What is that one ballet pose that is in almost every single classical repertory variation? The arabesque!
What is an arabesque?
The arabesque is probably the most known ballet position. With this term, we generally refer to one leg lifted back at a classic 90° angle, creating a parallel line to the floor and a perpendicular one to the rest of the body, with the arms and head positioned differently depending on which arabesque is shown.
It’s important to remember though that arabesques come in different heights and that even when the leg is touching the floor the position is still an arabesque. There is a detailed article on this subject that you can find right here.
Does back flexibility improve leg height?
As dancers, when we think of improving our arabesque, we almost always think of the leg’s height, dream extensions. I was told by many teachers that I needed to work hard on my back flexibility to achieve what is considered an acceptable arabesque height (which basically meant above 90°). I tried whatever I could try: long hours of stretching and mobility exercises, yoga and even Gyrotonic. I was definitely feeling way more flexible, but my arabesque was still not going any higher… WHY?
What to do to improve my arabesque then?
I was forgetting about everything else that actually contributes to the leg lifting and staying up. Stretching is not enough to achieve dream extensions. In fact, it is not only a matter of back flexibility: you need a strong and stable supporting leg, well-placed hips, shoulders and torso, an understanding of how your body adjusts as the leg rises. Overwhelming? Maybe, but believe it or not, all of the things we mentioned above are related.
The perfect combination
The perfect combination lies in exercises that target the following areas:
stability of the supporting leg
ability to perform and dissociate different movements of the hips
core muscles engagement (back, abdominals, pelvic floor and diaphragm)
mobility (don’t confuse flexibility for mobility!)
tensegrity (more on this later)
Putting it into practice
Try including the following exercises in your daily conditioning routine, taken from the “Majestic Challenge” demonstrated by professional dancer Guillaume Diop under the guidance of Stott Pilates instructor Ondine D.:
leg pull front prep
But if you are looking for a more in-depth program that helps you understand the fundamentals of the arabesque, the sequence of movement together with a series of follow-along exercises, then head to the “Improve your arabesque” program straight away. It is designed as a 3 weeks program of exercises with additional information on anatomy given by physical therapist and STOTT Pilates instructor Victoria Roper and ballet technique explanations given by certified ballet teacher Cathy Laymet.
The arabesque will have no more secret for you. Notice how quickly your overall arabesque position improves, not just in terms of leg height but aesthetics and stability.