not the type of person I’d expect to be an expert in sensual dance moves.
But if there were any doubts as to his qualifications for teaching the cha-cha, they disappeared when the music started. The mathematician could move.
We gathered in rows as he demonstrated the fundamental cha-cha step. His left foot crossed in front of his right and rocked forward before stepping back into place for a faster left-right-left foot shuffle. Then, he crossed behind with his right foot, which stepped back into place for a right-left-right foot shuffle. Rinse, repeat.
The footwork itself was not too complex, especially after repeating it several times to the hypnotic one, two, one-two-three cha-cha rhythm. But my hips and legs looked awkward and stiff in the mirror compared to Daymude’s effortless hip swivels and gentle toe-taps.
Some of the club’s veteran female members – distinguishable by their stylish skirts and heels – set an example I strove to emulate. Ultimately I decided the fluid connection between their hips and incredibly toned legs must come with practice, time and a healthier relationship than I have with high-heeled shoes.
After settling into the counts, though, I found I could afford to focus less on my feet and let my my torso and arms flow naturally with my lower body. I was just beginning to feel confident in my feet when Daymude announced it was time to circle up and find a partner.
I held a mental moment of silence for whichever poor soul was about to get stuck with my uncoordinated feet as the rest of the self-identified followers perused the circle for a partner.
Though males traditionally take on the leadership role in a dance duo, the Dancesport leader circle was comprised of many genders and sizes. I eventually landed in front of a woman who had fewer inches on me, but probably more ballroom experience, judging by her ornate, strappy heels.
As we introduced ourselves and small talked while the rest of the members paired up, she divulged that this was her second year dancing in the club. At Daymude’s instruction, we assumed the cha-cha frame; I placed my left hand on her shoulder and my right hand in her left, while her right hand rested on my left shoulder blade.
Our feet then performed the cha-cha step we had just learned. My left foot crossed in front to fill the empty space where her right stepped back and vice versa, over and over, until we reached a steady rhythm.
We switched partners every five minutes or so and although most of them were more experienced in cha-cha than me, each was patient and encouraging as I carefully watched my feet, afraid to crush their toes.
Toward the end of the lesson we had learned a few basic moves including the cha-cha step sequence and a partner turn. While I am by no means a master of any of the steps, maybe someday, with a little more practice, I’ll at least be able to take my eyes off my feet.