Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arabesques and Tights

Questions from a reader:

For those of us who don't dance, what's an arabesque?
It's harder to explain than it is to demonstrate, unfortunately, but I'll try. An arabesque is one of the most familiar ballet positions to the general public--- it's the pose you'll see over and over again in pictures, posters, artwork, and on stage. The dancer is standing on one leg with the other extended out behind. The joke is that women spend at least 75% of their career in first arabesque, so they'd better get comfortable with it! (Although there are slight variances according to different traditions of technique, there are four different classical arabesque positions that are defined by the angle of the body and position of the arms. They're just named first, second, third and fourth arabesques).

You mentioned in preset that you'd have quick costume changes. I may not have seen it correctly in performances, but some of the dancers look like they've got different tights/leotards as well as tutus/costumes. Are you literally completely changing each time or is there layering that you usually do to cut down on the time it takes to be ready?
During any given ballet performance, you will likely see several different costumes appear on stage. If a dancer is performing in more than one ballet on the program, they will have to change costumes in between ballets (or in between acts if it is an evening-length work such as Swan Lake), usually during intermission. Sometimes, however, a particular role requires the dancer to wear more than one costume during a single ballet, so they will have to change during the piece at some point. These costume changes are figured into the choreography so that there is enough time for the dancer to get out of one outfit and into the other one, but they're often pretty quick and therefore the dancer will change in what we call a "quick-change booth", which is basically a couple of curtains hung up in some corner backstage. There are dozens and dozens of ballets with quick changes, some of them legendary for their elaborate-ness and quickness! I have some stories about that... but I'll save them for the next post. But no, the only time we will "layer" any costumes is if the bottom layer is a unitard or leotard that can fit easily under something else. We generally hate to dance in costumes that are too bulky, heavy, hot, or restricting, so the fewer layers the better.

With the elephant knees, how long (I know it's likely somewhat different based on the dancer) do tights last? Are they like dress socks where you wear them a couple times and after a few washes the elasticity combined with wear produces the elephant knees?
Tights can last a really long time! They may end up with holes, but we don't tend to care too much about that and will keep wearing them anyway. They fade with time and can turn odd shades of gray (from the original pink), but since they are also oddly expensive (the ones that are my particular favorite are at least $15 a pair) we (or maybe just I) get thrifty and wear them for years. Eventually they reach a point of ridiculousness (scratchy and zero elasticity), and then the most lovely feeling in the world is a brand-new pair of tights on your legs.
Not to elaborate on a mundane topic, but wearing comfortable tights is really a big deal, for the women especially. An uncomfortable pair (or leotard, or any article of dancewear) can be so distracting that I swear I can't dance as well.


  1. Morning Gavin,

    Thank you for your further explanations. It's wonderful to finally get to learn so much more about something I love watching!

    In your first answer you said "It's harder to explain than it is to demonstrate". I have watched all the videos on this blog page. I know you all are really busy, but maybe after the season it'd be possible to create additional videos for those of us non-dancers that show different moves. (And, no that doesn't mean your explanation wasn't good) :) For example you mention arabesque 1 through 4.

    Kind of in line with your clothing changes, do you wear makeup when you perform? If so, it it only for really obvious things like the characters from The Nutcracker? I've heard the term stage paint (which I think is different in that it's thicker than normal makeup) - is that what dancers wear?

    You mentioned greying tights that were pink. Is pink just one of the standard colors required for dancers? (It seems like every time I've seen dancers in class they were wearing pink tights). I've also seen in some of OBTs photos what look like leg warmers (or sleeves) that the women wear around their legs... is that to help keep muscles warm or is it more a fashion statement showing individualism of the dancer?

    Lastly, in one of your posts you talked about rosin and how the men use it on their hands so they're more secure on a partner's costume. So rosin isn't like gymnastic chalk (white) which would leave marks on the clothing (hand prints). I'm assuming that helps since both dancer and partner tend to sweat alot, or do the men just grab their partner/hold on really firmly?

  2. I am wondering if you can suggest some books or a website that can be of help. Thanks to these posts, there has been more ballet vocab that I have not heard of.
    As for suggestions, I don't know if any of the readers/bloggers know about who are the people that help setting up the ballets, such as ballet master or repeatuer (I probably spelled it wrong).