By: Alicia Burns
Eurythmy was brought into the world in 1911, when a mother, seeking to support her daughter who loved movement, asked Rudolf Steiner whether there was an art of movement which would be in harmony with spiritual science. It was thus that eurythmy (meaning universal rhythm) came into the world. At its outset, it was brought as a purely artistic impulse, springing out of the foundations of anthroposophy. Then, when the first Waldorf school opened its doors in 1919, eurythmy was immediately a part of the curriculum.
It is often said that eurythmy lies at the heart of the Waldorf school. What then is this eurythmy, and why is it important for the development of the child? To discover the connection between eurythmy and children’s health, we must look into what eurythmy is.
When we express ourselves to communicate with one another, we use sounds of speech, and gestures. We do not simply utter random sounds, but speak with a definite purpose. The sounds we choose have meaning which is understood by those we communicate with. These sounds of communication also have a connection with the things of which we speak. They are not purely arbitrary. This fact becomes more and more clear the more deeply we work with eurythmy.
Take, for instance, the word ‘tree’. For anyone who is familiar with the expression of the sound I (pronunciation ‘ee’) in eurythmy, you will know that the archetypal expression of this sound is that one arm (most archetypically the right), reaches up, stretching towards the heavens, while the other arm reaches down, penetrating into, and taking hold of the earth. Is this not also a clear and valid expression of a tree – whose branches reach upwards towards the heavens, while its roots penetrate into and take hold of the earth?
What then of other languages, you might ask. This exploration becomes even more fascinating, as we discover how different languages and cultures have different forms of expression. Take for instance the German word for tree, ‘Baum’. Here, the sound ‘B’ creates the experience of being embraced or sheltered by a crown of branches. In the Finnish word for tree, ‘puu’, we experience the straight, upright quality of the trees trunk with the sound ‘oo’, where the arms are reaching out, parallel to one another.
It must be made clear that eurythmy is not dance, but what Rudolf Steiner referred to as ‘visible speech’ or ‘visible song’. In eurythmy the subtle movements which take place within our organism and in the air around us when we speak or sing, are made artistically visible through the movement of the whole human being. The focus is not on the forms we create with our physical bodies, but on the movement and feeling we create in the space around us.
When practicing eurythmy, we do not use mirrors, or take videos of ourselves so that we can ‘see how we look’ from the outside. We strive in the opposite direction: to move as far away from the reflective mindset as possible. We learn to move from the inside out – through developing feeling capacities. This aspect of eurythmy has many important aspects for the modern child. It is a great tool for learning to become sensitive, not only to one’s own feelings, but also the feelings of others. What feeling am I projecting into the space around me? How is that feeling affecting others? Where is my friend standing, and where am I standing? Are we in the right relationship? Am I too close, or too far away?
If we reach yet more deeply into what eurythmy is, it is a life-giving activity. Life and death are two polarities of human existence. Both have their appropriate places. Our reflective consciousness fixes that which we think of; it relates to the death pole of human experience. Our imaginative consciousness, on the other hand, brings life and movement. If brought in a true, imaginative and artistic way, eurythmy brings health-giving life forces to the developing child. This is an important balance to the strong pull towards technology and heavy intellectual activity in the modern society.
In conclusion, I have here briefly addressed just a few aspects of eurythmy in relationship to children’s health: how it can expand our experience of speaking and language, and how it works with the imaginative, rather than the reflective capacities of the human being, thus bringing balance to our modern lifestyle, which tends to emphasize and accentuate our reflective capacities.
To come to any deeper understanding of eurythmy, you must experience it for yourself, with an open heart. This does not mean watching videos, or pictures on the internet, but being physically present for a class or performance with the fullness of your being. No amount of reading or thinking can take the place of experience.
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