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Chainé Turns, A New Way To Rotate

By Sandi & Dan Finch

A new type of turn has subtly made its way into round dancing. It showed up a couple of years ago in California Dreamin’ (phase VI rumba by Bill & Carol Goss), as a Cheryl Burk (“Dancing With The Stars”)-inspired turn, although ballet dancers have been doing it for decades.

It is called a chainé (pronounced “shin-ay”) turn, done like a riff turn with a step out. It ensures that the turn is quick, without covering ground as a three-step turn would do, and (theoretically) helps keep you moving in a straight line.

A chainé turn is a common move in ballet and modern dance, a quick and complete rotation in two steps. The word comes from the French for “chain,” meaning you can link several of these quick turns together, as ballet dancers do on toe point in almost every routine. The name is actually short for tours chainées déboulés, or chained, rolling turns. In ballet, it is considered a moderately difficult movement. (See “Classical Ballet Technique” by Gretchen Ward Warren, 1989.)

The name has yet to show up in cue sheets, but the footwork appeared again recently in George & Pam Hurd’s Perfidia In Brazil (phase 5+2+1 rumba), released last October, and yet again in Curt & Tammy Worlock’s Black Horse (phase VI west coast swing), first taught in March 2010.

Why would you want to do this type of turn? It is snappier than the standard three-step turn, where you rotate and move some on all three steps of the measure. This snappiness is fitting in Perfidia In Brazil because of the staccato overlap in the music. In Black Horse, it keeps the partner (Lady) who is rotating as she moves in the slot from getting too far away from the other partner who is working across the slot.

How do you do it? To turn right while traveling down line of dance, start facing center of hall with weight on left foot. Extend the right foot down line of dance, open the hip slightly in that direction and step (like the start of a riff turn in bolero). Bring your arms in, almost crossing them in front to generate energy. Stay on the balls of the feet but keep your heels close to the floor. Allow your left leg to draw in as your feet come together while turning one-quarter turn, still with weight on the right foot. Change weight to the left foot, still next to the right foot (called first position in ballet) and rotate three-quarters of a turn on the left foot to face center of hall again. A step onto the right would start a second turn in the “chain” or, as used in round dancing, a side step right simply concludes the figure.

Technically this is a type of spiral turn (right face turn on the left foot, for the second part of the turn) but it is so fast, you do not have the sensation of the right leg wrapping as you would in a slow spiral.

Spotting helps make it snappier—fix your eyes on a spot in the direction of the turn. Keep your eyes fixed on that spot. When the rotation moves your body so much you can no longer keep looking there, whip your head around to refocus on the same spot as the turn continues. This will keep you from getting dizzy and keep you in a straight line, especially in progressive turns.

So how has this been used? In Perfidia In Brazil, it is appropriate in the Interlude where partners roll in opposite directions from a right hand star to a left hand star and back. If they did a standard three-step turn, they would probably get too far apart to touch hands. The cue sheet describes Man’s part as sd R spin RF one full trn, cl L to R, sd R.

In California Dreamin’, it shows up in Part A after the side by side rumba walks, where the partners do what is named as a “spiral syncopated spin” away from each other and back to face. Walking toward RLOD, Man steps fwd L to spiral RF, then fwd R cont RF trn/cl L to R as spin RF, sd R to fc…..

In Black Horse, Lady does two chainé turns in the opening figure, the tsunami, to keep her rotations compact without too much travel. (Her last turn is a chainé turn overturned to face LOD for her anchor step.) The detail in this cue sheet, as in the others above, describes a chainé turn but does not name it as such. However, using the term when teaching the dance is a quick shorthand description for Lady’s part, assuming she is drilled enough first so she can react to the cue.

It is not a question of whether the chainé turn will catch on in round dancing. It is the proper technique in the right place. The term itself may be used only in isolated parts of the country and never find its way into the round dance manuals, but the technique is already in use in cue sheets. Having a name for it, like the riff turn or the spiral turn, only makes it easier to recognize it when it is used.

Dan & Sandi have other essays and helps on their site. This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, July 2010.


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