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Ballet Talk for Dancers

A well-placed arabesque


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I would really love to have a beautiful arabesque line (I'm referring specifically to the leg and body placement here, arms are okay), with an arabesque at 90-100 degrees (ultimately), being realistic. I've asked about arabesques here before and I've asked my teachers but something is not "clicking". I feel like I have never been taught how to do an arabesque, or any kind of extension to the back, properly, even though I am now at RAD Advanced 1 level. I would really appreciate some help - perhaps someone can explain it in a better way and I would love to know some exercises to build strength in the correct muscles to assist me in this endeavour (I know Ms Leigh will say "class is the best exercise" at this point, but I would like some exercises to try and isolate specific muscles so I can figure out how to activate and use them). I am so confused about what I am doing wrong and uncertain whether it is a strength or flexibility issue. For the record, I am in my twenties, have never had a back injury, and have never been told that I have poor back flexibility - my teachers have always mentioned strength. An arabesque done wonderfully is lovely, and currently I feel I am butchering this position!


This is what I think I am doing wrong: I think I am dropping my back. I have been told this by teachers. But I personally think my pelvis positioning is also a problem and that I am also not using the correct muscles to lift the leg. I also have tight gluteous muscles (most specifically gluteous medius, according to physiotherapist) which I don't think helps. I suspect I am probably doing this (referring to the image): http://www.cheerleadingblog.com/how-to-hit-an-arabesque-cheerleading-stunt/#.UfOdeKzAH2s


Teachers have told me: "feel like you are being pulled upright from between your shoulder blades" and "use your tummy muscles" (I think this second has been in reference to the lower stomach muscles but I'm not sure). I have found neither of these particularly helpful and I think I am missing their point here. I most often get told "don't drop your back" and "square your shoulders", but I honestly do believe that the position of my pelvis and lower stomach, and the muscles I am using to lift my leg (I suspect I am trying to lift it with gluteous maximus, incorrectly) are also contributing to my problem.


Please note: I do know that I am supposed to lift my torso up and forward and open the hip slightly to allow rotation and lift of the working leg. But whenever I try to do this it just doesn't seem to go right and I am told I am dropping my back.


Simply put: my arabesque feels...wrong...and "jammed" - this being in an effort just to get a nicely placed 80-90 degree lifted leg. Somehow this is not a problem with an attitude position and I can't understand what I'm doing wrong in terms of the arabesque.

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Not a teacher or expert by any means, but your concern about height of the lifted leg made me think about my own experiences. I've never been good at employing physiological direction when addressing technical issues. I have to feel the movement. Forget the picture and create the feel. Things like imagery seem to work well. So too with thinking about basic principles like oppositional forces and lengthening. That's just me I know.

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I am not sure I understand what you mean by not being good at employing physiological direction when addressing technical issues - can you explain, please?


I mentioned the height of leg because I wanted to emphasize that I am not pushing for extremes at all. I do not have a problem lifting my attitude leg to 90 degrees or slightly above but somehow this is problematic with arabesques. I mentioned the height because I wanted to say that I am not trying to attain a height which is unrealistic for me physically.


I think also, in terms of "feeling" the movement - I'm not sure what it's supposed to "feel" like. And I have difficulty imagining it because I don't understand what to do with my muscles to achieve the image in my head...I'm not sure if that makes sense. But basically what happens is I see pictures of arabesques and try to make mine look like that but it doesn't...and I think I'm doing something wrong in my positioning that is contributing to this. I've heard Ms. Leigh mention getting the gluteus maximus out of the way (I think she said by opening the hip slightly - i.e not being 110% square in terms of the hips), and I feel this is one of the things I fail at. I feel like this is part of what is blocking my leg from lifting properly.

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Also, I should mention that someone on ballet talk has mentioned the spiral effect in the back to me before but I really struggled to understand/visualise this. I wish someone could just work with me and position me specifically and help me with the movement into and out of the position and show me very specifically on another person or model and myself what is supposed to happen. But I've asked at least 2 of my teachers this (one in a private lesson) and I have not got help in this regard - I don't know if this is because I am not understanding their way of explaining things or they are not understanding my way of explaining things.


This video has been very helpful to me in understanding the leg part a bit better:

but it would be great if there was a similar video explaining the back part!


I suspect this is one of the things I may be doing with my back: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8J7ck6RIgbM

My teacher has told everyone in our class about the shoulder back/shoulder forward correction that you see this teacher giving this student.


I'd really appreciate it if someone could also try to explain to me which muscles are engaged to do what in an arabesque.


