Understanding Arabesque

People ask us all the time how arabesque works, or why do all of the Clinic girls have such clean and high arabesque lines. The answer isn’t as easy as saying, “We just work the line.” To understand arabesque is to understand body mechanics, shape/line, and body potential. Ballet, classical ballet, as much as it is defined by the body’s turnout, is really defined by arabesque. It is the position most equated with ballet, and the position that all dancers are judged on. With auditions season upon us, and the 2021 audition season roaring in like a tsunami with no relief, I thought I would write some of the thoughts down regards to arabesuqe.

I think one of the biggest misconceptions or verbal corrections passed down through the generations is, “Lean forward.” It is really, really, really misleading, especially for a child’s brain, and spatial awareness. We obviously don’t want to create pinching in the back or pressure in the spine, but leaning forwards is probably not the best way to describe the sensation that happens in the core.

To really understand the classical arabesque line, you have to really understand your own body it’s turnout capability. Lifting the leg isn’t the right set of words to achieve the line either. I always like to say, “rotate the leg off the floor,” The leg spirals ups and into the hip socket to create stability and height, without gripping the glutes. If the glutes (specifically the major) grip the leg won’t go up. If the abs are gripped and clenched it will also prohibit the leg from going up. The core has to be engaged, but engaged properly, “Belly button to the spine.” As the leg rotates up, the pubic bone releases, and the psoas and hip flexor push away, the ribs disengage and the back presses forward (specifically the same side as the working leg) to create opposition.

Placement of the arms always depends on the line and the body. While classical ballet calls for the arm to be more forward, a more open shoulder line creates a less severe look and more natural ease. Too open shortens the leg and causes the scapula to pinch, but a too forward arm creates the visual illusion of your hand being larger than your head.

Another issue when attempting an arabesque is understanding the pelvis. The pelvis can only tilt as much as the core is strong enough to sustain stability. I think kids get too excited and let the hips tip from the neutral position too fast, or optionally opening the hip to get the leg up. This creates a lot of problems, but most importantly, trying to tip the hips to get that hypermobile arabesque line can be dangerous. If you are hypermobile and your body (specifically back) does allow you to achieve a hypermobile backline, you will need to cross-train extra hard and strengthen the core and back times 10.

Kyrie Brizendine, of the Ballet Clinic fully allowing her pelvis to tilt forward to achieve a hyper mobile line.
Taylor Cary, The Ballet Clinic

Here is a young student on pointe. While her body shows a tremendous amount of potential, we can see that her back is still not strong enough to stay as lifted as it should be. Being able to use the back to hold the spine (including the neck) in a straight line takes time. But the turnout and the pelvis placement is correct. The feet need to get stronger, and the so do the back of the legs, but it is age (young 12) appropriate. In another case, using Leonidas as an example, of a 13 year old boy’s arabesuqe line.

Here, you can see that on his flat arabesque he is maintaining the rotation of his supporting leg, staying lifted, and his arm is more forward. His arm is higher because of the height of his leg to achieve a more aesthetically pleasing line for his body type. In his relevé photo, his supporting leg is less turned out due to his inner thigh being weak. But, he is working on it. Ideally, his arm line is now more open s o he can have a more lifted look on relevé and a cleaner backline. But his pelvis placement is still forward, and his torso is forward while the spine is almost straight.

Hope this all helps.

Oh audition photo trick. When taking your audition photos, rotate the shoulder closest to the camera down slightly so that it creates a longer neckline, and visually places the shoulder down. Another audition photo trick: have the camera at the same level as the hips, not the face, it creates a more accurate representation of your body proportions. If you are going to have the camera any lower, it will distort the face and neck.

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Here are the first three arabesques.

For more posts on arabesque:
https://aballeteducation.com/2014/10/19/arabesque/
https://aballeteducation.com/2017/04/03/notes-on-the-ideal-arabesque-getting-it-higher-part-1/