Romeo + Juliet
Photo by Paul Kolnik

There are definitely ways to increase flexibility in your back in order to improve your arabesque. But, contrary to popular belief, it is not all about bending yourself in half. Here are a few things to do and think about to achieve your best possible line.

First, you must think of doing an arabesque in a certain way. If all you are worried about is getting your leg up in the back, you are actually not executing it correctly. Think of the arabesque coming from the inside of your leg rather from the top of your hip. This gives you a longer line, and just by thinking about it, you can actually make it higher. When you raise your leg to the back, use your inner thigh. Your knee will be straight, and the position will feel lighter.

Increasing the height of your leg is not just about being limber. You need to have the strength to hold it there. An exercise to increase your back stength is this: Lie on your stomach with your arms stretched above your head. Raise your upper body up just enough so your shoulders come off the ground. You should not be straining- think of using your upper back, not your lower back. At the same time, raise your feet just enough so your lower legs come off the ground. Raise and lower your upper body and legs slowly 10-12 times really feeling the muscles. When you have mastered this, hold both the upper body and legs off the ground and “swim”- raise the right arm and left leg higher and then switch, all the while keep the upper body and legs of the ground. Again, use your upper back- do not pinch into your lower. There is NO need to get very far off the ground- just a few inches.

You can do a stretch at the barre to help your leg feel the correct arabesque position. Standing close to the barre and holding on with your left hand, raise your right leg and put it on the barre. This puts you in an open position. You should feel the pull of your inner leg against your upper body. This helps that line stretch so you can eventually do it without your leg on the barre. Hold it for 30 seconds, turn around and do the other leg.

Remember, both flexibility and strength don’t happen overnight. Gradual improvment is your friend! Remember not to strain to the point of real pain. It is never worth tearing a muscle just to get your leg up!