I know it might sound like I am over-analysing this, but truly I just want to understand and improve and when I am told just to "lift [my] back" has not helped me.

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Here is a visual/feeling that might help. Imagine a gentleman has you in a press list in first arabesque. Now visualize where his hands are placed pushing upward. Now re-create that same feeling without the partner while standing in arabesque. There must be an equal pressure upward on both sides of your center just like in the partnered lift. Don't think of "pulling "the back up and leg up, but "push" from the underside.

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Swantobe--The second sentence of your third paragraph is pretty much what I mean when I say "employing physiological direction. Another definition might be thinking of what your muscles are doing when executing a step.


gcwhitewater's suggestion is a good example of creating the feeling.


Two books that can put you on the right track are Anna Paskevska's Beyond Ballet Tradition and Eric Franklin's Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance. I recommend both.

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You explain your dilemma very well and your knowing what it is you are not "getting" -- in my case also -- is the first step to finally gaining better understanding.

i agree -- sometimes even the best verbalized imagery just does not give the nuts and bolts of "how to do it". And arabesque I agree is one of the most illusive ballet moves -- Perhaps it is an ongoing quest... Or, perhaps it is deceptively simple (though still a bit difficult to grasp....)

I am a student also and can't really add to what you already have explained, except just a few tips in case they might possibly help you or ring a bell --

In the classes I've taken over the past couple of years there are often teachers that drop in -- or may take the class fairly regularly so I have the opportunity to see arabesques performed by many different, and mostly qualified people.

For me, in gauging my own arabesque (exactly how much to "open" the hip? how high to try to get it before it becomes distorted?) I have watched others and that has helped somewhat.

True, that does not tell you "what muscles" --- But intellectually we all "know" what muscles to use --

Another tip is to stand in front of your own full length mirror at home and experiment (with a counter or chair nearby) lifting your leg to arabesque position, and using different muscles in different ways -- back, legs, etc. -- seeing how it "works", keeping in mind all that you have been taught and read.

For this exercise, you can do it wrong -- all wrong -- and see how that feels too, so you realize what not to do. Pretend you are teaching someone else -- an absolute beginner, how to execute this -- you might be surprised how much you already understand! You can turn yourself at various angles to try and see how it looks on you, too. (Or perhaps someone you are close to could take photos of you? This is so that you might try and critique yourself once you have done some practicing...) Again these are tools to experiment and see and think about.... See how to place it where you think it meets the criteria of good technique and feel which muscles, how much, where, etc. the feeling is... I think it can 'click' when one puts all of that information together with the simple reality of one's own anatomy.

One of the most important (for me) aspects of it and getting it correctly, is getting one's leg rotated correctly, AND placed right behind the shoulder, stretching straight back. ... streeeeeeeeching your leg in back of you, tightening that muscle in back of your knee (without locking it back.)

(Again I am a student -- not a qualified expert at all! But i have had some really excellent instruction from some great teachers.)

Also an arabesque on one person can tend to look a bit different on someone else. Everyone must find their own best arabesque - just my opinion but I almost feel that arabesques on different people are like snowflakes -- no two are the same, I think sometimes. (I suppose that there is one correct way to do an arabesque that everyone should do generally speaking, but I have just seen so many that I personally have kind of come to this conclusion.....)

Also, keep asking questions! Different people explain -- or demonstrate -- in different ways. If you see a teacher or student who performs an arabesque you particularly admire, perhaps you can ask that person for tips and to place you (if the situation allows for it of course.)

Sorry if this does not help and I am still on this quest myself, too.

In my case I have somewhat concluded that 90 degrees is never going to be doable for me, so I content myself with lower, but correct and trying for a nice line.

Needless to say, getting the line correctly first, and then going for more height is very important.

Being in your 20's you will have a great potential and I expect that you will find good answers -- more to come here on BT4D too, I would expect, as well... :secret:




..........also here (above) is one pretty good video from youtube that explains in a way you may not have come across before?


Let us know how it's going -- Ludmilla

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Guest Pas de Quoi

Hi Swantobe:


This short video may be helpful.

Also, as you mention that your back drops forward, you may try strengthening the thoracic area of your back. Here is a very good exercise for that - with this area strengthened, you will be able to lift your leg to a greater height, while maintaining the curve of your back, which is essential in arabesque.
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All of you have linked to the same video- the Maple arabesque vid. Does someone here own that youtube account????????????


swantobe- I just answered another poster on another arabesque thread. See if that helps.

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Pas de Quoi-

I wasn't only referring to you!! I agree with you about the video being helpful, but was curious since almost every poster has already referenced the same video. I do think one link might suffice. :)

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