What it means to teach eurythmy today
Eurythmy helps children to unite fully with the earth. The demands this makes of eurythmy are very great, as are the obstacles. Wolfgang Leonhardt, a former school doctor in Pforzheim, argues that eurythmy is an existential necessity and makes a plea to support its teachers.
The birth of a child is a twofold event. After the birth a second birth takes place, what we call the afterbirth or placenta with the embryonic membrane. In recent decades, this afterbirth has increasingly become the focus of interest of a spiritual anthropology and natural science.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the whole of embryonic development is guided in detail by these organs surrounding the embryo and that the latter only begin to regress as the embryo becomes more independent as it approaches the point of birth. Through anthroposophy we know that the placenta is an expression of the highest I forces that form the human being, the higher cosmic being of the human I. This comes to expression in all ancient cultures, but also sometimes today still among indigenous peoples, in certain rituals to do with the afterbirth.
Through birth these formative enveloping higher spiritual forces have withdrawn, have left the child on its own we might say. But we also know that these forces have not left us but constantly surround us and are in a manner of speaking waiting for us. The whole human being is constantly as if immersed by higher cosmic I forces and the question arises whether it is possible to link up with them in our development in childhood already.
What possibilities are there of giving the child access to these higher cosmic forces as early as possible in their life? That happens when we activate the whole of the peripheral human being with the limbs and have the children move in accordance with laws which have been learnt from the cosmos.
As we speak, the life body constantly undertakes such inner movements which are not to begin with outwardly visible. They reflect cosmic laws of development and it is from these that Rudolf Steiner has derived the movements of eurythmy.
Thus through eurythmy the child can assimilate via the life body right down into physical movement something of these formative laws which have worked into embryonic development through the placenta. Eurythmy lessons continue on a higher level in the etheric sphere what was prepared through the placenta on the physical level.
The importance and significance of such early eurythmy lessons for the whole development of the human being is illustrated by the progress of external materialistic life which binds human beings to an ever greater extent. Physical laws, the constraints of material substance, economic dependencies are spreading and try to govern human beings down as far as into their external actions, movements and looks.
The physical human being, the metabolism, the material aspect, egoistic desire are growing in power. The cosmic human being, the attentive, listening, delicately sensing spiritual aspect is withdrawing. Thus there obtains to Waldorf schools a special responsibility to help the cosmic human being.
That does not, of course, happen only through eurythmy; but maintaining true Waldorf education without eurythmy is becoming more and more difficult because the latter animates, opens up and sparks the etheric element within the children so that creative forces in all fields can develop. But that also shows that eurythmy has to work against the tide of the present time in order to be able to keep surmounting the resistance of the physical.
Why eurythmy teachers have to be supported
Now there are developments in some Waldorf schools today which make the work of the eurythmy teacher more difficult. Rudolf Steiner did not want eurythmy teachers to teach more than a maximum of twelve, or better still ten hours of eurythmy. Over the years that has turned into eighteen hours and meanwhile there are colleges of teachers which have stopped accepting even this and want to integrate eurythmists into additional lessons or other activities.
That leads to conflicts and hardship. Because the consequence of this development are that the work of the eurythmy teacher and the associated cosmic impulse becomes ineffective. Why is that?
Eurythmy lessons cannot be compared with any other form of lesson. They only exist in Waldorf schools and thus fall outside the things with which we are familiar. Such incomparability is due primarily to the specific approach underlying the movements in eurythmy which can only be understood out of a profound experience of the etheric.
We referred above to the resistance of the earthly in the present time which has to be overcome. Then there is the physical body which with its habitual movements and stiffness resists the unaccustomed etheric approach of the eurythmy movement; in other words, which only gradually allows the development towards suppleness, vitality and permeability.
Thirdly, the soul (astral body) also resists the movement coming from the etheric entity because its movement impulse, its force, goes in all physical spatial directions; but now – directed by the I – it has consciously to adapt to the etherically stimulated eurythmy movement, something which is experienced as uncomfortable.
These three levels of resistance require a permanent effort in eurythmy lessons which cannot be compared with sport or gym lessons.
But there are further difficulties. Steiner derived the eurythmy movements from the etheric movements of the larynx. Normally the person doing the eurythmy movements should not speak at the same time because the (invisible) etheric movement generated by speech and the external movement guided by the hearing interfere with one another.
