Belly Dance Arabesque
Do you know what a belly dance arabesque is? Are you sure? After discussing this with other belly dancers, I've discovered I'm not the only person who has misunderstood it for years.
Why? Because so many women do a year or two of ballet classes as a child, so when they hear the word "arabesque" they think they know it already. Especially if the teacher mentions that belly dance borrowed it from ballet. After that introduction, no matter what she demonstrates, the student is seeing the ballet position in her mind's eye. I certainly did! Which is a problem, because a belly dance arabesque is entirely different.
A ballet arabesque is a position where you stand on one leg with the other leg extended behind. The toe can be touching the ground or raised high in the air, but the knee must be completely straight - if it's even slightly bent, it's a different pose (attitude).
I always thought the belly dance version was a low (45 degrees) ballet arabesque. It's not. The name applies to a combination of steps you probably know: take three steps in one direction then step on your front foot and pivot, lifting your other leg behind as you turn. It's demonstrated here by Raqia Hassan (starting at about 1 minute 50):
Notice how tucked in her lifted foot is. In fact, she demonstrates the straight-leg position as incorrect, saying, "we are not ballerinas"!
Like all belly dance moves, the arabesque varies from instructor to instructor - so Raqia Hassan's isn't the only version. You'll see plenty of dancers who raise the foot behind them - but apparently it's rare for anyone to lift the free leg completely straight. For years I've thought my teachers were just being lazy when they arabesque'd with a bent knee - now I understand that's the way it's supposed to be!
I'm finding it tough, though. I've been learning a beautiful choreography which is full of flowing arabesques, and I feel the music cries out for long, sweeping body lines and limbs extending to the walls. It's hard to rein myself in and bend those knees!
Ballet photo by Meredith