Getting a Better Arabesque

Hi everybody!  Today we are talking about arabesque, which is one of the most popular and most-used steps in all of classical dance.  It is also notoriously difficult and takes years of conditioning, stretching, and technical training to master.

Note: This is an updated version of my improving arabesque post from a while back.


A High Leg – Quantity

There are two modes of a good arabesque – quantity and quality.  Quantity would be a very high leg with the back lifted, and a quality arabesque would involve turnout, correct placement, a shaped foot, and the arms and head adding to it all.  We will cover both bases in this blog post – but for this first section, the quantity part.  Remember that to create the best line in your arabesque, both quantity and quality are very important.

The height of the leg in technical terms is a contraction of the lower back and a slight contraction of both the gluteus maximus and minimus.  I talked a while back on this blog about the difference between the primary and secondary movers, and that concept is very evident here.  The primary movers in the arabesque position are the back muscles, while the secondary mover would be the gluteus maximus on the working side.

Another important component to a great line in arabesque is keeping the back lifted.  A dropped back is a result of failure to properly engage the back muscles in particular.  The upper back becomes important when discussing the height of the torso as well – you need to use those muscles to lift your entire back in order to counterbalance the act of lifting your working leg.

You can use my Back Workout for back-strengthening exercises to improve your arabesque.  Stay tuned for an updated version coming this October!  My Strengthening Guide is also filled with plenty of potential back exercises to improve your strength.

Another important factor in achieving a high leg is your back flexibility.  Being supple through your lower, middle and upper back is a vital part to keeping your back up and raising your leg.  There are plenty of stretches in both my Stretch with Me video and my Flexibility Guide.

Stretching safely is very, very important when you want to improve your flexibility and prevent injuries.  Back stretching is one of the most abused avenues of improving your technique.  It is important that you only do back stretches after you have mobilized your back with strengthening exercises and after warming up thoroughly.  Some good back stretching warm ups are back-ups, ab exercises, cat/cow yoga movements and basic cardiovascular exercises to increase your heart rate and joint lubrication.

With Proper Technique – Quality

Another vital part of your arabesque are the technical skills you include in the line.  A beautifully high arabesque with a lifted back still produces an ugly line if your back leg is not fully, externally rotated (turned out), and the working foot is not properly shaped, meaning that the foot is sickled or not fully pointed.  This section will explain the best ways to improve your technique in an arabesque.

Maintaining turnout in both legs is very important to produce both a high arabesque and an excellent line.  Again, the concept of primary and secondary movements are vital in this area of technique.  The quadratus femoris serves as the primary mover in the working leg, while the inner thigh is the secondary mover.  The opposite is true for the supporting leg, meaning that the inner thigh is the primary mover while the quadratus femoris is the secondary mover.

Furthermore, dance sequences often have a développé performed from fifth position moving into arabesque.  This is an excellent opportunity to feel your turnout working as you come into the final position.  Feeling your knee initiate the movement from the retiré derrière into the attitude is a great indicator of a turned-out arabesque line.

Keeping both knees straight in the position is a necessity for a beautiful line and to portray the longest legs possible.  Experiencing a lengthening feeling just above the backside of your working knee can help engage your hamstring and achieve your goal of a straight leg.  As far as the supporting leg goes, avoid sinking into your hip and isolate your entire supporting side from the arabesque position. This can help maintain the straight legs that you had in the original fifth position.

Your torso leaning from side to side in the arabesque is another common difficulty with this position.  Often the ribs shift toward the supporting side and that entire side and waist buckles as you développé the leg.  Again, isolating that entire side and staying stable through your body is vital to prevent this problem.  Another tip is to utilize both sides of your back.  If you think of using your “back” in arabesque as a general term, the position will suffer as soon as you forget to use the lateral ends of the muscle.  Using these areas can help keep your back up and square.


Thanks for reading today’s post!  I’ll see you on Wednesday with another one.  Enjoy the rest of your day, dancers, and keep working hard on those arabesques!

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