Sun, 03 Sep 2000

Cha Cha and Jive dances intrigue more youngsters

By Mehru Jaffer

JAKARTA (JP): Twenty-year-old Anita was still swinging and swaying to numbers like Good Golly Miss Molly when it was announced that she was the winner of the Cha Cha and Jive Dance Competition held recently at the Arios Music Lounge of the Ambhara hotel.

"I am very surprised," she yelled above the sounds of big band music. Dressed in a glittering frock of black and tinsel that looked like an authentic imitation of clothing of the 1940s, there was a huge smile on her face which glistened with happiness, and sweat from hours of nonstop dancing with Denny, 19, who is not just Anita's dance partner but also a favorite cousin.

"I am very, very happy," added Denny who has been taking dance lessons only for a month. Both students of accountancy, they dance because it is so much fun. Neither look upon it as a life- long career.

However, for Lydia Herwanto, Anita's mother, dancing is more than just fun. She personally escorts both Anita and Denny every Sunday evening to the Arios Music Lounge for two hours of dance classes to allow the vigorous activity to get rid of all the tremendous energy all youngsters have.

Lydia is concerned about growing violence and destruction among today's youth and to provide an incentive for her children, she dances with them.

"What dance and music does is relax the senses and sooth tempers," said Lydia who has always encouraged children in the family to channel their tremendous energies into things creative. When Anita was still a little girl, she practiced Balinese dancing and learned to play the piano.

Both Anita and Denny love all kinds of music, but in recent times have been hooked on the "oldies".

More than just winning prizes, what competitions like this one do is instill great self-confidence among youngsters, and hopefully prevent them from drifting in life, feels Lydia who is grateful to people like Mr. and Mrs. Mochtar, who invest so much of their time in teaching hundreds of youngsters to dance the Cha Cha, Jive and Rumba.

Dita S. Setiarno, 33, who did not enter the competition as she could not find a partner, discovered the Arios Music Lounge about five years ago. She is one of the regulars at the lounge, which once was the stomping ground of older people but is attracting more and more younger people now. It seems that youngsters are a little tired of the rebellious and often jarring sounds of techno and metal music and crave a return to the innocent romance celebrated in the music of yesteryear.

From Cha Cha, Dita's addiction has moved on to the seductive Salsa, the Spanish-derived dance with Afro-Cuban elements and she even gives lessons to five students. It is Cuba really that is best associated with the Salsa, a combination of the influences of its entire population of white, black and mulatto.

In the late 1940s, Cuba's capital city, Havana, became one of the most popular resorts for North Americans, especially those residing along the east coast. American dance bands and Latin bands native to Cuba soon married the American Jazz beat with the Cuban Rumba to create a new rhythm called Mumba, and steps were also developed which were danced to the off beat rather than the traditional downbeat. The chatch, which involved three quick changes of step preceded by two slow steps, developed into a Cha Cha, an instantly popular dance, child of Rumba and the Mumba and comprising many simple variations of basic footwork.

Like most Latin dances, it is performed while the hips are relaxed, allowing free movement in the pelvic region with the upper body shifting over the supporting foot as steps are taken. The jive may be the latest dance craze here but it is not new. Its origins date back to the 1920s in the dance clubs of black America. It was American soldiers who brought the dance with them to Europe and in England and it surfaced with rock and roll.

Over the years, the dance has been adapted to fit music trends around the world and broken down into a basic format suitable for the masses. Many people today prefer to dance to shed off those extra kilos rather than doing boring workouts at the gym.

"Dancing is so much more fun than aerobics in keeping the body trim," said Dita, whose other favorite haunt is Kemang's Salsa Club. The dancing at Arios is great but what is missing here is fire and passion among the dancers. Dita feels that it is not enough just to learn the steps and master the technique of dance. She also seeks total oneness between the dancing partners and to see the spirit of the dancers escape into the performance.

Ati, who sat in the audience tapping her feet, is a dancer herself. She too found the dancers at the dance competition too stiff, self-conscious and lacking in fun. She wished that they would really shake it.

Maybe they eventually will, as the legendary shy and more reserved spirit of local dancers surrenders to a rhythm that has come all the way across the seven seas, from a different people of a very different culture. After all, it is a long way from Cuba to Jakarta, even for spirits that are able to soar.