Arabesque?

khanjar

New member
With my new class I am learning new words as well as new movements, Nubian and Ghawazi I like, and one word that has assailed me is the word Arabesque in relation to foot work, what exactly is it ?
 

Darshiva

Moderator
It's a ballet term that has been adopted into bellydance - of all things! I know, look at that word, it practically screams bellydance. But I digress.

An arabesque is a type of turn in which one usually rotates 180* without moving the pelvis. (So the pelvis will start out facing the back and end up facing the front. Once the turn is complete, the lifted leg moves first.)

It is used as a decorative & elegant way of changing direction, most frequently used with "camels" (or ball ball on the diagonal, moving in a sideways direction and often with an undulation layered over the footwork)
 

Aniseteph

New member
The ballet version is the classic pose standing on one leg with the other right up behind, parallel to the floor.

The belly dance version is a more understated take on it, with the unweighted leg much less raised. The more balletic you are being the straighter the leg and pointier the foot - but I've heard it used to describe even very casual styling. Pretty much anything where you are on one leg with the other out behind is an arabesque to me.

As Darshiva says it's often used with a direction change, and some people seem to use the term specifically for that. Say you want to make a zigzag floor pattern going forward and you are travelling forward going to the left diagonal - as you step onto your right leg, lift the left straight behind you and pivot yourself round 90° to your right, on the ball of your foot. You are then ready to step across onto the left.

If you stepped onto the left and raised the right you could turn to your left instead. The steps and the free leg have to be right for the direction you want to turn... :confused:

It can look like you are swinging the free leg round, but what's actually happening is the whole body turning from the foot, like one of those jewellery box ballerinas.

There are some examples here:
 

Kashmir

New member
As used by Egyptian belly dance teachers I have worked with it simply means using a count to lift the leg behind. This is often with a swivel turn on the supporting leg to change direction. But it can also be used to change the leading foot.

The supporting leg will often do a plié (bend) as a preparation and lift its heel off the ground. (And if you are raising the heel the plié really helps - as does engaging your core)

The lifted leg is very subtle in belly dance. You are not doing ballet. It may be only a couple of inches off the ground; never above the knee.

The leg should be lifted back - not to the side - and the pelvis should be stable (not hunched over to one side)
 

khanjar

New member
Yes, Raqia Hassan I have found to be particularly good at explaining movement before and that gets it for me, thanks and so I understand that is what we have been practising most weeks, the zig zag variation. Also some useful insight on the hagella, it was explained better as I do like that movement.
 

Aniseteph

New member
The supporting leg will often do a plié (bend) as a preparation and lift its heel off the ground. (And if you are raising the heel the plié really helps - as does engaging your core)
Seconding this. My balance sucks and this really helps. That's why I searched for Kazafy clips - I went to a workshop where he explained it very well.
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
On a slightly different tack, but brought to mind by this discussion:

Back in October 2003 I attended at workshop with Raqia Hassan at Fantasia in London. I think it was one of the first ones she did in the UK and I diligently made notes. She was demonstrating the arabesque step and said that it originated with the Ghawazi (as a very low, flat-footed step, much as she demonstrates in the video Dunyah posted) and that it had been adopted into ballet - hence the term "arab"esque and the lifted leg became much more lifted and into the ballet line. I believe she demonstrated it with the lifted leg being kept very low for the Ghawazi style and a little more lifted for oriental (if memory serves me well).

I've no reason to doubt Raqia, and certainly I've seen footage of the Banat Mazin sisters doing a similar step. However, I've never heard this explanation anywhere else.

Can anyone shed any light?
 

Aniseteph

New member
Ballet adopted it from the Ghawazi? Hmmm. :confused: . There's much more convincing evidence that belly dance has adopted some ballet styling, surely?

Where the actual move comes from, who knows? Any culture can probably independently come up with standing on one leg and/or pivoting on one foot. It's not rocket science.

But terminology-wise, the earliest OED reference for arabesque as a ballet/ dance term is from 1830, for the English translation of a French book from 1820 (Traité élémentaire, théorique et pratique de l'Art de la Danse, by C. Blasis.) It's definitely the same pose because there are illustrations. My French is not up to it but I think the author is claiming first use in a ballet context and that he got it from figures in (Western) art going back to Greek and Roman imagery (e.g. Raphael's arabesques at the Vatican), not from anything that has anything genuinely Arabic in it. Where do the Ghawazi fit in to that?
 

Kashmir

New member
Back in October 2003 I attended at workshop with Raqia Hassan at Fantasia in London. I think it was one of the first ones she did in the UK and I diligently made notes. She was demonstrating the arabesque step and said that it originated with the Ghawazi (as a very low, flat-footed step, much as she demonstrates in the video Dunyah posted) and that it had been adopted into ballet - hence the term "arab"esque and the lifted leg became much more lifted and into the ballet line. I believe she demonstrated it with the lifted leg being kept very low for the Ghawazi style and a little more lifted for oriental (if memory serves me well).

