Editor’s note: The “Dance Dissection” series is created by students enrolled in DANC-270: Dance Kinesiology at Loyola University Chicago. As one of their culminating projects, small groups of students are required to select a movement in dance and create a photo essay describing it in detail, based on content presented in this introductory course.
“Get on your leg” in an arabesque on relevé
By Masha Bandouli, Justina Birden, Angelina Grego and Alessandra Villasana
In simple terms, an arabesque consists of a turned-out position in which a dancer stands on one leg with the other leg raised directly behind them. The bottom foot also has its heel lifted from the ground, and the arms can vary positions. In anatomical terms, an arabesque is a dance position consisting of the extension of one hip while the other hip and leg remains in a neutral position to keep the body upright. Although the movement resides mostly below the waist, meaning the feet, the legs, and the dancer’s hips, the back also works by hyperextending to allow space for the leg to rise. This space is created due to the fact the “upper part of the sacrum connects with the 5th vertebra of the lumbar spine” (Fischer Gam, 2015). Back muscles such as the erector spinae are thus connected to the pelvis area and the back can be used to create greater range of motion for the lower extremity as a whole. In an arabesque on relevé, the foot that remains on the floor is in a plantar flexion and the ankle joint is extended. If the dancer is on pointe, the toes are also plantar flexed, whereas, if the dancer is on demi-pointe, the foot is plantar flexed and the toes are dorsiflexed Both feet and legs must be in turnout, which requires external rotation of the hip joints as well. This movement occurs mostly in the sagittal plane as the leg moves directly behind the body, however the position of the arms in first arabesque and rotation of the hips include movement in the transverse plane.
The Anatomy of an Arabesque on Relevé
The main joint involved in an arabesque is the hip, a ball-and-socket joint, facilitating movement in all three planes. This is the joint that connects the top of the femur to the pelvis. The rotation in turn-out comes from the ability of the femur to rotate within the deep cavity called the acetabulum, since the pelvis is a relatively stationary part of the body if kept vertical. When the arabesque goes beyond a person’s natural range of motion the pelvis can no longer remain stationary and must anteriorly tilt to support the leg (Fischer Gam & Urmston, 2015). It can tilt, flex, and extend, but it cannot rotate. The hip joint connects the axial skeleton with the appendicular skeleton by forming the bridge to the lower extremity. The specific bones involved in this are the femur and the pelvis. The pelvis is made up of the ilium, the ischium and the pubis fused together. Due to the skeletal anatomy surrounding the hip joint, it is clear that the pelvis is a major stabilizing area of the body, forming the center of gravity and absorbing much of the weight of the upper body due to its size and location. By aligning the pelvis with gravity over the significantly smaller femur bone, the body becomes more stabilized and able to absorb force and shock created by the body’s movements. The movement in the hip joint occurs because of the action of the six deep muscles which are the piriformis, obturator internus, obturator externus, gemellus superior, gemellus inferior, and quadratus and insert in the greater trochanter of the femur bone. The femur rotates posteriorly as a result of these deep six muscles flexing and rotating away from the midline of the body, creating the turnout in the leg that is lifted to the back.
The standing leg is also turned out, and maintains stability; almost all of the muscles in the foot and leg are working to keep the leg straight and long to support the arabesque position. When the foot goes on relevé, there is an extension that starts from theanterior talofibular ligament and the calcaneofibular ligament in the ankle joint.If the movement is on pointe, the foot remains pointed, but if the relevé is performed in soft shoes, there is also plantar flexion of the foot and dorsiflexion of the toes. Plantar flexion occurs as a result action by the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, which make up the calf, plantaris, flexor hallucis longus and flexor digitorum longus muscles, tibialis posterior muscle, and the peroneus longus and peroneus brevis muscles (Russell, McEwan, Koutedakis, & Wyon, 2008).
