How To

10 Ways To Improve Your Arabesque

American Ballet Theatre's Gisele Bethea showing off her beautifully placed arabesque (photo by Nathan Sayers)

Arabesque can be one of the most breathtaking positions in ballet. But achieving a long, graceful arabesque requires a particular combination of strength and flexibility. Struggling to get past 90 degrees? We asked Pacific Northwest Ballet School instructor Nancy Crowley for 10 tips to improve your arabesque.

1. Warm Up Strategically

Warming up is, as always, essential. "You have to have your core warmed up for everything," Crowley says. A go-to pre-class warmup for those hoping to up their arabesques should also include rolling down the spine and body/leg swings.

2. Stretch—the Right Way

A high arabesque is a testament to a dancer's flexibility. But just dropping into the splits won't do much to improve your arabesque. Instead, try stretches focusing on the hips and spine. "Lunges where you press forward and feel the connection through the top of the hip and down to the spine are very helpful for an arabesque," Crowley says.

3. Use Your Whole Body

To hold an arabesque, a dancer must use not just her back, but her whole body. "Think about engaging the torso, the legs, and the ankles," Crowley says, to give your working leg stability and support.

4. Engage the Glutes

Your glutes are especially critical in arabesque, because they help you maintain your turnout and stand firmly on your supporting leg. To feel them working properly, "Stand facing the barre with your shoulders and hips pressed against it, making sure the heels are aligned under the hips in fifth position," Crowley suggests. "Place your arms on top of the barre, turn your head towards the supporting side, and do a small tendu. You'll really feel it in the back of the leg, how much you have to engage the glutes to maintain that turnout."

5. Watch Your Arms

Focusing on how high your leg can go may lead you to neglect your arms in arabesque. Reach out through your fingertips while keeping your shoulders square. "Think about lifting up and forward through the torso," Crowley says.

6. Keep Your Hips Square

It's easy to fall into the habit of twisting or turning your hips—especially since doing so can sometimes get you a few extra inches of height. Don't give in to temptation! A perfect arabesque requires square hips.

7. Balance Your Weight

To keep from wobbling on that supporting foot, make sure to distribute your weight strategically, focusing it on the ball of the foot rather than the heel. It's possible to save an arabesque that's too far forward, but almost impossible to save one that starts falling back toward the working leg.

8. Turn Out, Turn Out, Turn Out

From start to finish, think about your turnout, especially in the supporting leg. A turned-in supporting leg ruins the graceful line of an arabesque.

9. Use Opposing Forces

While lifting your leg in arabesque will naturally push your upper body forward, think about lifting as you lean to achieve a graceful curve through the back. "You have to sort of spiral under the rib cage so you can rotate from very high in the leg," Crowley says.

10. Ask for Help

Every dancer's body arabesques differently, so don't be afraid to ask your teachers for guidance. With their help, you'll be able to achieve your best arabesque.

Show Comments ()
Cover Story
(From left) Mean Girls dancers Riza Takahashi, Ben Cook, Kamille Upshaw, Jonalyn Saxer, DeMarius R. Copes, and Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette (photos by Erin Baiano)

Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.

OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.

Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.

Keep reading... Show less
Lloyd Knight perform ing in Martha Graham's Night Journey (photo by Brigid Pierce, courtesy Knight)

Principal Lloyd Knight has become a true standout in the Martha Graham Dance Company thanks to his compelling presence and dynamic technique. Knight, who performs leading roles in iconic pieces like Appalachian Spring and Embattled Garden, was born in England and raised in Miami, where he trained at the Miami Conservatory and later graduated from New World School of the Arts. He received scholarships to The Ailey School and The Dance Theatre of Harlem School in NYC and joined MGDC in 2005. Catch him onstage with MGDC during its New York City Center season this month. —Courtney Bowers

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
University of Minnesota Dance Team (courtesy University of Minnesota)

They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.

Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.

These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Alicia Vikander in Tomb Raider (Warner Brothers)

Today in Ballet Dancers Are Actual Superheroes news:

You've no doubt heard that the fabulous Alicia Vikander is playing Lara Croft in the newest iteration of Tomb Raider, which hits movie theaters this Friday. But while her training for the high-octane action role was crazy tough, she says, studying at the Royal Swedish Ballet School was far tougher.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

I'm a hip-hop and jazz dancer, and I want to get involved in the commercial-dance world. I've never studied ballet, but people keep telling me I "have to" take ballet classes if I want to make it professionally. Is that really true? My family has limited money for dance classes, and I have to be careful about how I spend it.


Keep reading... Show less
Via Metro UK/SWNS

You know what they say: "Age is just a number." But no one proves that quite like Joyce Harper. At 98 (!) years old she's still teaching ballet, and is currently breaking the internet with her adorableness.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Via @dreamcatchersda on Instagram

Everyone loves a good viral video, especially when there's dancing involved. And though many viral videos are contrived and created for the soul purpose of instafame, the story behind the latest video catching the eyes of millions—including Rihanna, super model Naomi Campbell, and Diddy—is even more unique because it features children who don't even know who those celebrities are.

A dance troupe in Nigeria has become the next internet sensation, thanks to their exuberant dancing and passion with which they perform. Their enthusiasm for dance is evident in every step and it's hard not to smile as you see these children (who range from ages 6 to 15) express pure joy in something as simple as dance. These nine kids are part of The Dream Catchers, an organization started by 26-year-old Seyi Oluyole, that gives impoverished children a place to live while teaching them how to dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Illustration by Dniella Ferretti

For 16-year-old Amanda*, dance is everything: her passion, her escape from the daily grind, and her career goal. Her parents see things differently. "I have siblings who are active in sports," Amanda says, "and my parents would rather I play soccer or basketball. They don't see dance as something I can earn a stable living from in the future. They often tell me I should just quit."

Some parents aren't able to, don't know how to, or choose not to give you the kind of support you need to thrive in the studio. And when your parents are adding stress to your life, rather than alleviating it, there's a lot at stake. "Dancers who don't have the support of their parents might struggle with self-doubt," says Dr. Linda Hamilton, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a clinical psychologist specializing in the performing arts, "while those whose parents are too involved can crack under the pressure." Whether your parents aren't there when you need them or they're always there, practically smothering you, try these tips to improve your situation.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
💯 💯 💯 (via Instagram)

On Friday night, the iconic RuPaul made history as the first drag queen ever to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And it didn't take long for the world's most fabulous RuPaul fan/one of our favorite human beings, Mark Kanemura, to commemorate his idol's accomplishment with—naturally—a WALK to end all walks.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
(From left) Val Chmerkovskiy, Peta Murgatroyd, and Maksim Chmerkovskiy (Jerry Metellus, courtesy Nicola Phillips)

And as if this terrific trio weren't enough, "SYTYCD" finalists Koine "Koko" Iwasaki and Chris "Kiki" Nyemchek will be there, too!

Keep reading... Show less


Want to Be on Our Cover?





Get Dance Spirit in your inbox