I've no reason to doubt Raqia, and certainly I've seen footage of the Banat Mazin sisters doing a similar step. However, I've never heard this explanation anywhere else.
And I suspect that is where Raqia got it from. Love her dance style - but she has a different understanding of "truth" and "facts" than I have.

Let's look at this realistically.
  • Lifting and pivoting is not trademarked to ballet.
  • Ghawazi are not Arabs - so even if they invented the step (which I don't believe) why call it an "Arab"esque?
  • How likely is it that ballet masters studied an obscure group in lower Egypt over 200 years ago and added one of their moves to the vocabulary? And why that one? Why not the foot stomping shimmy?
  • Both the Reda Troupe and the Firqa Kawmiyya make use of arabesques - neither make any claim that it originated in Egypt.
 

Pleasant dancer

New member
And I suspect that is where Raqia got it from. Love her dance style - but she has a different understanding of "truth" and "facts" than I have.
I agree. As I said I've never heard this anywhere before, but the discussion on the threat reminded me of it so I thought I would inquire. It sounds like one of those "plausible" explanations that aren't really plausible at all once you think about them! :rolleyes:

Perhaps I should have said "I've no reason to think Raqia didn't believe this". If I hadn't written the comment down at the time I probably would have forgotten it by now.
 
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Sophia Maria

New member
Hmm. I never learned it as a travelling step, though one could incorporate it into travelling. From every dance teacher I've had, arabesque is not what Raqia Hassan taught in that video.



The above is how I learned it, although I took some ballet before I discovered bd. But my bd teacher also taught it to us this way, except with the leg MUCH LOWER. In her choreography she tends to use the "1st arabesque" and "3rd arabesque".
 

Kashmir

New member
It is hard enough comparing terminology within belly dance - but it really doesn't cross over much between belly and ballet! Belly dance does not use a classical ballet arabesque at all - I have alway seen it as part of a travelling sequence and the leg is only slightly lifted.

Re Raqia - she is also good at giving the customer what they want (at least in the short term). So I'm not too sure what she believes.
 

SidraK

New member
The explanation of the term from a ballet perspective that I learned as a kid was that "arabesque" was a generic term that described anything, most often in art, that resembled the flowing and curved lines of Arabic script. A ballet arabesque places forms the body into a similar curved line, hence the use of the term as a descriptor of the pose.

 

Aniseteph

New member
The ballet term has nothing to do with arabesque curved lines in the pose, it is named after the figures in arabesque art. Apart from curving and twining lines and intricate patterns, "arabesque" art had more to do with classical Greek/Roman art than anything Arabic. That is especially clear in the figures, which are very Greek/Roman and nothing to do with anything Arabic or pseudo-Arabic. And it's them that the pose gets its name from.

I couldn't find a nice pic to post, but Googling Raphael arabesques Vatican brings up some pictures.
 
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khanjar

New member
So the travelling step I am learning I now know is the arabesque where we are learning to do it in small movements- dainty steps and slight raising of the leg and large movements- more bolder with more of a kick, but for zig zagging across the floor.
 

SidraK

New member
The ballet term has nothing to do with arabesque curved lines in the pose, it is named after the figures in arabesque art. Apart from curving and twining lines and intricate patterns, "arabesque" art had more to do with classical Greek/Roman art than anything Arabic.
That makes sense, in that a European dance form would take its primary influence from other European art forms.

I can see where my ballet teacher might have conflated her art histories, since it looks like "arabesque" is used to describe both that period/style of art in Europe and, in a more generic sense, Arab (specifically Islamic) art. And thus are mangled origin stories of dance forms begun! As belly dancers, we should be familiar with that ;)
 

Aniseteph

New member
The difference with ballet is all the codification. I found that original source on line within about 10 minutes - amazing interwebs! This forum is so edukational.

@Khanjar - the position with the raised-behind-leg is the arabesque; when you pivot on the weighted leg it's an arabesque turn. The zigzag floor pattern is a typical place to use it but you can use it anywhere it works.

Also I don't know if I'm misreading, but I wouldn't think of the free leg as kicking. If you actively do anything with it, as opposed to just lifting it as much as required and letting it come round passively as you pivot, it throws your balance off. Well it does mine, and someone in class was having problems recently that were tracked down to this, which is why I noticed your comment. ;) My balance is much better if I keep the mental focus on controlling the pivot.
 

khanjar

New member
Balance is something I can do as I seem to have a sense for weight shifts since I started doing belly dance, as long as I don't think about it that is, in that if I manage to let everything natural happen naturally it does, but if I think about it- disaster ! But the kick is more like an exaggerated stiff leg throw then drag, or at least that is how I am interpreting it.
 
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