«One must be able to think in colors and forms as one is able to think in terms and thoughts.»
Eurythmy in education
Today, children are born into a world where fundamental securities in life can no longer be taken for granted - securities such as family warmth, consistent care and understanding, a rhythmical life-style, and an atmosphere free of fear and anxiety. We may find ourselves asking: Do our children develop their senses in a healthy way through what they eat and wear, see, hear and touch? Do they prefer to watch television rather than interact with people? Have computer games replaced those based on rhymes, movement, imagination and group-play, and with what effect? As children grow older, are there enough opportunities for new experiences, and meaningful work? Our best intentions for our children are often compromised by the pressures and influences in modern life.
So, the tasks of education have increased considerably. We must try to compensate for what is lacking to give children a healthier start in life-'healthy' in the widest possible sense. If we want children to grow up able to take hold of their destinies and meet life with courage and imagination, then we must set out to rescue 'childhood’.
The baby is all movement. Stretching, bending and arching express joy, contentment, pain, and hunger. Feeding is not just suckling with the mouth, but involves the whole, body right down to the toes and fingers. Every activity is pursued with undivided energy - no wonder babies need so much sleep!
Then, as the infant starts to stand upright and learns to walk, its whole being is again totally engrossed. It reaches out with eagerness and absolute trust. There is no holding back. Utter involvement is shown in the face - wonder, fear or excitement.
This uniting with the surrounding world is not just on a feeling level, but is also reflected in the physical body, right down to the heartbeat and breathing. For instance, when a child observes a cat slowly getting ready to pounce, the breath is held and tension is felt all over the body.
Gradually, this all-engrossing participation in our surroundings diminishes. We simply see with our eyes and hear with our ears. We lose the ability to be at one with the world around us. Our senses are bombarded with impressions which we can hardly digest. Movements, once harmonious and intuitive, become self-conscious and awkward. Sexuality asserts itself, often fraught with confusion. Entering the teenage years, we may feel increasingly vulnerable, bewildered and isolated. Must childhood really die, or can it live on in a new way into adulthood?
Part of the Waldorf School Curriculum
Eurythmy teachers work with the natural grace and creative powers present in children. They encourage these to unfold properly and develop into new capacities for use in later life. Eurythmy is part of the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf School Curriculum from Kindergarten to Class (or Grade) XII and it follows the growth processes of the maturing child closely at each stage.
In Class 1 (age 6-7), teachers work with those immensely rich images which live in the world of fairy-tales. By imitation we take the children through the gestures and movements of the vowels and consonants which will bring the story to life. For example, perhaps they have heard the story of 'Hansel and Gretel'. The teacher will lead them through it in eurythmy.
All the children become “Hänsel and Gretel” scattering breadcrumbs in the woods. They follow the teacher on a big spiral that winds in towards the centre of the room. They move on tiptoe and have to be very careful that their stepmother does not see what they are doing. As they go the teacher whispers a little rhyme:
Into the deep dark woods we go,
Where are we going? We do not know.
We are not frightened. We are not afraid –
The moonbeams will show us the path we have made.
Later the children all become birds, flying and diving and eating up all the crumbs, accompanied by improvised music. The children can also perform all of Gretel's chores with eurythmy gestures to the sounds they hear - chopping wood, sweeping the floor, kneading dough. Practising and refining a variety of movements not only gives the children mastery of their bodies and senses, but also helps speech development.
A feeling for space also grows through the shapes the children make together. When the sun sets in the story, the whole circle slowly contracts; the children move towards the centre until they are all huddled together. In the morning the cock crows, the sun rises and all the people, animals and plants wake up. The children's gestures are out-stretched and they skip lightly out of the middle making the circle large, airy and full of light. Here the rhythm of in- and out-breathing, of contraction and expansion, is taken up from the story and translated into spatial movement.
Fostering 'healthy-breathing' is one of the principal aims of the teacher. It will serve as a foundation for balance between activity and rest, waking and sleeping, speaking and listening, giving and receiving.
A story like 'Hänsel and Gretel’ will develop slowly through many repetitions over several weeks. The acting-out of the story in movement deepens the children's inner participation in it. These experiences flow into movements, not chaotically but rhythmically and in a controlled way.
