Most men think they are dancing Cha Cha too slow, when in fact they are dancing it too fast. The biggest culprit is "Cha Cha Cha". The timing for Cha Cha is 1,2,3,4,&. Three whole beats and two half beats that equate to four beats total. It amazes me that instructors still say "Cha Cha Cha" even though they all agree that the timing is 1,2,3,4,&. The next time you hear an instructor say "Cha Cha Cha", ask them to count it musically. When they say 1,2,3,4,&; ask them "What is the value of a Cha?" I would love to hear the answer. I feel that an instructor is doing the student a big disservice by saying "Cha Cha Cha". Men are so literal anyway, they go crazy trying to correlate 1,2,3,4,& to 1, 2, Cha, Cha, Cha. Dancing "Cha Cha Cha" makes you dance too fast and the dance will always feel frantic because you won't be with the music.
If you think 1,2,3,4,& or 1,2,3, Cha, Cha, the 1,2,3 are whole beats that require a whole step. The 4,& or Cha Cha are half beats that require ½ the size steps. You shouldn't dance faster on the Cha Cha, just smaller.
Most dancers try to move their body's too much horizontally. Latin (Rhythm) is danced basically from the rib cage down. Try dancing the side basic with very little horizontal movement of the body. It should feel like the legs are doing all of the work. This should give you more control of your movement.
Another big factor in the panic feeling, is shuffling your feet on the Cha Cha, instead of having distinct weight changes. The Cha Cha action should feel more up and down rather than side-to-side. When you shuffle your feet, you end up with your weight on both feet at the same time. Weight on both feet at the same time affects your ability to move.
There is another misconception dancers make. Dancers try to make all of the steps feel the same. Let's talk about the American Style Cha Cha "Side Basic" pattern:
The Side-L step has a side ways feeling, the Rock-Back step feels different because it is traveling further and is moving diagonally backwards. The Inplace step feels slow (in comparison) because there is no leg movement. The Side-R step should really feel forward (up under the right shoulder). This step feels fast because it is a Cha ( ½ beat) and is traveling further than the last step. The Together step feels slow even though it is a Cha ( ½ beat) because it hardly moves. You can see that the various steps feel different. Don't try to make them all feel the same. This is true in all dances. Try to understand the geometry and timing of each pattern and try to understand how each step feels.
Another important factor is powering from your supporting leg instead of just falling on your next step with your shoulder weight. You will never be under control by falling on each step. You must deliberately power from your supporting leg to gain control of your movements.
A good exercise for the feeling of the speed of Cha Cha is to simply march around the ballroom (1,2,3,4). You will be surprised how slow Cha Cha is. Once you get the 1,2,3,4 going, add a Cha Cha in place of the 4 step (1,2,3, Cha,Cha). This will give you a very good idea of the speed of Cha Cha.
As you see, there are a variety of things that can cause the Cha Cha panic feeling. I would rather have my student dance Cha Cha too slow than too fast. Play around with these ideas and the panic will soon be non-existent. Happy Dancing.