‘How low can you go?’: The history of the ‘Cha Cha Slide’

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Bar goers at Johhny Kaws Sports Bar in Aggieville listen to music and dance on March 4, 2016. (Miranda Snyder | Collegian Media Group)

It is a song that is instantly recognizable and accessible for dancers, with synchronized clapping and the commands of DJ Casper reverberating across the dance floor. From wedding receptions to high school proms, the “Cha Cha Slide” is a line dance staple. In fact, it’s practically inescapable.

Despite its prevalence, people seem to know little about the song that has become an inexorable part of dance culture. All Andrew Spindler, junior in mechanical engineering, actually knows of the “Cha Cha Slide” is the lyrics, “slide to the left.”

“It’s that song from wedding dances or dance occasions or whatever,” Spindler said.

The “Cha Cha Slide” is part of a collection of line dances known as slides, including “The Electric Slide” and “The Cupid Shuffle.”

“It’s a great line dance,” said Oliver Schmitz, junior in agricultural technology management.

DJ Casper starts the song by saying, “This is something new, the ‘Casper Slide Part Two.’” But this introduction raises several questions: What happened to the “Casper Slide Part One?” Who is DJ Casper? And what made him a figure we blindly listen to on the dance floor?

To answer these questions, we’re going to have to “take it back now y’all.”

The “Cha Cha Slide” got its start in Chicago, at Bally’s Total Fitness club in 1996. Fitness trainer David Wilson wanted a new routine for his aerobics class, according to an interview on the podcast “Every Little Thing.”

Wilson went to his uncle, Willie Perry Jr., better known as DJ Casper or Mr. C The Slide Man. The dance started as a set of instructions on paper for David to use in his class, where the routine quickly became popular.

As Bjorn Funk, senior in mechanical engineering, said, “It’s a fun dance and gets others to start dancing too.”

Casper put his vocals and some music on a track, and that became the never-released “Casper Slide Part One.” To catch a listen to part of this track, check out the episode of the podcast “Every Little Thing” called “The Cha Cha Slide: How One Uncle Changed Weddings Forever.”

Because the original music used didn’t belong to Casper, copyright prevented this track from being released. So, in 1999, Casper recorded the song with a live band, and it became the “Casper Slide Part Two.”

DJ Casper began selling the song on CDs out of the trunk of his car. From radio requests to airtime at Chicago clubs, the song gained traction. The song was renamed the “Cha Cha Slide” when it was released by Universal Records in 2000.

The “Cha Cha Slide” topped the UK singles chart in 2004 thanks in part to Scott Mills at BBC Radio 1, who debuted the song across the pond. This is when the “Cha Cha Slide” became a global phenomenon.

The funky music of the “Cha Cha Slide” is reminiscent of its origin in ’90s aerobics. However, it’s not the only version of the “Cha Cha Slide” that exists. DJ Casper’s Spotify profile features five different remixes of the song. It’s the “Cha Cha Slide – Original Platinum Band Mix” that has the well-known bass beat commonly heard on dance floors.

After two decades of bringing ambivalent dancers to their feet, the “Cha Cha Slide” persistently transcends boundaries, seeming to infiltrate every occasion and establishment; it’s not just a song for pop clubs and celebratory occasions.

“I hear it at Dirty Dawgs late at night,” Schmitz said.

From an uncle selling CDs out of the trunk of his car to a global line dance phenomenon, the “Cha Cha Slide” continues to keep everybody clapping their hands.

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Macy Davis
I'm Macy Davis a former Collegian culture editor and a 2019 graduate in English. When I was not reading and writing (both for class and for fun), I was also a member of the nationally ranked K-State speech team.