Arabesque involves centering the weight over one leg and extending the other leg back, in line with the nape of the neck. You can rest the big toe of the working leg lightly on the floor or raise it "en l'air" to any height, dipping the chest forward ever-so-slightly as the leg rises. Whatever the height of the leg, your back muscles remain fully engaged and the spine curves upward from your tailbone in a beautiful arch. Poor back flexibility makes it difficult to achieve that arch. If your own arabesque line is flat and unflattering, and your stiff back is to blame, stretch regularly to loosen things up.
Warm up with 10 minutes of marching or jogging in place or prance lightly around the dance studio. When you break a light sweat, complete a set of stretches that involve continuous, repetitive, fluid movement. Gentle torso rotations with a light arm swing and gentle leg brushes to the front and back gently activate the back without overstressing it.
Work with a foam roller or ball to release tension from your back before class, following your general warm-up. Lie on the floor with a roller or ball under your upper back and your arms relaxed on the floor behind your head. Breathe normally and allow your back muscles to relax into the floor. Hold the position for up to 60 seconds if you can do so comfortably. Adjust the roller, moving it down your spine an inch or two and then repeat the stretch. Continue to adjust the roller until you have worked the entire length of the spine.
Use cambre - smooth back bends to the front, side and back - to stretch the entire spine during class, before you move from the barre to the center. Stand in first position with your right hand on the barre and your left arm rounded overhead. Lift your chest up and out and hinge forward from your hips, gradually lowering your head toward your shins. Hold briefly and then roll up slowly through the spine, returning your arm overhead. Bend your upper back slowly toward the barre, circle your shoulders around to the back and then continue circling around to the left, ending with the left arm in second position. Keep your movements slow, deliberate and continuous and breathe at regular intervals to help the spine relax and lengthen. Switch sides and repeat.
Perform the cobra stretch immediately after class when your spine and back muscles are most malleable. Lie on your stomach on a towel or exercise mat. Place your hands on the floor under your shoulders and tighten your abdominal muscles. Push your hands downward and raise your chest off the floor. Avoid arching the lower back. Hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Lower your chest slowly to the floor and then repeat the stretch three times. After the final lift, remove your hands from the floor and extend your arms outward in ballet second position or round them overhead in fifth en haut. Hold for up to 30 seconds, breathing normally throughout the stretch.
Stretch your back throughout the day. Sit in a firm, stable chair with your feet on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Hinge forward from your hips and extend your arms between your legs, reaching behind you, under the chair. Stand arm-length away from your kitchen countertop and grasp the edge of the counter with your hands shoulder-width apart. Hinge forward from your hips, allowing your torso to pass between your outstretched arms. Get on your hands and knees and arch your back slowly upward in a cat stretch and then arch your back downward in a cow stretch. Hold all stretches for up to 30 seconds and repeat two or three times.
- Stretch only to the point of mild to moderate tension. The feeling of tension should dissipate after several moments as your muscles adjust to being stretched.
- Use a foam roller to perform a more intense version of the cobra stretch. Rest your forearms on the roller. As you lift your chest, press into the roller and draw it toward your pelvis. When you feel tension in the back, hold for up to 30 seconds. Release slowly to the floor and then repeat two or three times.