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Home > Technique

Pre-Ballet: Arabesque

One of the most difficult positions to master in ballet technique, is the arabesque. The arabesque is one of the most well known and most easily recognizable ballet positions. This position, especially on pointe, is not an easy one. A developed arabesque is quite a beautiful sight when at it’s full potential.

The arabesque requires a great deal of strength and balance. This is one of the positions that shows just how seasoned a dancer really is. A highly rotated hip placement, a great turnout, a high backward leg extension joined with perfect form and balance… Many barré and stretching exercises are dedicated to the arabesque. As soon as the strength, flexibility and form come together, the dancer then becomes ready to work on her arabesque.

arabesque ballet dancer
Arabesque in attitude

The student needs to 'pull out' of herself when in arabesque. The leg pulls out and away, growing from the socket, the arm in the opposite direction and the entire body reaches upwards. It’s a growing position, not a static one. Arabesque is a position where the leg meets the back in a marvelous line. It helps for the lower back to be flexible as well as the hips and hamstrings. When first starting the arabesque be sure to keep the leg low; the form needs to get solid before trying to extend too high! Stand up straight on the supporting leg, pull the chest up let the neck rest comfortably on top of the shoulders. Keep the shoulders down and rolled into position, don’t let the tension get caught in this area. This happens to a lot of dancers and they get a build up of stress in the muscles around the neck and shoulders. The neck should not be with tension in it, it should be long and graceful.

Arm positions vary with the arabesque. Fourth position arms can accompany it but oftentimes a choreographer or teacher will require second or fifth position as well, or the classic open arm pose (as shown in the last picture below). Fifth position arms in arabesque is the most difficult. This position requires perfect body placement, the arms will not be a help to your balance. This is why body placement and form need to be solid.

The line from the arm, through the body, and out the leg, should never break. It is especially crucial in penché. Never break back, and don’t lean backward. A lot of dancers compensate a penché by leaning back, this will cause you to fall out of your arabesque. If you practice it this way in class, your pointe work will inevitably suffer.

arabesque ballet dancer

An inevitable movement that will accompany arabesque is promenade. This is where you will hold your arabesque, and will slowly turn in a showcase type fashion. This movement will be important to your adagio, which is by far, one of the most difficult aspects of ballet technique. The arabesque will also be used in faster turns, lifts and jumps. Plié will also be required in this position, this takes a great deal of balance and form. The shape of the arabesque stays the same in plié. It shouldn’t get settled on the heel but should stay over the demi pointe or the pointe. The solid form of arabesque is something every student should strive to perfect. It is a landmark in a student’s progress when this pose is understood.

arabesque ballet dancer
Classic low arabesque on flat

Some of the pitfalls of arabesque include lifting the hip, leaning, an inflexible lower back, tight hamstrings, and a weak back… there are many factors that can make your arabesque suffer. Barré work is very important to the arabesque. Learning to extend up and out is important. It takes a dancer years before the arabesque looks flawless and solid. But once it’s developed, we see the essence of ballet, wrapped up in one single stance. Nothing is more beautiful then a graceful arabesque!

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