How high should I lift my leg in an arabesque? 45°? 90°? or higher ? The current trend seems to be ‘the higher, the better’ and sometimes I feel that it is understood as the new criteria for a good arabesque. I have nothing against high extensions, and if you can lift your leg at 130° with proper alignment, use it… But use it when appropriate!
It is all a matter of hauteur…
Ballet is like lacework (‘dentelle’ in french), it is precise and requires attention to details. The smallest changes in the pattern modify the overall look of the whole piece. The same goes with your leg height in arabesque: the height you choose must be precise and there’s no room for in-between. What are the codified leg heights in an arabesque?
À la hauteur
In French, ‘height’ is ‘hauteur’ and “à la hauteur’ refers to the gesture leg reaching, or holding a position, at 90°. It is understood that it means ‘à la hauteur de la hanche’, ‘at hip height’. It is the height at which your gesture leg is perfectly horizontal and parallel to the floor.
To me ‘à la hauteur de la hanche’ is very meaningful as I can visualise my leg reaching the height of my hips. This visual cue helps me connect my gesture leg to my hips and my supporting leg and have a more global view of the movement and position. Unless specified, you should assume that your arabesque is meant to be at this height, which is already quite challenging.
À la grande hauteur
‘À la grande hauteur’ refers to going above 90°. If required, the teacher or the choreographer will specify that this is the desired height. Don’t assume otherwise.
À la demi hauteur
We tend to emphasize and value only arabesque à la hauteur or à la grande hauteur. À la demi hauteur is 45 degrees, no more, no less. It’s not because it’s low that it’s not challenging. If you apply all your knowledge of turnout and arabesque technique, then an arabesque à la demi hauteur feels like a lot of work.
Make time to practice arabesque à la demi hauteur, use it when you feel tired or experiencing back or neck pain, and you’ll soon see the difference in your overall technique. There’s a refresher on arabesque technique, and a 3 weeks program of exercises to Improve your arabesque in our VOD website.
I’ve always been amazed by how pretty my teachers’ low arabesques look like. I remember telling myself: “take notes here, a low arabesque can be more impressive than a higher arabesque”.
Meaning ‘on the floor’. This is used to describe a movement where the gesture foot remains on the floor.
For an arabesque, it is usually simply called a dégagé derrière (tendu back).
Pretty is pretty, no matter how high
A beautiful arabesque is a matter of energy and intention. Give direction to every parts of your body to be fully present and give life to this powerful position. Understand it’s purpose in your exercise and choreography and transcend the position.
Notice how Margot Fonteyn made little use of a high arabesque which she found inappropriate in some cases. What matters the most is that your lines and the distribution of your body parts create a harmonious position, this is why it’s called an arabesque. It takes its name from the art of interlacing lines, lace-like figures and calligraphy.