Tag Archives: annette charles

Now Can You Hand Jive, Baby?

I learned over the weekend that Annette Charles, the actress who played Cha Cha DiGregorio in Grease, died from cancer.

From Access Hollywood (I know, I know):

Annette, who famously danced with John Travolta in the classic movie musical and told the movie’s Pink Ladies, “They call me Cha Cha because I’m the best dancer at St. Bernadette’s,” was also a speech professor at California State University Northridge, in Northridge, Calif., following her career on the big screen.

Annette quit acting sometime in the 80s and went on to graduate from the NYU School of Social Work in 2001, then became a professor.

I can’t tell you what an impact Cha Cha had on me as a child seeing Grease in the theater. I know it sounds strange, but I found Cha Cha to be exhilarating and even a bit scary. She was rough, sure of herself and sexy. I love the scene at the school dance competition when she steals the show dancing the “hand jive” with Danny. It seemed delicious and wicked, something no “nice girl” would ever do.

When my sister and I played Grease at home, I was always Danny and she got to be Sandy. This was because I had dark hair and she had blond hair. But the truth of the matter was that, while I was also awed by her in the final scenes of the movie, I would have made a crap Sandy. I was not soft and pleasant. I was not a “girly girl” and I really had no interest in that.

I probably identified more with Cha Cha, the bad girl I was always just a bit too shy and unsure of myself to become.

As a movie-goers, I felt like I was supposed to be against Cha Cha – the temptress, the villain. But I’ve always loved a villain, even at age five. And Cha Cha did not disappoint. I had never seen dancing like that – she takes a fake slap across the face! She picks up her dress and exposes her (full-coverage) underwear! She writhes across the floor and between Danny’s legs and then snatches the trophy at the end. It was all too much.

Oh, that moment when Danny, caught up in the moment, starts dancing with Cha Cha without giving Sandy another thought! Haven’t we all been there, ladies? A sliver of the bad girl in me never felt bad for Sandy as she ran from the gym.

This movie electrified me. My sister and I listened to the album over and over again after first seeing i, essentially wearing it out. I’ve seen the movie more times than I can count, can say many of the lines, know all the songs and yet I never tire of watching Cha Cha’s big dance number. I also remember hoping, please God, that Grease would be exactly what high school was like. Please let me wear a big, poofy dress and flip over someone’s back at the school dance!

It didn’t turn out that way but it doesn’t matter. I still have Grease.

Rest in peace, Annette, and thank you for a memorable movie.