The arabesque is a fundamental part of ballet training and technique. It is seen in nearly every ballet class, and every classical ballet performance. The foundations for the position are laid as early as in Primary ballet, and are built upon throughout the grades and vocational levels, until advanced dancers are performing penchées and arabesque turns. Placement in arabesque is fundamental, and is something that many dancers struggle with. It often comes down to hip strength and alignment.
What is an arabesque?
The arabesque is a position where the dancer stands on one leg (the supporting leg) and raises the other leg behind them (the working leg). Both legs are externally rotated, or turned out, and the arms positions vary to form first, second, and third arabesque. Ideally, the dancer stands fully on balance on the supporting leg, with the working leg extended straight, the torso lifted, and the eyeline following the front arm.
What do I need to consider when I work on my arabesque?
In order to achieve the correct alignment and a beautiful line, strength and flexibility of the supporting (standing) leg and hip are fundamental. They aid in keeping the hips square, ensuring that the working hip doesn’t lift and open to distort the ribs and shoulders. A turned out, clean 90 degree arabesque line is preferable to a high, but distorted, line. Dancers often focus on flexibility, stretching their legs and backs in order to lift the leg as high as possible, and in the process forgetting about the strength required to maintain placement. Here, we look at what you can do to strengthen your hips.
Common Mistakes in Arabesque
– allowing the working hip to lift too much to distort the hips, ribs and shoulders
– dropping the hips and abdomen down towards the floor
– opening the working leg diagonally to the side instead of keeping it behind the hip
– pulling the hips back and straightening the back too much, bringing the weight over the heel rather than over the toes of the supporting leg
In order to achieve a beautiful line, the muscles of the hips and back must be both strong and flexible. The supporting foot and ankle must also be strong, ensuring the lift and stability through the leg and maintaining hip placement. Click here to find exercises to increase foot strength.
So What Can You Do to Strengthen Your Hips?
In addition to your regular practice and back- and leg stretches, add these strengthening exercises to your routine. You can do them as a part of your warmup for class.
Plank – Strengthening the Core
This position will help you hold your abdomen held as you raise your leg behind you in arabesque. The position also strengthens the muscles around the hips.
Hold the position with the navel lifting towards the spine, keeping the line from the shoulders to the feet in a diagonal line. Hold for 10 seconds, with 5 repetitions, and gradually increase the length of holding the position
Hip Lifts/Bridge – Strengthening the Hips and Back
This exercise strengthens the sides of the hips, the gluteal muscles (bum muscles), as we as the back.
Maintain a diagonal line from the shoulders to the knees, without pushing the hips too high or dropping them below the line
Leg Extensions – Engaging the Gluteals, Back and Hamstrings
The back, gluteal muscles, hamstrings and knees are all activated, just like when you stand up in arabesque.
Laying on stomach, raise one leg at the time, holding the line parallel for 10 counts, turning it out for 10 counts, and turning it back to parallel, and lower. Repeat both sides 5 times. To increase work in the exercise, externally rotate the thigh from the hip (turn the leg out) while it is held in the air, and then turn it back in again before lowering back to the ground.
For more exercises to improve your strength and flexibility, head to Easy Exercises for Strong Dancers. Remember – regular practice leads to progress!
Now that you know how to strengthen your hips for arabesque, let’s take a look at how to increase flexibility. Look out for our next Easy Exercises for Strong Dancers blog, coming next month.
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