At age 9-10 another phase of childhood begins. Children wake up to the world and to each other in a new way. Each child begins to feel different from the others, and Starts to form special friendships and relationships. At this time, a new self-consciousness dawns. Exercises are introduced where this process is met and creatively fostered.
Up to this age most exercises have taken place with the pupils facing one another in a circle. Now they all face in one direction; suddenly each one stands on his or her own, not held within the security of the circle. They can no longer watch and copy what others are doing. They must now remember gestures and movements in space. They also learn to move backwards without seeing where they are going. They begin to feel with their whole bodies where they are, moving together harmoniously.
Concentration and copper-rod exercises begin to play an important role. Rods of about an arm's length are handled in many ways: thrown, caught, passed from hand to hand, dropped behind the back, twirled, and so on. These exercises encourage dexterity, rhythm, alertness, and liveliness of hands and feet.
Eurythmy also helps to retain a living quality in subjects which demand abstract thinking. In Class VI (age 11-12), when geometry appears as a new subject, eurythmy can help to make it more tangible. A triangle moved in space by three people instead of simply being drawn on paper gives a real experience of the form. A wide-angled triangle or a very pointed one - these feel very different!
Geometrical exercises can become progressively more complicated: patterns of diamonds and stars involving many people are moved in space. They dissolve and re-form with complex transitions, and, achievement of such an exercise is extremely! satisfying. It leads to increased spatial awareness and to the ability to visualize and carry out an intention with precision. Such exercises develop the adult's capacity for clear and mobile thinking.
In the upper school (age 14-18) we find teenagers actively trying to cope with their inner life, often full of turmoil and difficult questions. For heir own identity and direction in life becomes a burning issue for them. Eurythmy meets this both with dramatic texts and with humorous verse, and through much more challenging music. Changing from Mozart to Beethoven it wolves a loss of innocence, but it is also a celebration of the birth of romantic and passionate feeling. In eurythmy, the style of movement shifts away from the crispness of the classical period. The strong of the soul demand that we free ourselves from strict upright posture and forward orientation. We turn, bend and l lean into curves. Emotions can be artistically released in eurythmy, and the inner life taken hold of rather than left to burst out in any direction which it happens to take.
Antigone, the Sophocles tragedy, would be appropriate for this age. In this play, Antigone confronts the heartless authority of the State. She chooses to obey her own conscience, which she affirms is ruled by love and not hate. It is a theme which appeals to teenagers who need to challenge 'given1 values inorder to clarify and strengthen the true ndividual beliefs. This activity is ennobled by the iritegrity of Antigöne's desires arid deeds.
Here is an opportunity for the students to immerse themselves in different roles and experience intense humanemotions.Theycandothiswithouthavingtoj exposetheirown privateselveswhicharestill in the* process of growth and are extremely tender. In such, a play it is possibleto combine eurythmy and acting, aimed at public performance. The ancient Greek Chorus with its 'ritual' flavour lends itself well to eurythmy. One group of students could recite the lines, while another expresses the mood and content of the speeches in eurythmy.
Now the students are encouraged to shape the eurythmy work themselves. The teacher becomes a co-ordwator in an artistic process of exploration and discovery. They look at questions together. Which parts shoüld be acted and which done in eurythmy? What colour quality dominates a scene? How can the choreography express the rigid laws of the State?
In this creative activity, a warmth of enthusiasm isengenderedwh ich helps support the youngpeople on their journey through the highs and lows of adolescence. By fostering self-confidence and encouraging unity of thought, feeling and action, eurythmy helps to prepare the maturing adult to fulfil his or her goals in life.
Eurythmy has been an integral part of the Waldorf curriculum since the founding of the first Waldorf school by Rudolf Steiner in 1919. The special task of this art of movement is to educate the children to become both active and agile in soul and spirit, and physically skilful, so that a harmony is achieved between body and soul. The physical body should become a healthy Instrument for the soul, facilitating the free unfolding of individuality. The eurythmy curriculum arises out of deeper insights into the being of Man.
Eurythmy fosters the following manifold capacities in the students:
- Sensitivity towards speech, and its expression in movement
- A feeling for music and rhythm
- Powers of concentration
- Social interaction
- Artistic rendering of music and poetry
In order to teach eurythmy, one must have completed a pedagogical course in eurythmy after having successfully completed the basic training.
- Sylvia Bardt