The timing of the Cha Cha Cha is 4/4 and it is danced at 30 - 32 bars per minute. The steps are taken on the beats, with a strong hip movement as the knee straightens on the half beats in between. The weight is kept well forward, with forward steps taken on the toes, and the torso movement is kept flat. The chasse on 4 & 1 is used to emphasise the step on beat 1, which is held a moment longer than the other steps to match the emphasis of the beat in the music.
The name may have been derived from another Cuban dance: the Guaracha. This dance was popular in Europe from before the turn of the century, however it has also been suggested that the name Cha Cha is derived from the sound of the feet in the chasse which is included in many of the steps.
In 1954, the dance was described as a "Mambo with a Guiro Rhythm". A guiro is a musical instrument consisting of a dried gourd rubbed by a serrated stick.
The Mambo itself was originally a Haitian dance introduced to the West in 1948 by Prado. The word "Mambo" is the name of a voodoo priestess in the religion brought by the Negroes from Africa so the Cha Cha had its origins in the religious ritual dances of West Africa. There are three forms of Mambo: single, double, and triple. The triple has five steps to a bar, and this is the version that evolved into the Cha Cha Cha as it is danced today.