Chaine Turns for west coast swing
Chaines turns are a method to do a quick series of turns (hence the name chaines, French for “chains”). In WCS, chaines turns are preferred for any extended series of turns, such as a barrel roll down the line, because they can be linked together much easier than pivots.
In addition, chaines turns are faster than pivots since the feet are closed during the turn; as a result, many dancers prefer to use chaines for all traveling turns.
The following drill is designed to develop the basic mechanic of chaines turns for west coast dancers.
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Chaine Turn Drill
Stand in an open third or fourth foot position, with your left foot in front. Your forward foot should be pointing down line with a slight turnout; your back foot should be at about a 45 degree angle.
Your upper body should be prepped for a turn, with the back (right) side held back slightly.
As you transfer weight to the three-toe base of the left foot, gather your free foot to your supporting leg.
You can think of moving your feet into first position (with the right foot only skimming the ground, with no weight), or you can think of dragging the right foot to your left ankle (again with no weight on the right). At the same time, let your core unwind to rotate your body to the left.
You are aiming to rotate approximately three quarters of the way around; if down the line is 12 o’clock, your rotation should take you to 3 o’clock. With your feet together, you transfer weight to your right toe base anywhere between 9 o’clock (a quarter rotation) and 3 o’clock (the full 3/4 mark). By the time you hit 3 o’clock, you should have your weight on your right toe base with your left foot unweighted, next to your right.
The last quarter of rotation comes from stepping down line (12 o’clock) with your left foot. As you do so, again pull back your right upper body to prep yourself for the next spin. You should now be in position to do another chaines turn.
Be sure to practice spinning in the other direction! When you are turning to your right, your right foot is forward while your left side is prepped back. As you close your left foot to your right, you begin to rotate to the 9 o’clock mark, changing weight somewhere between 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. From the three-quarters position, step forward with your right down the line in order to get the final quarter of rotation and to set yourself up for the next spin.
Adding Arms in Chaine Turns
Many people finding that adding specific arm movements improves their balance during chaines turns. If you don’t feel stable, try this exercise.
You will alternate between open and closed arm positions. Closed arm position is straightforward; put your arms in front of you in an oval, fingers almost touching, with your hands at approximately navel level. Open position keeps your hands at the same level but moves the hands away from each other. If you feel a pull on your pectoral muscle (the upper chest), that arm is opening too far; generally an angle of 90 degrees is sufficient.
Start with your feet together and your arms in closed position. As you step forward for the turn, open your arms. The arms should match the feet, with the forward arm pointing down line and the rear arm following the back foot.
As you bring the feet together, close the arms by bringing the rear arm to the front arm in closed position. Do not swing the arm; this will throw you off balance. The closing action is a relaxed movement that happens naturally as your torso unwinds in the spin. Keep the arms in closed position through the remainder of the spin. When you step forward for the next spin, you will open the arms again.
Want to know what to do with your Arms in West Coast Swing?
Read this article (free video included)
Prepping Continuous Chaines Turns
All spins require a prep, in which the rotating side is held back in order to create the torque for the spin. This is easy to do for single turns, but when doing a continuous series of turns it becomes more difficult. This drill will extend the chaines turns exercise to focus on the prep.
The Drill: The prep for the chaines turn occurs by keeping the rotating side of the body behind when exiting the chaines turn. If you are turning left, your right side is prepped back. If you are turning right, your left side is prepped back.
Let’s start by turning right. Step forward on your right foot with your left side prepped back. Close the left foot to the right as you rotate right, and transfer weight somewhere between 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock.
For this drill, focus on what happens after your close the feet for the spin. As you finish rotating back to noon, your left side should remain behind in the prepared position. If you square off your shoulders to your line of travel, you have eliminated your prep for the next turn. Step forward on your right and compare your position now to when you stepped forward for your first turn—it should be the same.
Continue turning down line, checking your body position after each closing of the feet/rotation cycle. As you become comfortable with stopping your body rotation before your shoulders square up, gradually increase the speed of the spins.
Be sure to practice in both directions! When turning to your left, your right foot will close to your leading, left foot. Your right side should remain back when you come out of the rotation, which allows your forward step on the left to put you into a prepared position.
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Spotting in Chaines Turns
Spotting is useful in all turns, and chaines are no exception.
This drill is designed to integrate spotting into the timing of your chaines turns.
The Drill: Prep for your chaines turn by stepping forward onto the supporting leg. Begin the rotation by gathering the free foot and unwinding from your core, but keep your eyes focused on the wall straight ahead.
Around the 8 o’clock mark (when spinning left) or 4 o’clock mark (when spinning right), quickly flip your head around and take your eyes back to the forward wall.
You will notice that flipping your head creates a burst of power for the second half of the turn. If you try to flip your head too fast, you will be unable to control the back half of the turn. Flip the head in a relaxed manner instead of forcing the rotation to happen instantly.
As you rotate the head, make sure that you maintain a solid, upright posture. The human head makes up a substantial portion of the human body weight (generally 5-10%), so even a slight tilt to the head can quickly pull you off balance.
Exiting Chaine Turns
This drill is designed to help you measure your movement as you step out of a chaines turn. Before practicing this drill, make sure that your chaines mechanics are solid. If you want to get some extra practice on your basic chaines first, look at the basic chaines drill.
The Drill: Without a partner, you are going to do chaines turns down the floor at an angle.
Start with your weight on your right foot. Step down the floor at approximately a 45° angle with your left, then close your right as you spin to your left. Step out with your left again, continuing the angle, but slowly settle into the left as you draw in your right foot. The timing for this movement is 1&2 hold 3, hold 4. Now your right foot is free, so you can repeat the sequence stepping at a 45° angle to the right starting with your right foot and turning to the right.
The focus of this drill should be on filling the space during the 3 and 4 in a controlled and measured way. You can slowly gather your feet, stop the turn slightly under-rotated and let your center finish the rotation slowly during 3, 4, and use your arms and head to continue the movement as you settle through the held counts.
A tip for balance (squeeze, don’t swing)
One of the easiest ways to lose your balance when spinning is by swinging the free leg. Inexperienced spinners tend to swing the free leg in the hopes of generating power for the spin. However, swinging the free leg makes it incredibly difficult to stay balanced during the turn.
The better way to use the free leg during the turn is to squeeze the thighs together, which closes the free leg. As an added bonus, squeezing the thighs also tightens your core, which will improve your balance even further.
The Drill: Take a side step and put your weight entirely on one side. Prep your turn by rotating your shoulders slightly in the direction you want to turn and holding your hip back to create torque through the body.
As you release the spin, concentrate on collecting the free leg straight into your supporting leg by squeezing the thighs. Be sure that your leg is collecting directly in. If your free foot moves around the supporting leg at all, you are still swinging the leg. (Your body will rotate around the supporting leg, but the free leg should not move any further forward or back of the supporting leg than the rest of your body.) Check your ending position: the ankles of your legs should be pressed together.
You can work this drill into any of your other spinning exercises. Focus on squeezing the thighs together during every part of the turn in which you gather your legs.