But the eurythmy teacher has to do so. That is not just exhausting but Steiner also says that it makes us ill. Furthermore, they perform the movement not just for themselves, something that might be able to heal them. They have to include all the children in their etheric forces which requires considerable additional strength.
Eurythmy movements are always accompanied by perceptions, sentiments and feelings so that the soul and spiritual human being is always more or less consciously involved in them. The teacher must take particular care to ensure that the movement is not carried out mechanically, dully or somnolently but with soul and spiritual activity. That requires alert observation not just of our own movement but of the movements of all the pupils. This effort of consciousness required for the whole of the lesson comes on top of everything else.
The objective of all this effort is clear: to communicate to the pupils a living, ensouled movement to which they can warm and for which they can develop enthusiasm. We have seen that the obstacles to achieving this are great: first, the resistance of our time, our body and our soul has to be overcome. Second, simultaneously speaking and performing eurythmy, the etheric force required to include the pupils, and alert attentiveness while moving require strong forces of our own to be deployed, sacrificed and exhausted. Hence Steiner’s demand – no more than twelve hours – is easy to understand.
But the aim here is not merely to reiterate Steiner’s demand. Our goal is to understand what he thought about the matter and awaken an understanding for the work which eurythmy teachers do: primarily, that they urgently require a longer period of recovery and restoration; and that when they do additional work, they should really perform artistic eurythmy for themselves to heal themselves from their strength-sapping lessons.
It is a special gift for Waldorf schools to be associated with the healing cosmic impulse of eurythmy. The people who devote themselves to the service of this impulse require our recognition and gratitude.
Lynn Stull, Wisconsin, USA, 13.09.16 02:09
Dr. Leonhardt, thank you so much for your clear explanation of why it is imperative for all children to have access to eurythmy, your support for healthy eurythmists, and recognition of the Art of Eurythmy as a gift for today's world. Kind regards, Lynn Stull
Salle Webber, California, USA, 13.09.16 06:09
My years as a Waldorf parent included at least a dozen years of adult eurythmy, with Steiner studies integrated into our weekly sessions. We performed in many major performances along with the children. I loved reading this article, reminding me of the depth of this art form and the essential peculiarity of those who teach, for good reason! Thanks for the memories!
Jean Luc Hernandez, Nice, 14.09.16 22:09
Merci pour votre article.
Voici presque 30ans que j enseigne et pratique l eurythmie avec des enfants et adultes.
Votre compréhension de la difficulté de faire vivre l eurythmie dans le monde console et passe un baume au coeur.
Sylvie Richard, 18.09.16 16:09
Thank you so much for your understanding and support for eurythmy and eurythmists. I am a eurythmist who is painfully living the realities you describe in your article. Due to these misunderstandings and lack of funding I have been teaching by blocks in various struggling Waldorf schools. Block teaching is not what the children nor the eurythmists need. I experience the children as unconsciously yearning for what eurythmy give them especially with speech eurythmy. Yet the world (administration, teachers, and some time parents)is not priorizing this precious art on the "agenda" of learning needs. As a former Occupational Therapist, i know that eurythmy is healing and works deeper than most remedial methods favoured in therapeutic and educational fields. This art works for future forces in the human being , I urge anthroposophists to form a supportive circle around Eurythmia.
In deep gratitude, Sylvie
Karen Gallagher, Northern California, USA, 03.10.16 23:10
Thank you, Dr. Leonhardt. Your article is being read as I lay recovering from a bad cold that came upon me over the weekend. I teach Eurythmy at a Waldorf methods charter school. My work load is right at ten hours a week, grades K-4. It is indeed a tremendous labor of love and goodwill poured into each day's classes. I feel quite keenly the forces needed to meet the growing tide of events in the world today. Drawing thankfully from the iron forces at this time of Michealmas, I will continue to Kindle the Fire''s Flame!
Mary Watson, Dearbyshire England, 02.11.16 16:11
Thank you so much for what you have written. In my last 2 years of teaching I was blessed with an accompanist who was a trained speaker for 1 day in the week, and the difference was phenomenal. In this time when the hours are about to be increased to 20 per week I hope that more people other than eurythmists will read this,
susan pegler, 02.11.16 22:11
Thank you for this article. I am teaching Eurythmy in New Zealand and am grateful for this support.