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.