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Tips to Improve Arabesques

The arabesque is a hallmark of ballet, present in every major performance since Taglioni herself graced the stage. It has evolved in the past fifty years to become a signature of every ballerina and cavalier, rising from a dainty, just-above-dégagé point to a 110-degree extension.

If you’re struggling with getting the perfect arabesque, don’t fear! Just try these tips and you’ll be performing Giselle’s adagio flawlessly in no time.

Back Flexibility

Consider the perfect, 110-degree arabesque. The most beautiful thing about it is not the standing leg or the working foot, but the graceful curve in the spine as the leg is extended. Your back’s flexibility will determine the height of your arabesque; if you were not born with a particularly bendy lower back, it will be harder to get a high extension.

But you can always improve the flexibility in your lower back, regardless of any innate inflexibility. Use the Cobra stretch to gently increase the curve in your spine and take every opportunity to practice your cambrés. The more flexible your spine, the easier it will be to raise and hold the leg in arabesque.

Keep your Arms Inside

As you reach towards the horizon (or the Prince, or the Bluebird, or the Scotsman) in an arabesque, keep your arms stabilized; don’t force your shoulder out of its socket when you extend your arm.

Never reach forward with your shoulder. This will destabilize your arabesque and the twist is causes in the spine will ruin the arched, upright line. Instead, reach outward from the elbow to the finger tips and lengthen inward from the elbow to the shoulder.

Once you’ve mastered the inward/outward pull sensation, beautiful arms can both stabilize and raise your arabesque, especially in center adagios.

Drill Down the Standing Leg

With so much focus on the height of the working leg, it’s all too easy to forget about the standing leg. Turn it out as much as possible from the hip, and unless it’s an arabesque in plié, keep it absolutely straight.

Imagine your standing leg as a drill pushing a screw into the ground. Push down through the ball of your foot, and lift high up toward the sky from your hip socket. This length is not only more aesthetically beautiful, but also provides an opposing force to drive the working leg higher.

Faces of Ballet ...
Sara Michelle Murawski
Company: Dresden Semper Opera Ballet
Date of Birth: 8/19/1991
School: Kirov Academy (D.C.)
Position: Corps de Ballet
Getting to know Sara: By the tender age of 16, Sara Michelle Murawski was dazzling audiences with her impossibly high arabesques and gorgeously arched feet. The lanky beauty competed in the finals of the YAGP in 2007, ’08, and ‘09, wooing fans with her variation from Grand Pas Classique. With her unrivaled arabesque, Murawski is a star on the rise in the Dresden Semper Opera Ballet.

Square Away

There are many quick, easy ways to instantly achieve a higher arabesque, but the well known “cheats,” including twisting the shoulders and opening the hips, are unreliable and technically incorrect. Resist using such shortcuts, and instead, improve your extension by strengthening your back and keeping square alignment.

Start from tendu, then work your way up to a 45 degree arabesque, keeping your hips and shoulders perfectly centered. Eventually you’ll build up to 90 degrees—then more. Taking slower, more gradual steps will ensure that your alignment is only compromised as much as is necessary and never more.

Also, this method will strengthen your entire body, making the arabesque easier to sustain at any height.

Tune in to Your Turnout

Holding your turnout to the back is more difficult than in any other position, but working through it will build strength for all positions—devant, a la séconde, and derriere. Additionally, if your arabesque isn’t turned out, it will break the clean line and lose aesthetic quality, especially if reached through attitude.

To improve, engage your turnout muscles (the ones around your butt) and rotate the working leg as much as you can. Repeatedly pushing your physical boundaries will improve your arabesque (and your turnout), even if you are unable to turn it out completely.

Hot Tip: Back It up

If you are having trouble sustaining your arabesque or just want to improve your back strength, try this exercise:

1. Place your foot on a countertop or barre in arabesque.

2. Keep your back as upright as possible as you raise the arabesque off the barre.

3. Hold for four counts, then lower.

4. Repeat eight times on each leg.

5. Then go to the center and hold your arabesque, pushing it as high as you can, for 16 counts. This will build the strength needed in the back for sustained arabesques and penchés.

Chest Forward

While it is usually one thing you don’t want to do, pushing your chest forward in arabesque can help lengthen the spine and prevent a “crunched” look. Imagine a string tied around your sternum; when you’re in arabesque, think about someone gently pulling that string forward, lifting your chest upward and out.

This will prevent your chest from dropping back and knocking your weight onto your standing heel, a mistake that can really throw you off balance en pointe, in promenades, in arabesque and penchés.

Line of Beauty

The figurative princess of ballet, the arabesque is a beautiful and classical pose, capable of translating all kinds of characters into a singular, beautiful pose. With work, practice, and a positive outlook, you’ll be on your way to a 140 degree arabesque faster than Siegfried can say, “Oops, wrong swan!”

Struggle with arabesques? Figure out a perfect line with exercises to do at home as well as on the barre; soon enough you'll have a great 150 degree arabesque!
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