When I was studying eurythmy, I was surprised to see how quickly my fellow students from abroad were able to learn German. I realised that they experienced the foreign language much more intensely through eurythmy than would be the case in ordinary language courses. Because the speech sounds, onomatopoeic subtleties and also the content are grasped by the whole body in the eurythmy movement. This goes so far that in the arm movements depicting a sound it is even possible to observe an “accent”.
Thus for example the movements in English are softer and more dramatic than in German. Italian is daintier with faster movements. An American acquaintance thought the reason why German eurythmy was so exhausting was because the language was so clear, sober and stiff and provided much less buoyancy than English.
These reflections led me to the idea of holding all the eurythmy lessons in class 11 from the summer to Christmas in English – like a little language trip. The aim was not for the pupils to be taught the language directly but to be immersed in it, both through ordinary listening – it was not important that they should understand every word, but that they should comprehend the message of the sentence – and through active listening and putting what they heard into movement.
We started by sensing our way through discussion towards the differences between the German and English languages. We quickly realised that German does indeed sound much harder, stiffer and technical while English is perceived as more flowing, melodious and soft. It is only logical that eurythmy, which aims to make the audible visible, brings this to expression. We began by trying to make our movements in English softer, more flowing and filling of the space, which requires some practice. Then we moved on to tongue twisters dealing with the English “W” and the voiced and voiceless “Th”. Here the movements in the heights and depths of the space are stronger in English than in German.
The vowels, too, presented a challenge since they are not as clear as in German. Thus the sound of the written “U” in “sun” for example is like a German “A”, or in “to go” the two “O”s sound like “U” the first time and “Ou” the second. In this way we sharpened our hearing for the differences between the written language and what it sounds like and gave greater precision to our movements before moving on to a whole poem. Then the pupils were asked as a class and in small groups to find a form for an English poem.
Here it became clear that even when a poem was translated jointly, the whole content had to be precisely in mind to find a form. After all, eurythmy is intended to help the audience immerse itself in the foreign language – so this was a process which could sometimes be quite laborious: showing one another things, trying things out together and improving them.
After the first phase of this project, the pupils expressed the wish to continue with eurythmy in English for the whole of the year. An English replacement lesson provided the opportunity to meet this wish. At first a little strange, it gave the pupils the opportunity to discover all the things they were already able to understand and in the process extent their vocabulary. Where else would we work with such intensity on a poem in a foreign language, pay attention to the details of onomatopoeia and attempt to express the mood through the movement of the whole body?
My hope is that the pupils will connect with the language more intensively through such work, that they are no longer afraid of a “lack of comprehension” and that they internalise English with its particular character to a greater extent.
Degrees, fractions and circles
Eurythmy also offers the wonderful opportunity to take up themes from other subjects and deepen them artistically. In poetry and music that can be quite obvious. Here eurythmy makes something visible that is already artistic in its basic form. But also geometry offers a wide field. Thus the transformation of shapes such as the pentagram, Cassinian curves or the inversion of the circle can be grasped and experienced in a new way through doing it together.
The instructions can sometimes also be given in geometrical and mathematical terms with degrees, fractions of a circle or basic geometrical constructions, through which the thinking is transferred into action with the whole body.
If this relates to a group task, then a social process is added. How do we deal with the interpretative leeway (e.g. size of the shape) as a group, what can we agree on and how do we deal with pupils who have difficulty in grasping the concept or who have simply not been paying attention? In geometry lessons these pupils do not attract the attention of their fellow pupils to such a great extent. But in eurythmy they have to be integrated in order for the shape to succeed.
History lessons can be taken up well from another perspective through poems. Since I am also a class teacher, there is a wonderful opportunity to deepen the main lessons further in eurythmy. Sometimes we would also go spontaneously to the eurythmy room during main lesson to put what we had learnt into movement. I believe there are many more opportunities to connect eurythmy with everyday life and enrich it. We only have to find them.
About the author: Martin Zabel is a eurythmy and class teacher at the Freudenstadt Free Waldorf School.