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The Different Ballet Arabesque Positions

A dancer demonstrates the arabesque position.
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Arabesque is the name of a position in classical ballet in which the dancer stands on one leg and extends the other leg behind her. As she faces forward, she also extends the arm on the same side as her standing leg in front of her, and extends the other arm behind her. The feet can be en pointe, in demi-pointe or flat on the floor. The Vaganova ballet method, a teaching method developed by Russian dancer Agrippina Vaganova, specifies four different arabesque positions in classical ballet, each one subtly different than the one preceding it.


In Vaganova's first arabesque position, the dancer stands facing the front left corner of the stage, with the left foot in front. This is called the effacé position. The dancer raises her right leg in arabesque behind her and extends her right arm towards the audience, extending the left arm towards the front left corner. Her gaze follows the extension of the left arm.


In Vaganova's second arabesque, the dancer arranges her legs as in the first arabesque position -- the right leg is extended behind her in arabesque, and the left leg is the standing leg. She extends her right arm directly in front of her, called "en avant," and extends her left arm slightly behind her left shoulder. The shoulders remain aligned with the arms, and she turns her gaze to the audience.


The dancer raises her left leg behind her in arabesque for Vaganova's third arabesque position. The right leg is the standing leg. She extends her right arm to the side, pulling it slightly behind her shoulder, and extends her left arm to the front. Her gaze follows the left arm extended en avant.


For Vaganova's fourth arabesque, the dancer arranges her legs in the same formation as the third arabesque. She extends her right arm out to the front, and extends her left arm as far back as possible so that the right and left arms create a continuous line front-to-back. The shoulders face forward, and the dancer turns her gaze towards the audience.


Arabesque penchée is a variant of arabesque in which the leg extended behind the dancer is lifted higher than the customary 90 degrees, with the legs approaching a flat 180-degree line from floor to ceiling. The higher the legs lifts, the more the dancer must lean her upper body forward to counterbalance the leg's weight. "Penchée" is a word in French meaning "tilted."

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