Peter Boal in class a New York City Center. Courtesy PNB.

Peter Boal's Top Tips for Pirouettes en Dedans in Arabesque

"People have so much fear associated with arabesque turns," says Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Here, he shares images and ideas to help you confidently master this advanced pirouette. "It's a real accomplishment when you can put it all together."


Asymmetrical but balanced: "Our body is comfortable balancing with one foot centered underneath our hips," Peter Boal explains. "With arabesque, the whole pelvis gets pulled in a different direction, and you can't be ramrod-straight." The torso must be in front of your center, with the arabesque leg acting as counterbalance behind. "It's dramatically asymmetrical, but it is a balanced position."

The launch: Boal tells his dancers to picture the way ice-skaters use their upper bodies going into a long arabesque spiral: "They use the momentum of their torso much more than ballet dancers are used to doing." Begin the turn by throwing your torso out and around the rotation just ahead of the relevé in arabesque. This brings your weight forward and builds momentum, "enough to be able to ride out the turn over two or possibly three pirouettes."

PNB's Leta Biasucci

Courtesy PNB

The back leg: Remember to really stretch the arabesque leg and fully point that foot. "Thinking all the way down to the tips of the extremities energizes everything in the body," says Boal. "The leg might not make it to 90 degrees, but it should be close." If the leg is too low, the back will be too straight—and the position won't read as arabesque.

To spot or not: "Arabesque turns without a spot are so beautiful," Boal says, "but so risky!" He opts for a compromise, coaching his dancers not to spot the first rotation but to take their heads and eyes around to help with the launch of the turn. "You'll find your spot as you complete your first pirouette, and then you can maintain it for the second rotation."

Mix it up: "Sometimes when you try something unfamiliar, your instincts kick in, and you just nail it," says Boal. "I like to change the arms, so it never becomes rote." He gives arabesque turns in class with the arms crossing close to the body and slowly coming up into fifth ("like Le Spectre de la Rose"), or with a rounded front arm and the other arm elongated and slightly behind. "It's a beautiful image, those windblown lengths."

More Tips

1. Another advantage to this approach is the resulting position. "The torso pulls up into a really proper, placed arabesque, and the leg rises simultaneously. And the arabesque is crossed, because the torso is going around just before." With the upper body and the leg lifting, the whole shape contracts slightly, adding greater force.

2. To get it right, try doing it wrong. A common correction Boal gives is to lead with the inside of the supporting leg. "That emphasis on turnout adds another band of support for the leg." To understand the necessity of that supportive turnout, try the pirouette without it! "Do it incorrectly, and you'll feel how weak it is."

Latest Posts


xmb photography, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

The Washington Ballet's Sarah Steele on Her At-Home Workouts

Ballet at home: Since she's not preparing for any immediate performances, Steele takes ballet barre three to four times a week. "I'm working in more of a maintenance mode," she says, prioritizing her ankles and the intrinsic muscles in her feet. "If you don't work those muscles, they disappear really quickly. I've been focusing on a baseline level of ballet muscle memory."

What she's always working on: Strengthening her glute-hamstring connection (the "under-butt" area), which provides stability for actions like repetitive relevés and power for jumps. Bridges are her go-to move for conditioning those muscles. "Those 'basic food group'–type exercises are some of the best ones," she says.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Hiding Injuries: Why Downplaying Pain Can Lead to Bigger Problems Down the Road

Sabrina Landa was thrilled to be offered a traineeship with Pennsylvania Ballet. "As a trainee, everything felt like a chance to prove myself as a professional," she says. Her training hours increased and she was dancing more than she ever had before. When Landa began experiencing pain in her metatarsals partway through the 2018 Nutcracker season, she notified the staff. "But in fear of losing my shows, I downplayed the severity of it," Landa says.

She notes that no one pushed her to keep dancing but herself. "I was 18 and was aiming to receive a contract by the end of the year," she says. "I felt so much anxiety over missing an opportunity that I was afraid to be honest about my pain." Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic staff were understanding and supportive, but Landa minimized her injury for the next few months, wanting to push through until the season ended and contracts were offered. But after months of pain and an onset of extreme weakness in her foot, Landa was diagnosed with two stress fractures in her second and third metatarsals. She spent the next three months on crutches and six months off dancing to allow for the fractures' delayed healing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Skjalg Bøhmer Vold, Courtesy Merritt Moore

How Quantum Physicist Ballerina Merritt Moore Learned to Dance With a Robot (Plus, Her Newest Film)

When the world went into lockdown last March, most dancers despaired. But not Merritt Moore. The Los Angeles native, who lives in London and has danced with Norwegian National Ballet, English National Ballet and Boston Ballet, holds a PhD in atomic and laser physics from the University of Oxford. A few weeks into the coronavirus pandemic, she came up with a solution for having to train and work alone: robots.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks