question of the week….
I’ve got a question about arabesque. Many of my students open their hips more than is necessary as they approach 90 degrees, which makes squaring their shoulders a problem, as well as turning out their base leg and aligning their ribs over their hips, leading to a lack of balance. This year, one of my goals with them is to instill a better sense of squareness. However, as soon as they start to really try to square their hips, their working leg turns in, drops, and the back of the knee softens. Grrr! I understand the meaning of turning out within the hip joint as much as possible, and we do work that, of course, but how exactly do you square your hips and still get any height on a back extension? I’m starting to think I need to concentrate more on the base leg turnout, because they’ll be less able to open that working hip if the standing leg is rotated more, right? Sigh……..Thanks for any reply……..
Delicious question, Jennifer! You have discovered one of the ‘myths’ of ballet – that you can keep your hips square as you do an arabesque. It’s why I created the DVD Analyzing Arabesque!
When you are taking a leg into a back tendu, you can keep your hips square for a short period of time. How long you can keep your hips square has to do with the range of motion of the hip flexors and your own personal boney hip structure. A few dancers can stay totally square for the whole back tendu – more often than not – most dancers have already opened the working hip by the time they reach the end of the tendu.
For an arabesque – I have never seen a dancer stay totally square in an arabesque. It is anatomically impossible. That being said the concept of squareness is one that we should strive for. But how?
You have hit the most important nail on the head and it has to do with the standing leg. The better a dancer gets at maintaining the turnout of the standing leg while doing a back tendu or arabesque, the squarer the hips will appear.
As you know the spine will rotate and spiral away from the leg in arabesque (right leg in arabesque, the spine spirals to the left) in order to keep the upper body focused forward. This also helps to keep the dancer on her standing leg.
The most important areas to work on if your students aren’t staying square are
1. flexibility of the hip flexors, especially the iliopsoas (this will help to give them a higher arabesque and an easier time staying up on their standing leg)
2. flexibility and strength of the rotators (this will help them rotate both legs more evenly – instead of focusing on one of the legs more than the other)
3. ability of the standing leg to maintain turnout (to keep the hips square)
4. range of motion of the spine to allow that easy spiral and to keep the upper spine upright (which makes the leg look higher)
Bottom line – the hips will open some – and the pelvis will rotate – effectively ‘turning in’ the standing leg. And – by focusing on countering that tendency by keeping the weight balanced on the standing foot (not dropping back into the heels as is so common) and thinking stabilizing and rotating the standing leg – you’ve got your best chance for that elegant line of the arabesque.
Your thinking is on the right track!
“Education is the key to injury prevention”