Chaines: Bring The Party (Side)
At Suspend, where I train in aerials, there’s a cute shorthand for differentiating one’s dominant side from one’s non-dominant side: we call the dominant (usually right) side the “business side” and the non-dominant (usually left) side the “party side.”
This means that if, for example, you start an exercise on your dominant side, when your instructor says, “…And, now let’s do the party side!” you’ll know what to do regardless of which side is which for you (or, if you’re a giant mess of cross-dominant feels like me, you’ll just do whichever one you didn’t already do).
I mention all this largely to apologize for the fact that I’m about to lamely use the same terminology to mean “something completely different,” as it were, all apologies to Cirque Volant du Monty Python.
Anyway, as you all know by now, I have what one might call a chequered past with regard to chaîné turns. I have been known to refer to them as “hell turns,” “devil turns,” and “Can’t we just leave that part out?”
In short, I used to hate chaîné turns avec le feu de mille soleils(1).
- That’s “with the fire of a thousand suns,” for those playing along in only one language, or at any rate in a pastiche of languages that doesn’t include French.
Then I learned, or possibly re-learned, to approach them from tombé and began to make peace with them (the fact that BW makes me do roughly a billion chaînés every class probably doesn’t hurt, either: that’s what happens when you have 90 minutes and only one student).
I’ve spent the last several months tweaking things: bringing the chest forward, doing away with the swayback bit, actually spotting at the same rate I’m turning, etc. All of this has greatly improved my relationship with the much-hated chaîné.
On this past Friday, BG added a really sound correction (given to the entire class) to the mix—one very similar, in fact, to that which Killer B gave me on my grand assemblé en tournant. BG said, in essence,
Don’t let the second side trail behind. Snap it around. Think about actively bringing the opposite shoulder and hip around.
It turns out that this helps immensely—but, as with almost everything in ballet, it requires that you’ve first laid down the groundwork.
In this case, the groundwork is cross-lateral activation. If you’ve got decent pirouettes and piqué turns, chances are good that you have the groundwork in place.
It just so happens, though, that we tend to forget to use it when doing chaînés, probably because we’re too busy grumbling to ourselves about how horrible they are.
Anyway, when you consciously think about bringing the trailing shoulder and hip along with you, which you do by activating the muscles that connect diagonally across your body, not only do you prevent the annoying swayback effect, but you also get faster turns with less effort.
So, really, while the term “chaîné” refers to the fact that you’re chaining together a series of turns, you can also think about it as if you’re chaining the trailing side of your body to the leading side, or perhaps better, activating the chains of muscles that connect across your body, as you turn.
I was actually quite surprised at how immediate and clear a difference this made for me: it got me a “Good, Asher!” from BG, which is always welcome (and, for once, did not immediately cause me to forget how to walk, let alone dance).
So, basically, if you think of your business side as the side that’s leading, make sure you intentionally bring the party side along with it: because all business and no party makes Jack terrible at chaînés. Or something like that.
One more semi-pro tip: I find it helpful to imagine that something is pushing my trailing side around from behind. For whatever reason, this helps me keep shoulders and hips (and, presumably, body and soul) together.
So, there you have it. My current bit of helpful advice for chaînés, which (as it turns out) are not beyond help after all.
I may not be quite as ridiculously fast at them as Rudolf Nureyev was, but dangit, I’m improving. So there.
PS: I am likely to be more or less incognito for a week or so. I have a Big Thing Happening, and I’m keeping my hecking mouth shut about it until it’s done, and might just kind of keep my big hecking mouth shut period for a bit and take a break from the written variety of Social Meteors.