The Chasse is one of the most basic figures in the International-style slow Waltz, so you would think that it is by now clearly understood by all dancers. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While most competitive dancers have a good understanding of the dynamics of this figure, social dancers usually don’t. This article is designed to help you dance the Waltz Chasse more beautifully by better understanding it.
The Chasse in Waltz has a few variations, such as the Progressive Chasse to Right and the Chasse Roll. All of them are figures designed to move. So this is the first thing we need to understand about the Chasse. It moves. And it moves sideways. That’s actually where the problems begin with this figure.
For this article we’ll focus on the Chasse from PP but much of what is covered here applies to every variation. The timing of this step is 1 beat, 1/2, 1/2 and 1 beat as the couples slowly rise between the first three steps and only lower after the fourth step.
Applying swing to the Waltz Chasse
The Waltz is a “swing” dance. That means most of the figures in this dance consist of a pendulum swing action. Swing refers to the swing of the leg from one place through to the next.
Pendulums cannot swing from a static hanging position. For example, if you stopped the pendulum of a grandfather clock you can’t expect it to begin swinging sideways on its own. The same is true of leg swing. You cannot swing the leg sideways. You can move it sideways with muscular energy but it’s not possible for the leg to swing sideways because the other leg is in the way. So you can only swing forwards or backwards.
Swing actions in Waltz become sideways actions because of the turn of the body during the swing. The same is true of the first step in the Waltz Chasse. It begins with a forward energy from both partners in Promenade Position, allowing the swing action to be created. We use the heel of the front foot, sending the spine in a downward arc towards the floor as we drive forward to maximize the natural gravitational energy of the swing. A full beat of music is available for that swing action.
Be careful not to point the foot into the direction of travel on that first step, which is a common mistake. The feet begin diagonal in Promenade Position, so that each partner’s foot alignment creates a 90-degree angle with the center of that arrow pointing to the direction of travel. This angle must be maintained in the first step.
The partner who is turning now begins to rotate during the swing. This causes the leg to transition from a forwards to a sideways action as the foot is placed on the second step. By understanding the swing action, you can create a moving energy as compared to merely stepping to the side. The second step now has both feet of the turning partner facing directly toward their partner, while the partner who is not turning keeps both feet in the same diagonal alignment they started in. Both parties are now on the balls of both feet. The second step uses exactly half a beat of music.
A body in motion…
Once we set up the swing action and take that second step, the body is now positioned halfway between the feet and it is in motion. Physics get involved at this point. A body in motion tends to remain in motion. For this reason, it is easy for the body to move further than the feet, getting ahead of the feet in the movement and thus causing the upper body energy to pull the partner. We have to be aware of how this body motion affects the figure so that we can optimize the the Waltz Chasse.
The closing of the feet takes one half a beat of music. What you need to be aware of is that the body needs to remain above the foot that just closed! A great many dancers, unaware of this dynamic, allow the body to be move over the foot that was placed on step 2 (the leading foot) rather than over the foot that moved into place to close on step 3. This causes the upper body momentum to pull the partnership into the next (fourth) step. That leads to bad timing and a “falling” energy on the final step.
The partner who is turning needs to continue turning the leading foot as the feet close so that when the feet come together they are facing in the correct alignment. Too many dancers fail to handle this rotation properly and thus the energy of their turning feet interferes with the moving energy of the figure. If you turn the feet only after you close them, you introduce rotational energy at the worst possible time.
That all-important head turn
The average human head weighs about 12 pounds, which is a surprising amount of weight when it’s in motion. If the head turns at the wrong time, it causes a huge problem for the partnership because it introduces rotational energy that can pull the partners apart or otherwise interfere with the desired movement. The person who is turning has to turn their head during the second and third step to avoid causing this unintended rotational energy.
Try to remember that “nose follows toes” so that the head turns with the turn of the foot during those two steps
Try to remember that “nose follows toes” so that the head turns with the turn of the foot during those two steps. By the time the feet close the head should be completely finished turning to the left to accommodate the last step of the figure.
The finishing touch
The final, fourth step of the Waltz Chasse is perhaps the most troublesome. The technique book adds one additional fifth step but it’s really the beginning of the next figure. Far too often we encounter dancers falling into that fourth step. Part of the reason, as mentioned above, is that the upper body energy is pulling away from the standing foot. This will always cause the final step to be heavy and small. It is critical for the body weight to be positioned over the correct foot when the feet close. We can only control the final step by pushing off the standing foot properly. A full beat of music is available for this fourth step, which must arrive on the ball of the foot.
The technique book describes the rise and fall of this figure as “begin to rise at end of step 1, continue to rise on 2 and 3, and up on step 4, lowering at the end of 4.” The swing energy takes care of steps 1 and 2. The continuation of the rise on step 3 is due to the physics of bringing the two feet together. What does it mean to be “up” on the final step?
Anytime an object is in flight, gravity gets involved and causes that object to begin falling. Just witness what happens to cars when they jump a gap!
With that in mind, the only way the final step can appear to be “up” is if there is a slight “ramp-like” upward push. It’s not an obvious upward energy because the goal is to look as if the body is continuing at exactly the same height it was at when that final step began. But if you don’t introduce a slight upward push as you push away with the final step, you will automatically begin to drop before the foot arrives.
By pushing the foot away from the standing foot, we complete the Waltz Chasse with the same energy of movement that we started with. Unfortunately, way too often, dancers fail to push away on that last step and simply fall into the fourth step causing the body to drop into the floor, the footwork to land on a flat foot and the beautiful swing energy that should be applied to the next figure going missing. The heel should not lower until the next foot begins to collect to begin the next figure as it sweeps through.
Next time you practice, take time to study each step of the Chasse to better familiarize yourself with the elements of the movement discussed here. You should find yourself dancing a more musical, more elegant Waltz Chasse.