What is an Arabesque in Ballet?

An arabesque in ballet. Tracy Wicklund
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Get Ready

Tendu in ballet
Tendu back. Photo and copy by Tracy Wicklund

An arabesque is a ballet position whereby the dancer stands on one leg and stretches the other leg straight out behind his or her body. The standing leg can be bent or straight, but the back leg must be straight. 

The arabesque is a common position in various styles of ballet. Other styles of dance also incorporate the arabesque, but it is most commonly associated with ballet. 

To perform an arabesque:

  • Lightly hold onto a barre or chair for balance, while you are learning.
  • Stand in fifth position, with your left foot in front.
  • With your right foot, do a battement tendu to the back.

Note: An arabesque may be performed in all five positions of ballet. This tutorial describes how to perform a second arabesque.

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Lift the Back Leg

Arabesque in ballet
Arabesque in ballet on a flat foot. Tracy Wicklund
  • While balancing on your left leg, slowly lift your right leg off the floor behind you, while hinging forward at your hips.
  • Maintain the turnout of your right hip as you raise your leg to the back.
  • Make sure you straighten your right knee and point your toes.
  • Keep your chest lifted and spine long. Only raise your back leg as high as you can, without collapsing your upper body. 

Other details to consider:

  • You can hold your arms in different positions, to express different messages with the move or to embody a specific character. 
  • You don't necessarily have to left the back leg for it to be considered an arabesque. You can keep the back foot on the floor behind you. That's called an arabesque par terre. 
  • If you do lift the leg, it's common to raise it to 45 degrees or, for more advanced dancers, 90 degrees. You can even lift the back leg higher than 90 degrees, but in that case, it's necessary and proper to lean the torso forward.
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Arabesque en Pointe

Arabesque in ballet
Arabesque en pointe. Photo and copy by Tracy Wicklund

An arabesque may be executed en pointe by rising onto the toe of the supporting leg. This is not a beginner move and is done in special shoes and after much training. 

This is best to practice under the supervision of a professional teacher and not at home on your own as a new dancer.