Achieving a beautiful arabesque

An arabesque is a deceiving ballet position…It’s so common that you might think it’s simple.  Not true!  A beautiful arabesque requires incredibly flexibility, strength, balance, and grace.  Not only are arabesques a part of most ballet choreography, but many summer intensives and pre-professional programs ask for a photo of your arabesque because it is a very clear image of your ballet technique.  Here’s our advice on how you can continue to improve your ballet arabesque:

Stay square.  You might be tempted to twist your hips or sink into your standing leg in hopes of cranking your extension higher.  But a true arabesque is done with square hips and shoulders.  Think of your torso lifting out of your legs and pelvis to make more space in your hips and back.

Strengthen your back.  Your upper and lower back muscles have to be strong and engaged to hold your arabesque high.  To work out your lower back, rest your body (from the waist up) on a sturdy table or bench and allow your legs to straighten so only your toes touch the floor.  Wrapping your arms around the foundation, slowly raise and lower your legs—keeping your upper body glued to the table.  Repeat three sets of ten.  To work your upper back, lie face down on a carpet or yoga mat with your arms at your sides.  Without using your arms for support, imagine the crown of your head reaching forward and slightly upward (so your back arches almost like a cambré).  Repeat the exercise, holding the position for twenty seconds, five times.

Turn out.  This is a cue we hear all the time in ballet, and it can help elevate your arabesque.  When you turn out your femur (leg) bone in your hip socket, it has much more mobility than a parallel extension.  Plus, there is nothing more beautiful than a turned-out arabesque (with a pointed, winged foot!).

Find balance.  Counterbalance your extended leg with your opposite arm forward.  Imagine each limb is reaching in opposite directions (and also that your head it lifted toward the ceiling and your standing leg is grounded in the earth).  This will keep your body in balance and create the longest line from fingertip to toe.

Emphasize quality.  Obviously, your teacher wants a turned out high leg, but your arabesque is also shaped by the quality of your movement.  Pay attention to slightly raising your chin, relaxing your shoulders, and shaping your fingers.  Remember that an arabesque is an active position by pretending like you’re growing and extending out of every limb.  Coloring your movement with a bit of grace and personality will take your arabesque from being purely academic, to stunningly virtuosic.

Study the arabesques of your favorite dancers—Tiler Peck, Sara Mearns, Misty Copeland—and take a look at how they use all the above techniques to achieve a truly unique and beautiful arabesque.

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