Parallel and Taylor Chassé
By Patrick Corbin
The parallel position is an important aesthetic aspect of modern dance and promotes good alignment of the legs and spine. It’s often difficult, however, for students to maintain a good sense of parallel, and sometimes awakening their awareness of parallel can be more challenging than helping them find turnout.
To help students remember to engage the inner thighs (the key to attaining parallel), have them imagine that strings of energy run up and down their legs, connecting the insides of the knees, ankles, and big toes.
Inevitably, while working through an exercise in parallel, students’ toes or knees will sneak out, creating unhealthy torsion. Gentle prompting while students dance—“Check your parallel,” “How’s that parallel?” or just, “Parallel”—helps them sustain the position and gets them into the habit of tuning in to the concept of parallel.
My old boss Paul Taylor uses the chassé as his go-to traveling step in almost every one of his dances. The Taylor chassé is different from the ballet or jazz chassé.
Taylor chassés alternate feet. Slide the right foot forward on a small diagonal and cut the left foot behind and under; the weight shifts to the left foot, then almost immediately back to the right foot as it steps forward. Then the left foot slides out on its diagonal to start the chassé on the left. Right, left, right; then left, right, left; and so on. In a zigzag motion, Taylor chassés move through small, turned-out fourth positions and never attain completely straight legs or pointed feet. This gives a sense of weight and ease moving through space.
Try using the image of an ocean wave crashing and curling underneath itself to help students discover the correct feeling for Taylor chassés.
Patrick Corbin, an assistant professor at USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, has an MFA in dance, performance, and choreography from NYU. He danced with The Joffrey Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and his own troupe, CorbinDances.