Higher Arabesque

I’m a 14 year old pre-professional ballet dancer.  I’ve always been told by teachers that I’m naturally more strong than flexible, and I’ve really had to work hard to acquire the flexibility I do have.  I really want to improve my arabesque!  I know for a fact that my abdomen, hamstrings and hip flexors are naturally pretty tight along with the fact that the muscles in my lower back aren’t particularly strong.

I have been doing strength exercises for my lower back and stretching the front of my hips diligently for the past 4 months, and have seen a significant amount of strength gained in my back but not so much improvement in the hips.  When I do an arabesque now, I can see that my lower back is about perpendicular to the floor rather than tilted forward like before.  But, I’m frustrated because, if anything, my leg has gotten LOWER.  I want to get it higher!  Please help me to understand why these exercises have gotten my back straighter yet not my leg higher.  I’d appreciate any additional exercises you could think of to help stretch my tight areas as well.  Thanks so much! I want to hip this height issue in the behind… literally!

I love your intensity and drive to work on your arabesque!  Let me start by addressing your question of why your back is more upright but the leg isn’t.  Think of a teeter totter…  and then imagine one end is your head and the other your arabesque leg.  I suspect that if the hip flexors haven’t released then you simply had a teeter totter effect happen.

slumpHere are a few suggestions to think about.  First up – posture.  That line of the elegant back does require flexibility of the lower back as well as strength of the upper back.  I find one challenge with younger bodies is that their daily posture influences their dance movements more than they might suspect.

For example, if you have a habit of slumping as you sit in school or at the computer it means that the fascia on the front of the body is in a shortened position for many hours a day.  So my first suggestion is to check your daily posture habits to see if any of them might be negatively influencing your dancing.

Next I would shift focus from the lower back to the upper back area.  What I would suggest for a few months is working on your spinal rotation of the upper middle back to go along with your new posture.  It is always so interesting to me that if I can increase the rotation of the spine the person will automatically stand with a more lengthened spine.

For that I will share my favorite spinal rotation exercise.  I taped this in my living room for someone that I was working with – so please excuse the quality, but a picture is worth a thousand words:)  What I want to emphasize is the stretching between the arms – actively reach towards the ceiling in both positions.

Now for the front of the hip.  I’m not sure what stretches you are doing for the hip flexor, but if they aren’t getting the results you want I would psoas1try making your stretching dynamic.  Start in the normal psoas lunge position as show to the side.  Then let’s make it active.  You’ll do that by engaging the gluteal muscles to draw the pelvis down in back while using the abdominal muscles to try to lengthen the front of the body upwards. Rotate your body slightly towards the leg in front, meaning if your right leg is behind and your left is in front rotate your spine and body slightly towards the left while thinking of actively lengthening and stretching your right leg long behind you.  Gently press the foot into the ground as if you were going to lift the right knee off the ground – or if you are on the ball of the right foot if you are in a standing lunge you can lengthen the heel away as you are lifting and rotating slightly the pelvis and torso. You’ve just made it into a dynamic stretch. Do this multiple times a day – dynamically stretching your psoas rather than passively sitting into the stretch and see if that helps.

I’m rooting for you!

To your success,


“Education is the key to injury prevention”

3 replies
  1. Maria Boscaino
    Maria Boscaino says:

    Very interesting Deborah! I think the spinal rotation in arabesque is very important because the back needs to internally spiral away from the spiraling arabesque leg. So it would make sense to work on the upper body as well as the psoas.

  2. J Rachel
    J Rachel says:

    This is really great advice, as a dancer myself, I wish this information was given to me many years ago.
    I do have a question though, I tried the spinal stretch you posted a video of and I found that when I did it to the left I had little to no mobility! This surprised me because I try to stretch and strengthen my body very evenly. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was on the left and I could feel my upper back muscles want to tense up immediately. What would you say this reveals? Should I keep slowly working at it or should I stop?

    • deborah
      deborah says:

      Hi Rachel,
      This is simply demonstrating the difference in the upper spines rotational ability. I would encourage you to continue to work slowly. Don’t push it – and simply do more rotation to that less mobile side. I would even encourage you to do more rotating to the side that has less by sitting in a chair with an erect spine and slowly but surely rotating smoothly. Hope that helps!


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