By the time the first Waldorf school opened its doors in September 1919 in Stuttgart Germany, Eurythmy was 7 years old; old enough to go to school! Leading up to this auspicious moment, Rudolf Steiner offered a Eurythmy performance a few months prior; a performance attended by the teaching staff, the staff of the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory* whose children would now make up the core of the student body plus other invited friends and guests. He gave an introduction to this new art form and spoke of the clear purpose for Eurythmy to be taught as a core subject from early childhood through to graduation.
It is a formidable task to describe the significance and purpose of Eurythmy in our education in one short article, so I will merely render some ‘brush strokes’ as it were, and hope interest is sparked!
Eurythmy, as an art form in which speech and music are made visible, fully integrates the body, soul and spirit. Willing, feeling and thinking are in constant, harmonious engagement. The Waldorf curriculum, grounded as it is in the knowledge and understanding of the development of the child, details the steps from the earliest beginnings in Rosebud to graduation from 12th grade. This curriculum forms the basis for the Eurythmy curriculum, and the Eurythmy teacher works in concert with colleagues to achieve that end.
For the youngest, the once weekly ‘visit’ of the Eurythmy teacher is a special occasion, as this is the only ‘outside’ teacher that comes into their classroom! A short but highly ‘potentized’ experience is offered in which beautifully, artistically detailed movement using seasonal themes, allows these little children of unbridled movement to hop with joy like the bouncy rabbit; to fly with wings outstretched to the tippy top of the tall tree; to clip-clop like the proud pony across the field to greener grass, or yet to crawl into a soft snug nest to sleep for the winter. Hands and feet are joyously engaged as the powers of imagination are invited into this magical yet relatable world.
In 1st grade, imitation is still relevant but will begin to be replaced by a capacity to ‘dream about,’ inwardly starting to visualize. The pictures must be rich and are drawn from the world of the fairy tales. Each lesson is filled with movement that requires feet to be agile like the nimble deer; firm steps for the child who must go in search of healing water; fingers to show a snail coming out of its shell; or arms stretching out like the glorious rays of the sun. A spear narrow bridge must be bravely walked across, eyes looking straight ahead; the twisting winding river followed to its source! This ‘underscoring’ of the script of our language will be supported and given a wholesome place in the active expression of the child through moving these archetypal form elements: the straight line and the curve. Unbeknownst to these young enthusiasts, the first rudiments of music theory find their expression in the happy stepping of the feet to pulse beat or rhythms, or the rise and fall of a melody allowing the arms to reach up high for those high notes and descend as they tumble downwards.
So, with each step of the way from grade to higher grade the necessary building blocks are used. An amazingly rich curriculum is provided in which the growing, developing child is receiving in the Eurythmy class what allows for an integration of the 3 hallmarks of Waldorf Education: Thinking, feeling, willing- head, heart and hand. The developmental milestones are always the key guidelines for what needs to be worked on as in the example of 1) the ’9-year change’ in which the child experiences a separation of self from the group, from the ‘oneness’ so beautifully represented by the circle. Through an exploration of poetry and music in which polarity of movement is deliberately emphasized, the child is recognized and supported through this necessary developmental stage; 2) In 6th grade, when the natural harmony of the 5th grade year lies far behind, a change has manifested in growth and physical development as well as in the cognitive realm. This calls for a new focus in the Eurythmy class! Geometry is taken up very rigorously by the class teacher and finds full support in the exploration of challenging geometric forms and principles which demand precision, control and collaboration and focus.; 3) In the 9th grade we can observe a tension between the further unfolding of puberty and their studies that now lead more towards abstract thinking. Polarities in the sciences, humanities and arts can be supported again in the Eurythmy class by movement elements that emphasize these differences and require the students to be keen observers in the process.
Accompanied through the years, the child is developing stronger self- awareness while constantly assisted in building greater social awareness and a sense for the rightful place in the circle of activity, the circle of community of life. Ultimately by 12th grade, the last pieces of the puzzle of this curriculum are fitted into their remaining places in this process of ‘synthesizing’ and the students can now look back at and recognize why they did what they did and when!
As I conclude, I need to still briefly address the importance of the Music curriculum in relationship to that of the Eurythmy curriculum. It is critical that a musician is a part of each Eurythmy class in which not one, but two subjects are taught: visible speech, visible music. The accompanist is far more than what that title suggests! This individual has to be involved in the creative process of the shaping of the lesson through intentional collaboration with the Eurythmy teacher. This dialogue is of incredible mutual benefit and the children have the gift of live music which can best represent the foundational elements of music. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the listening component is vital, is essential and is only really allowed to develop when the music is provided in the moment by the nuanced and sensitive hands of the musician. The music tells us all we need to know, but we must listen to it with keen ears and hear into it through repetition and growing discernment.
*Further reading on Dr. Emil Molt and the path that led to his founding of the first Waldorf School at Stuttgart in 1919.