The Kinetic Chain
In the Kinetic Chain, the joints in the body can either move or stabilize the body. When it comes to an arabesque on relevé, the feet provide mobility and stability. They move to go on relevé, but once they’re there, they serve as stability for the rest of the body. The knee also provides stability by staying straight, long, and engaged. The hips are the main point of movement in an arabesque, and although only one of them is being extended, the other one also has to move to maintain the symmetry between them. The lumbar spine hyperextends as a result of the leg extending behind the body, but it mostly serves for stability of the upper body once the leg is raised. When performing most ballet movement, such as the case of and arabesque on relevé, it is important to know the importance of the kinetic chain because it is all connected. If the feet aren’t properly aligned to stabilize the rest of the body, this could be due to muscle imbalance or weakness or even a recurring injury, the knees might be in a position that might be cause negative effects on the body, such as injuries, in order to perform the movement without the stabilization of the feet. The same applies to the hips because our bodies are all connected through the kinetic chain. In the case of an arabesque, a dancer is standing with all their weight on one leg which makes correct alignment of the feet and knees essential for correct placement of the hips as well as avoiding injuries.
Although an arabesque is one of the most basic and characteristic positions in ballet, it requires a lot of precision and body awareness. Many small postural deviations and mistakes can make or break an arabesque. A higher hip or shoulder can cause an arabesque to look tilted instead of the square look that is desired, which requires both the hips and shoulders to be aligned with each other in the frontal plane. Postural deviations can also lead to tilting in the hips and shoulder creating the same issue. With regard to the standing leg, a significantly pronated or supinated ankle joint can also create postural deviations up the kinetic chain and cause general instability of the shape. These factors can result in many common corrections such as “pull up,” “get on your leg,” or “don’t sit on your hips.”
The correction to stop “sinking in your hip” or “getting on your leg” can often be attributed to anterior pelvic tilt and how this tilt brings the kinetic chain out of alignment. This is a vital correction because it affects range of motion and the ability to balance. Since the hip joint is a ball-and-socket joint, the ball part of the joint – the head of the femur – needs enough space in the socket to move and turn. If there is an anterior pelvic tilt, that movement is constricted. The range of turnout decreases, and because the kinetic chain is disrupted, it will be harder to balance without compensating with another part of the body.
In terms of muscles, the core and glute muscles are underutilized in anterior pelvic tilt, while the hip flexors and erector spinae muscles are being overused, leading to tightness that exacerbates pelvic tilt and lordosis of the lumbar spine. If the dancer’s pelvis is aligned in a more neutral position, the hip flexors will be able to relax, leading to a greater potential for force production in hip flexion. The control of lumbo-pelvic alignment creates a more advantageous muscular position that allows for “muscles to contract harder through more motor units producing more force at once” (Minden, 2013). If the gluteus maximus muscle is engaged in neutral alignment, it will allow for greater power to be utilized in movement and more muscular activation on the posterior side. This should in turn better balance out the body’s muscular composition.
When the foot is on releve, the ankle is extended and, on demi-pointe, the toes dorsiflexed, as shown. The center of gravity is placed over the first two toes.
Example of anterior pelvic tilt. The weight is pressed back on the heel of the standing leg and the supporting knee is hyperextended. In this example, the lack of core activation causes the dancer to lean toward the standing leg.
Correction of anterior pelvic tilt strengthens the back and brings the weight closer to the toes, making releve possible.
A closer look at interior pelvic tilt.
A closer look at correct pelvic alignment.
Arabesque in a turned out position, anterior view.
Since the hips are above the knees, if the hip is sinking into the hip joint, that can lead to the valgus, turned-in knees, which can contribute to the risk of injury. The lower abdominals are also often relaxed in anterior pelvic tilt, which can lead to limited control and overuse of certain muscles over others. The muscles that may be overused are the quadriceps, specifically the rectus femoris, which originates in the ilium and protrudes past the femur and knee cap. Due to these overlapping points of origin and insertion, the overuse or misuse of muscles can lead to pain in the lower back and knees. For example, the quadriceps, a group of four muscles, the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius and rectus femoris attach at either the femur bone or the ilium and extend over the patella before inserting at the tibia. If the femoral head is not given its full range of motion in the hip joint, the muscles surrounding it will be tighter trying to compensate. This translates down into the knee joints where these quadricep muscles cross over and may cause tightness and pain. This correction, if fixed, can significantly improve one’s alignment because if the pelvis is in alignment, the core, knees and ankles will fall into place in turn.
