A strong arabesque line is a very valuable asset for both male and female dancers…. and a very high leg is not always the strongest of lines!
As our bodies are all different, I can only advise you with some tips that I have followed or been influenced by in my career. Our bodies all require something different!
A strong arabesque is one that is most pure. A square, long arabesque at 90 Degrees, with your arms in 1st Arabesque (Arms not too high, almost the same line as your leg) is a great position to achieve. From this secure line, you can later alter and change the position in order to say different things with your arabesque. The position Odile wants to hit and the position Aurora aims to achieve are very different…… A secure arabesque enables you to adapt when needed without distorting the pure line too much.
My teachers were always very focused on me achieving a level of flexibility within my own range and capacity. They also combined a lot of strengthening too, enabling me to use the flexibility I had worked on.
Try stretching in positions that mimic the line you are wanting to create. For example, simply doing the splits whilst creating a square line with the hips and the arms is very useful. I also like to place my leg in arabesque on the barre whilst kneeling on floor (See image attached to this #McRaeDanceTips). This enables me to get a stretch in the front of the hip as well as waking up the muscles in my lower, middle & upper back.
In order to completely wake up my back, ready for an arabesque work out, I like to do an exercise that combines a press-up, an arched back stretch plus a piked triangular shape. This series of movements works almost my entire body. It targets my arms, abs, legs, butt and specifically my back. There is no point being hyper mobile if you do not have the strength to support it. This exercise is particular good for men as a warm up before partnering!
The barre is where I spent a lot of time working on my arabesque with my teacher. My teacher in Sydney, Hilary Kaplan, would make us stand at the barre in arabesque for 5mins each leg. The 5 mins would start in a tendu in arabesque, this would then be lifted just off the floor. Then we would raise the leg to 45 degrees to be examined to ensure we were engaging all the right muscles in a square position. We would then move on to a 90 degree line (please note, we were never allowed to put our leg down in between positions…. If we did, we’d start again). When the trembling started we were told to take our arms off the barre to 2nd….. When you thought you couldn’t hold it anymore we were then instructed to place our arms in 5th! Just when you though it was over, we were told to put our arms back in 2nd! Miraculously the leg seemed to lift slightly & then finally we were allowed to dive into a stretch to release our backs!
These sessions were very extreme however I quickly learnt what hard work meant but I also started to see what hardwork could achieve.
Of course, Pilates also has a large assortment of exercises that you can do to improve both your flexibility & strength.
I still try to really focus on my arabesque line at the barre. Especially as I partner so many incredible ballerinas, it is important as a male dancer to pay attention to maintaining this line. I always try to have my arm in 5th at the barre when ever I execute an arabesque as this is usually the most difficult place to put the arm…. Therefore when I am in the centre and trying to achieve a strong arabesque line, I feel I have the freedom to do so.
A simple rule that is useful to follow when training an arabesque is to think of the lines you are creating. Imagine a laser is pointing out of your nose and your middle finger…. Try to keep both lasers running parallel! It is a simple visualisation that can help you generate a more pure line.