Off-Beat Cha Cha Cha

OFF-BEAT CHA-CHA-CHA This episode is especially dedicated to my maternal cousin Boon Hooi. Boon Hooi is still today the perpetual optimist, ever smiling, despite the various hardships that he had been through in his life. He has a natural gift to take the worse in life and just laugh it off. Even when he is offended, he would not react emotionally, openly and directly; and most certainly he would not rave and rant and altercate. The most he would do is to walk away, glum and sullen and in disgust. However because he would not hold grudges, he would get over it and the very next day, he would be ‘lovey-dovey’ again. He is and would be the life of any party. He is and would be the natural emcee - there to orchestrate the tempo, to enliven things up and to set the ambience alight. He is a man of many talents - he can sing, he can dance, he can joke and he can even tell a tall tale or two. He is humble, he is never boastful. True, he might exaggerate a bit, but always in a most delightful and endearing way. He is also frank and forthright in an amicable way. If you were to ask him to help, and if he were unable to help, he will let you know straight away. Most of all he has a very pleasant personality and the gift of the gap. It is or was no wonder that he became and is a head ‘salesman’ with Lever Brothers. Utmost of all is that he is very handsome and looks ‘forever young’, and consequently, he is a real ladies’ man. I have named the title ‘Off-Beat Cha-Cha-Cha’ for the simple reason that I identify this variant of the Cha-Cha-Cha with the Batu Road/Chow Kit precinct of my childhood and Malaysia. As an adult I have worked in and travelled to various countries overseas. I have never come across this variant of the Cha-Cha-Cha overseas. Having said that, I think the generations that came after us, (for we were the Baby-Boomers, the Post-War Generation), were not into the Cha-Cha-Cha and the Rumba. They were not into Jive, Rock-n-Roll or Twist either. They were simply not into ‘set steps’ Old World dancing. They are rather the Disco Generation. Speaking for myself and Chinese in general, I am of the opinion that we Chinese do not have a natural talent for Western dancing. There are always exceptions of course, but these are in the minority. Most have no inherent propensity. I used to think that Boon Hooi, Thean Cheong, (another of my maternal cousin), and King Kong, (Victor’s maternal cousin), were fantastic dancers; at least in the Cha-Cha-Cha. Having lived and travelled overseas, I have since realised that we Chinese, no matter how athletic, how gymnastically supple and how figuratively lithesome we are; we just do not have the natural body moves and pulsative rhythms that the Blacks and the Latinos naturally have. We were or are all like ‘mok tau kung chai’ [wooden puppets]. This became very obvious to me when I observed Chinese people ‘dancing’ en masse at early morning exercise at the public parks in Beijing and Hong Kong. The theatrical ‘sight’ was rather ‘embarrassing’ to watch, for a Chinese. The awkward bumbling, Pinocchio puppet like mechanical moves and the stiff, stifling blank stare demeanour were all reminiscent of old animated cartoon characters. It was like watching an average white man doing tai-chi. Still a person or a race cannot be good at everything. Chinese are good at being ‘worker ants’ but they certainly were not born to cha-cha-cha, samba, rumba or tango. No matter how much we learn the moves or the steps or the sways, we just do not have what matters most, the passionate rhythm in our blood, in our heart and in our soul. We just do not have that Latin or Michael Jackson ‘groove’ in our bloodlines. Without that sort of seductive ‘groove’ how can we be ‘groovy’? Still, no matter how stoic we are, being Chinese, at least we are humble and humorous enough to laugh at ourselves, as or for being ‘mok tau kung chai’. I cannot remember why or what prompted Boon Hooi to offer to teach us, or conversely my twin and I to agree to learn, how to dance. If my memory is right, I think, Boon Hooi was then going out with a girl called Dolly Ng. Possibly, it was Dolly Ng who taught Boon Hooi how to dance. Our ‘dancing school’ was basically the limited confines of Boon Hooi’s cubby-like bedroom on

