Eurythmy – a movement art

André Macco

For most pupils in the by now about one thousand Waldorf schools worldwide eurythmy is on the timetable at least once a week. Rudolf Steiner in an address in 1924 once described eurythmy as “a spiritual movement game”. Eurythmy lessons were to be a supplement to gymnastics lessons and also include the soul and spiritual component alongside the purely physical movement. Eurythmy to the present day still contributes this element to the overall composition of the curriculum and is more important than ever. After all, the consequences of one-sidedly cognitive or strongly competitively oriented forms of learning and working are well known by now.

If eurythmy makes such an important contribution to education, why does it not exist outside Waldorf schools, a class 10 pupil once asked during a conversation in lesson. It is, after all, true that Waldorf pupils today rarely encounter eurythmy as an art form once they have left the school grounds. Some know and value its therapeutic application in the form of eurythmy therapy, but on the stage? Or, indeed, as a hobby? Instead they much more frequently meet friends from other types of school who only know the tiresome slogan about “Waldorf pupils who can dance their name” and ask themselves whether their contemporaries actually learn anything else worthwhile at their school.

Many a Waldorf pupil might ask themselves the same thing when at the relevant age they wake up to their surroundings and the things that move them – and where their life is taking them. Most of these questions can be addressed in school but not deepened sufficiently. That would require a more individual, deeper involvement.

Eurythmy outside school

The wish for once to devote themselves intensively to a eurythmy project and learn more about the potential in this art of movement led young people from fourteen nations to Berlin in 2012 to participate in the first international youth eurythmy project “What moves you”. Almost all of them were Waldorf pupils. Most of them told that they liked doing eurythmy at school but did not have any opportunity to experience and enjoy it free from all the demands of daily life. It was clear: there was a “demand gap” here. Over eighty participants aged from 17 to 23 achieved astonishing things in the four weeks of “What moves you” and all of them grew beyond themselves. At the end, a programme was performed in front of an audience of a thousand people which included Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony as well as the work Fratres by the contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (Erziehungskunst 11/2012). Ten participants subsequently decided to study eurythmy.

“Being able to take in and perceive the many details of which I was not at all aware beforehand and going into the break with a feeling of satisfaction at the end of each block of eurythmy,” was how one participant described her particular experience. Another described her “happiness at being able to put all the emotion into the gestures, corresponding to the music. My body began to understand the music and to respond to it as it were.” Everyone took much happiness and many experiences away with them and – two years later still – a lasting impression.

Meanwhile the second “Whatmovesyou” project is just around the corner. Once again eighty young people are coming to Berlin, 21 countries are represented. The motto for the programme is “New worlds” and the subject is Anton Dvorák’s symphony “From the New World”. The association which is the sponsor of the project as well as the staff and artists involved see a requirement to establish and expand it on a longer-term basis – and thus to open up new worlds for eurythmy. In this form it appears to be a successful mixture of substantial, qualitative artistic work and a popular, inspirational event – a balancing act on the art scene. Christian Labhart’s documentary film about the last project brought short-term public attention with more than 12,500 viewers in the cinema and also led to many a new acquaintance with it. After one performance of the film, a 16-year-old gymnast, for example, asked me about eurythmy courses. Eurythmy beyond the confines of the Waldorf school, in adult and further education colleges or youth centres, and not for Waldorf pupils alone – that would be a significant step in the development of this art!

About the author: André Macco worked as a eurythmist on the stage and in schools. He is the managing director of the “What moves you” eurythmy project.