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Alternate Chasses in Cha Cha

by Brent & Judy Moore

What do we mean by “alternate chasse”? Quite simply it is any chasse action that is not side-close-side. There are many of them, and they are used for a variety of reasons. Our goal is to understand what they are and how they are used and what are the better ones for certain applications.

The most common alternate chasse is the stationary chasse or chasse in place. It’s not very exciting but is used to hold position when movement is not desired, and it should be fairly familiar. Some others that are particularly useful are the:

  • Forward Chasse
  • Back Chasse
  • Cuban Break Chasse
  • Sailor Shuffle Chasse
  • Ronde Chasse
  • Hip Twist Chasse
  • Samba Break Chasse
  • Back Hitch Chasse

In the list above, all but two basically replace the stationary chasse. The primary reason for their development was to give the male dancer more to do in standard figures than the simple (and ho-hum?) stationary chasse. We also have to keep in mind that most of the cha cha is a development from the rumba, and when two additional steps are added to a figure, modifications must be made. In several cases, the chasse actions are very similar to one another, but the different name signifies a different entry or situation where it occurs. Even though most of the stationary chasses were developed for the man, they are many times used by the lady when dancing side-by-side, shadow, or tandem choreography.

Therefore we all need to be aware of the techniques involved and where their use is important. We’ll take them one at a time. Forward & Back Chasse: We combine these two since their most common applications usually involve the partners doing one or the other together (when one is doing the forward chasse, the partner is doing the back chasse). However, there are several occasions where both are doing the same (e.g., triple cha action). These chasses are used when traveling in a line that you are facing or backing. The chief characteristics of this chasse are the placement of the second weight change and the swivel of the foot on the third weight change.

For simplicity, we’ll describe the chasse moving forward starting with the left foot. Step one is forward with the toe pointing in the direction of travel; in step two, the instep of the right is placed near the heel of the left with the toe turned out (the “Latin cross” or “Latin lock” action); the third step is again forward on the left and as weight comes onto the foot it swivels to a toed-out position. The reason for these actions is to allow the foot position to better support the hip displacement.

The back chasse is similar in foot placement, but the swivel of the third step is not done since the toe will be turned out upon placement. That action starting with the left is back with the toe turned out; the right foot is placed with the foot straight and the heel near the instep of the left; step three is back on the left with the toe turned out. You will many times see “Latin lock” or forward or back lock on cue sheets in cha chas -- the foot placement described above is what is meant.

The next group are fundamentally replacements for the stationary chasse. So the first order of business is to describe each in their standard form. The Ronde Chasse action comes from a forward basic action. Starting with the left foot, it is forward left, recover right rondeing the left foot around to cross behind the right, side right, recover left in to original position. This presents a more lively action, yet holds the position. It has some similarity to the Sailor Shuffle Chasse in that the cross-behind-side-recover-in-place action is similar, but there is not a ronde and typically there is not a precursor two weight changes as part of the standard figure.

Usually, the Sailor Shuffle Chasse is used to terminate a side moving action or is used in pairs as a time filler to keep the same position and same foot free for the next figure. The Ronde Chasse is more commonly used by the man as the lady approaches from the left side as in the Hockey Stick or Alemana from fan. We also see it used by both partners in samefoot, side-by-side choreography.

Another chasse commonly seen in samefoot, side-by-side work is the Hip Twist Chasse even though it comes from a man’s stationary action in another figure. Starting with the right foot, it is back right toe out, recover left, cross right in front of left small step turning hips to the left, close or replace weight to the left turning hip to the right, side & slightly forward right. This action came from the man’s dancing it as the lady went to Fan from a Hip Twist -- it gave him an opportunity to do a hip twist action as well.

A similar action in the same situation is where the man dances a Cuban Break as the lady goes to Fan (cross in front, recover, side) -- same result but not as difficult. The Cuban Break Chasse also offers both man and lady alternate exits from some common figures that are more interesting than the standard chasse and are more stationary. An example would be to dance it in conjunction with a switch action from an Aida position (Switch Recover Cuban Break).

One of the more difficult situations to handle in the cha cha’s adaptation of rumba figures is when the man creates a stationary position as the lady approaches from a facing position. Remember that when the partner is moving straight forward (as when the lady dances an Open Hip Twist or Alemana) they dance a forward chasse. That means that if the man dances a stationary chasse, the lady must dance a very curtailed forward chasse. To address this problem and give the lady the stationary position she needs to do her swivel in the Hip Twist or Alemana, the man usually dances one of three alternate chasses. The first would be the Back Chasse but he would dance the third weight change as an in place or very slightly back action. The second would be the Samba Break Chasse which is to step back left with a slight lift of the hip which pulls the right foot back a little to take weight, then close the left. The third action is to dance a Back Hitch Chasse with a stronger back step left, close right, and a small forward left step.

These are the most common of the alternate chasse actions. There are others and others may well develop, but their roots will be to make more dynamic or more interesting basic figures or to enable figures from other rhythms to be used in cha cha.

From clinic notes prepared for the ROUNDALAB Convention, June 2010; reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, October 2012.


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