Arabesque: A sinuous, spiraling, undulating or serpentine line or linear motif.
The above Thesaurus definition aptly describes one of the most iconic and loved of all balletic poses. In an earlier blog I wrote about the arabesque and ways to achieve the perfectly extended lines needed and I am now revisiting this topic adding a couple of exercises to help gain the necessary strength and flexibility to achieve this elusive pose with more ease.
As I wrote before, the goal for all students from beginner to advanced is for an arabesque that shows pure and clean leg, arm, torso and eye lines, demonstrates balance, grace, poise and has a wonderful feeling of lift and flow and to achieve all of the above, the student dancer must primarily be aware of weight placement.
Getting the weight off the supporting heel and on to the ball of the foot and toes before raising the other leg en l'air is important.
Find a sense of extension and lengthening in the supporting leg.
Ensure the supporting leg is not over or under rotated/ turned out and is pulled up from the ankles, calves, through the knee and upper leg with the turn out muscles fully utilised.
To achieve a beautiful raised leg, make sure that when in tendu derriere à terre you are fully pulled up and balanced before attempting to lift the leg en l'air. The leg must be fully stretched and turned out with a feeling of extension way beyond the back foot.
‘Fishing’ the back raised foot leads to a beautiful line, whereas the opposite "sickling" is very detrimental to the line of the leg.
Arm lines should be flowing, extended and perfectly placed for each of the three positions. Note: The positions of first, second and third arabesque are differently numbered in the various techniques, syllabi and methods.
Example: 1st arabesque when using opposite arm raised to leg
Depending on the method the front arm can be as low as shoulder height or as high as diagonally raised towards the ceiling. The side arm should be just below shoulder height and flow slightly diagonally back.
Whatever height used, the arms must be in clean lines, extended outwards with graceful finger lines that don't disturb the main line. The eye line should traditionally flow along and beyond the third finger of the front arm.
The hips should remain aligned and firmly lifted with good turn out and the strong use of core is essential.
The lower back must always be lifted and not crunched and the rib cage and upper torso should feel pulled up and expanded sideways to help achieve height of leg. Do not lean back or too far forward.
Keep the shoulder blades firmly in place and extend the spine through a very long neck, feeling the extension of the spine through the crown of the head.
Arabesques are not static even when held and balanced, but must show a constant lift, extension and flow of line.
Knowing the correct muscles to utilise is important:
Your hip extensors (hamstrings) should lift the leg to the back and at the same time the back extensors should keep the torso upright as your pelvis tilts very slightly forward once the leg is fully extended.
When trying for a higher leg never sink into your lower (lumbar) spine but keep trying to increase external rotation of the thigh bone (femur) in the hip socket rather than twist / rotate your pelvis.
To further achieve the aforementioned from my earlier blog I would suggest the following two exercises aimed in particular for the less flexible and/or muscular weak student:
Use a Deuselband or Flexistretcher and be very careful getting into the arabesque position, hold the barre with both hands once in position.
*Keeping your core engaged - concentrate on lifting the leg from the knee using your hamstrings and keep extending the leg to the back.
*Continually check you are not sinking into your lower (lumbar) spine throughout.
Stay in the position for a 2-4 minutes.
Rest and return to the position.
Now try using some resistance by pushing your leg slowly down a little way against the resistance of the band whilst still trying to extend. Hold for a few seconds then release and let the band take your leg upwards again. Try raising your leg further and repeat.
Do 10-30 repeats aiming gradually for a slightly bigger range of movement and height.