When trying to address corrections like “don’t sit in your hip” and “get on your leg,” the main muscles engaged are the abdominal muscles. But more muscles are actually used in the movements where these corrections are given. In the concentric phase is when the muscle shortens during force production, and the eccentric phase is when muscles elongate during force production, the action of closing the leg into first or fifth position. This is also an open chain movement meaning it isolates muscle action. The hips must be isolated from the rest of the body so one does not sit in them or move them as the leg moves. The kinetic chain is based on efficiency depending on balance between mobility and stability. Getting “on your leg” and not “sitting into your leg” requires more mobility to find correct placement but also the ability to keep the lower body stable.
In order to apply this correction, strength and endurance are mostly required. Strength is required in order to be able to hold the core and muscles surrounding the pelvis with maximal force and for a short period of time. Endurance is needed to be able to do this consistently, or several times over an extended period of time. If a person is used to being in an incorrect alignment which can often be easier to find due to its relaxed nature, it is significantly harder to be able to lift out of that anterior pelvic tilt and find the correct neutral pelvis needed. Through exploring the implication of the correction “get on your leg,” it has become apparent that its ultimate goal is to get dancers into neutral alignment. Various muscular imbalances and weaknesses can stem from being in an anterior pelvic tilt making it crucial for dancers to strengthen the muscles of the core while releasing muscles in the lower back and the hip. Finding the correct alignment of the pelvis will allow for more muscular force to be accessed in the correct areas, creating a more stable, more balanced, and overall stronger dancer.
Masha Bandouil is a sophomore Dance and Biology double major at Loyola University of Chicago. She is originally from Frisco, TX where she began her training at Hathaway Academy of Ballet and danced with Collin County Ballet Theatre. She plans on combining her passion for the arts and sciences by exploring how dance can be used to make scientific knowledge more accessible.
Justina Birden is originally from Evergreen Park Illinois. She is a junior at Loyola University Chicago studying Broadcast Journalism and minoring in dance. Justina initially began her ballet training at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts located right in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast area. She plans on dancing professionally or working for a news company in the sports section.
Angelina Grego is a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago and is originally from Arcadia, California. She is majoring in Communications and minoring in Dance. Angelina began her dance training at Pasadena Civic Ballet and became a member of their Senior Company. She hopes to work in a Communications position within the arts industry in either live performance or television.
Alessandra Miglietti is a sophomore Dance and Advertising/Public Relations double major at Loyola University Chicago. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, she began her ballet training at Escuela de Ballet Tempo and then continued to train and perform with Compañia de Ballet Juvenil Tempo. Alessandra is hoping to combine her two majors by pursuing a career as a Media Manager for a dance company.
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Fischer Gam, C. on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee (2015). The Pelvis: The Meeting Point of the Body. Retrieved from https://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/214606/The-Pelvis-The-Meeting-Point-of-the-Body
Fischer Gam, C., & Urmston, E. on behalf of the IADMS Education Committee (2015). Dancing with the Pelvis: Alignment, Deviations, and Mobility. Retrieved from https://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/214940/Dancing-with-the-pelvis-Alignment-deviations-and-mobility
Joel Minden. (2015). Where Are Your Glutes, Really? Retrieved from https://www.joelminden.com/where-are-your-glutes-really/
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Warnecke, L. (2010). What You Mean, What You Say: Get Up On Your Leg. Retrieved from http://www.danceadvantage.net/get-up-on-your-leg/