Arabesque Philosophy – my take on the interesting discussion brought to my attention by one of my readers

 ”Some teachers claim that you can only do a proper arabesque or attitude when you open your hip to the side (like in this picture while others insist you have to keep your hips horizontal as your shoulders and some even say it’s not good for you to open the hip because it might cause damage to your back. I wondered what your teachers say about this.”

I have not asked my teachers for their opinion on this matter; however, all of my teachers have studied and now teach according to the Vaganova syllabus, which does take a stance on this. 

Vaganova technique is based on human physiology, such that every position or movement is physiologically efficient, desirable, and safe. When done correctly, an individual should theoretically stay injury-free, save for the weird mishaps that are not related to the way in which a movement was executed and that can’t very well be prevented (slipping on the floor, etc.)

And according to the method, a ‘textbook’ arabesque would be done with squared off hips and shoulders; there are exceptions on stage, when performing certain choreography or in order to emulate a certain stylistic or artistic quality. Until 45 degrees, the hips should stay absolutely square; it is not possible for the human body to keep the hips exactly square when the leg goes higher, and in this case the hips must open just enough to allow the leg to rise. However, the hips do not open ‘with the purpose’. I mean to say that they open because they have to, and only as much as they have to, and not any more than that.

So, most certainly, we are taught to keep our hips square. No opening the hips! It is the most physiologically-sound way of positioning the body and gives the most aesthetically pleasing line.

There is an important point that I don’t often see mentioned in these discussions. The Vaganova method is based on physiology, but it is worth noting that in all the schools here in Russia (the only place in the world a person can actually get full, real Vaganova training, since it is based around the methodical syllabus year by year being taught by pedagogues that have actually studied how to teach Vaganova technique), the students are hand-picked to already have the most ideal body for ballet that will be able to execute all of the movements correctly. 

That said, I still stand by the Vaganova syllabus’ stance on this issue. It is my opinion that if a person cannot do a technically correct arabesque at 90 degrees (meaning, they open their hips more than the minimal amount needed, as the girl in the picture does) – then they should not be working at that height. 

As far as the idea that opening the hips prevents injury…all I can say is that anything that takes you further out of alignment is most likely not better for your body. And aesthetically, I don’t think it looks very nice. Don’t forget that every part of your body is, after all, connected. Open your hips and your shoulders start to open, one hip is higher than the other which results in the spine being twisted, the spine being twisted can influence the alignment of the shoulders and the neck, and there’s a fair chance that the dancers weight will be too far behind her on top of all of that. In fact, the girl in the picture is an excellent example of this! That looks painful where she is crunching her back, if I might say so myself!🙂

My suggestion? We need to start researching and conducting studies if we want an answer that is supported by evidence. I will hypothesize that the square-hips positioning would by far be the better way to execute an arabesque. But if we want proof – and I’m one to want proof – then we need to actually find it. 

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