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Off-Beat Cha Cha Cha

the mezzanine level of my maternal grandmother’s 2 storey shop/house in Batu Road. It was built into the small space available off the landing between the 2 flights of steps, to the upstairs floor. Occasionally, we might commandeer the use of the small common room or space upstairs, just where you came off the stairs, as you got upstairs. At least there you could have the room to do the proper twirls and turns, and there was more spatial length to stridently cha-cha-cha up and cha-cha-cha down. Music came by way of a cheap portable record player and hard vinyl ‘45 SP’ or single play records. There was only 1 song per hard vinyl record. So you had to continually keep putting the record back on after each song. It was easier to learn the Cha-Cha-Cha than the Rumba, for the reason that with the Rumba, like the Waltz, you had to hold your partner and dance as a two-some. It therefore took some time to adjust to male and female roles. Boon Hooi endeavoured to explain how in real life our lady partners would be doing certain female twirls and turns, but somehow his explanation never ‘gelled’ until we actually danced with girls in the ensuing years. Ultimately, in retrospect, there was no better ‘teacher’ than actual ‘practice’ or ‘attempts’ at parties. Particularly, this was so, when you got to dance with a girl, who was very good at dancing. Such a ‘party girl’ ended up teaching you how to dance well, and might I add, also guided you along as to some ‘natural’ things about ‘boys and girls’. For a ‘Geek’ and “Wimp” that I was, it was part of my rite of passage. With the Cha-Cha-Cha, although you were dancing with your partner, you were not however holding her in your arms. You were free to do your own thing. Of course, you were still required to know your steps and to keep up with the timing and rhythm. Initially, you focused on mastering the footsteps – forward 1, 2, cha-cha-cha, and then back 1, 2, cha-cha-cha. You then progressed to making sensual swaying ‘hula-hula’ like waist movements and waving or swaddling your arms about. Boon Hooi had a hilarious spill about the ‘teasing’ nature of the forward and back-tracking strides. Going forward, it was like the male cat saying “Mahu?” [“Want”], (but you say it like “Meow?”), but when the female cat was eager, you then backtrack as in “Tak Mahu!” [Don’t Want”], (but you say it like “Ta-Meow!”). So there we were, doing our “Mahu?” and “Tak Mahu!” to ‘Perfidia’, ‘More than I can Say’, ‘Itsy Bitsie Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’, ‘Guantanamera’, ‘Petito’, ‘Isle of Capri’, ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’ and many, many more. Once we got to a level of proficiency in our Cha-Cha-Cha, Boon Hooi then taught us some fancy and stylish ‘moves’. Boon Hooi said that we had to create our own signature style. It did not matter if it looked ‘funny’, (he gave the example of the “Hokkien Mee Fryer”), or looked ‘outrageous’, (he gave the example of the Chinese Lion Dancer), as long as it was your signature Cha-Cha-Cha. This ‘free styling’ of one’s own signature style included one aspect which has still eluded me to this day. Boon Hooi said that, as long as you know the rhythm, the beat and the timing, you could divert from the normal sequence of the forward and back tracking strides, and just improvise, doing fancy loops or jumps or kicks, so long as you know how to get back ‘in’ into the ‘normal’ routine, after the ‘free styling’. I have therefore sensibly left this part of the training ‘on hold’ till my next life! Off-Beat Cha-Cha-Cha was an eye opener for me. This was how Boon Hooi explained it. If you cannot do your Cha-Cha-Cha properly, (I suppose he meant, beautifully, as in steps, rhythm and timing), stick to Off-Beat Cha-Cha-Cha. “My cup of tea!” he might, as well, have heard me cry out, although I am not sure how the Hokkien translation might turn out to be like. It would probably turn out as follows – “chit kwan see gua a boo” [“This is My kind of Dance”]. “Tia Ho Ho” [“Listen very carefully”] Boon Hooi said. Listen to the drum beat, the ‘serial’ drumming is truncated by a distinctive solitary bass ‘click’ or ‘thud’. It took some effort on my part, with these

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tone deaf ears of mine, but sure enough, there was a distinctive rhythmic pattern to the drum beat. And, at the end of each ‘serial’ drumming there was a ‘signature’ ‘thud’. Boon Hooi said that all we had to do in essence, was to move our left foot across to our right foot, and then as we did so, we were to move our right foot to the rear and to our left and just pretend to ‘click’ the right heel against an imaginary obstacle (where our left foot was previously). Then we were to bring our right foot back to the right so that it was alongside our left foot again. This brought us back to square1. We had to do this ‘cross-over with the left and draw back the right to the rear and left and ‘click’ the heel’ at the same time as the solitary ‘thud’ of the drum. Then we did the same in reverse i.e. ‘cross-over with the right and draw back the left to the rear and right and ‘click’ the heel’. In essence the Off-Beat Cha-Cha-Cha was all about improvisation. In abstract terms, it was about getting a job done even when you did not have the full knowledge or the complete tools, but without upsetting the ‘score’ or the ‘harmony’ Without knowing it Boon Hooi was one of my sifus about how to live life. He taught me that you could still do the Cha-Cha-Cha of life, even when you were inadequate, even if you did not dance well, even when you were not a master of the rhythm, the beat and the timing. How often in life were fortunes made because you had the right timing, when you were at the right place at the right time? How often were fortunes made because you knew the beat, you were right on the pulse, you had the skills and the knowledge or inside information? How often were fortunes made because you knew the rhythm of business cultivation, who to net-work with, which Golf Clubs to join, which schools to go to, who to kowtow to, who to become a protégé of? Boon Hooi’s OffBeat Cha-Cha-Cha taught me how to plod on with life, even though I was not a master of the rhythm, the beat and the timing. All I needed to make sure of, was how and when to ‘click my heel’ when the signature ‘thud’ beckons. This was to be my means of survival, of not upsetting the ‘score’ or the ‘harmony’. Now that ‘signature’ thud can be your boss, your wife or your conscience or whatever keeps you in the race, keeps you employed, or whatever keeps your ‘head above water’. Vince Cheok

Off-Beat Cha Cha Cha Feel the cha-cha-cha rhythm oh! let it sway In your body, in your heart, in your very soul Let go your worries, throw your cares away Close off your mind, go; be debonair and bold Show that you are humming with zest and life Click, clack your heels when the ‘off-beat’ comes Intoxicated with the girls - all sugar and spice Eyes glued of course their very seductive bums! Try spinning a turn, if good, do it twice or thrice Aiyah, sorry, lost my rhythm or was it my sums Click, clacking wrongly, my ‘off-beat’ went astray I turned out more like a mee fryer so I am told! Vince Cheok
Plodding On With Life

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Off-Beat Cha Cha Cha

Never agitate, never worry and never fear or fret Take “as is” the good with the ugly and the bad All life’s ups and downs; for life is somewhat like that Treat all with equanimity the happy and the sad For only thus will your spirituality steeply grow Strengthened by the trials that your journey borne Ultimately victory’s loud call cry will then show When you reflect back on what you have known That one’s life journey like any river will always be Dependent on its very terrain but still ends in the sea So whatever it be, the obstacle, difficulty or strife The essential tenet to follow is – “get on with your life” For all that you see, hear, feel or think is an “illusion” Fleeting “past” memories though seen as the “present” Just reflect back on similar “phenomenon” of your youth You will see the “insight” basis of this spiritual truth Cling not to impermanent worldly things or your “being” Live life spiritually to the full, see beyond the “seem” Vince Cheok

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