The arabesque is the quintessential ballet pose. Meaning 'in Arabic fashion', the arabesque is a beautiful pose in ballet that consists of the dancer standing on their supporting leg and extending their straight working leg behind the body, creating a beautiful line from the fingertips to the toes. The name references the intricate, swooping lines of Arabic style art and is one of the ballet terms that does not have French roots.In the Vaganova style, there are four different arabesques. Typically they are performed in the croise or efface alignment but can also be done de côté. Arabesques can be done à terre, en l'air, on demi-pointe, on pointe or en plié. Flip through the photo gallery below to see each arabesque in action. Photo credits to Gaynor MInden.
Many dancers focus on flexibility to increase the height of their arabesque but this may not be the right course of action. Unless you have the strength to support it, flexibility isn't all that helpful in bettering your arabesque line. Read through the tips below to learn what does help you achieve that beautiful position!
Strengthen your back: Strengthening our backs isn't just important for ballet, but is incredibly important for daily life. The back muscles play a major role in movement and function and a strong back can help prevent injury and increase the ease of performing a variety of tasks. For arabesques in particular, if your back muscles are weak, you will have a hard time being able to achieve a technically correct line at any leg height. Exercises like back raises, glute bridges and planks are all exercises that help strengthen the torso and support the spine which is incredibly important for your arabesque.
Stretch: Yes, yes, we know, we cautioned you about stretching above. What is important is that you don't only focus on stretching to better your arabesque line. A cobra stretch with the abdominals properly engaged is a yoga pose that helps increase the flexibility of the spine in a safe manner. Challenge yourself to lift your arms into 3rd in this position to add a strength component. You will most likely find this extremely difficult at first, but like anything, it gets better with practice!
Turnout: When in doubt, turnout! Turnout comes from the hips and is supported by your deep external rotators, your gluteal muscles and your hip flexors. In your arabesque, it's critical that both your working and supporting legs are turned out, visualising the muscles of the legs wrapping forward and around (we like to think of two barber shop poles!). As you lift the leg from your tendu derriere, feel a lifting and wrapping quality and continuously think of increasing the turnout to achieve a beautiful line. We like to think of turnout as a movement not a position!
Don't forget about your arms: Depending on the placement of the arms, the pose of the arabesque changes. Ensure that you are reaching with energy through the fingertips, keeping the shoulders down and supporting from underneath the arms for a lifted quality. In addition, the gaze of the eyes should follow the line of the front arm.
Think of opposing forces: As your leg raises behind the body, it is natural to feel the torso lean forward, making space for the leg and counterbalancing the weight of the leg and the body. However you do not want your torso to lean too far forward. To prevent this, think about lifting upwards rather than forward. Meanwhile, think about pushing down through your supporting leg, lengthening the body and planting a strong foundation into the floor to maintain balance. We can also think about the working leg being pulled behind and the arm in front being pulled forwards. This will increase the length of your line.
Remember practice makes perfect and working on your arabesque is no different! With some determination and dedication you will have the arabesque of your dreams in no time.