Temperaments in motion. Eurythmy in lower and middle school

By Helga Daniel, May 2018

Powerfully and vigorously a giant trudges through the forest. With each step he crushes several trees at once. Another – far away – prefers to track steadily through wide landscapes like flowing water. He passes through the world and sees and hears a lot. A third one likes nothing better than to be everywhere at once, like the air. He appears quite unexpectedly. And occasionally we might encounter a heedful giant with his attention turned towards the earth who will first consider where he is needed and then attempts carefully to get there.

Photo: © Charlotte Fischer

We are in the eurythmy lesson in class 1. The story tells of distant countries and their inhabitants – the giants. All of them live their lives in their own way. One day the meet. They wonder how they can be so different and thereby discover also themselves and their own strengths. Finally, after some disputes and fights they become increasingly curious about one another and become friends. They ask one another for advice or help if they don’t know what to do next. At the end of the story they become a good team. They all trust one another and yet they are what they are. Occasionally a giant feels the need to break away and live his life all by himself. That’s just how it is.

In the bottom three classes, the children also encounter dwarves alongside the giants,  and human and animal families in which father and mother each feel and act quite differently. They encounter fire salamanders, gnomes, undines and sylphs, they meet craftsmen who all handle their tools differently, they encounter the courses of rivers through their landscapes, have exciting adventures, linger and look at the details, then suddenly they are involved in thrilling events again, and rest, too, recurs at regular intervals.

Everything happens in movement, in a circle, a line, or running in wild confusion through the room, or standing in particular positions in relation to one another. Many things are considered by everyone together, then alternatively it is the turn of small groups of several children or individual children want to show something quite specific. In the course of the events in the lesson, the children are transformed by themselves into the figures and events of the stories. They experience the adventures and are involved in shaping them. Every movement of the arms and legs is coloured by itself through the force of their respective own temperaments.

The movements of the cholerics are energetic, spontaneous and powerful, perhaps even a little rough-edged if we don’t pay attention, just like a fire that needs clear boundaries if it is not to be destructive.

The phlegmatics appear a little lethargic but they proceed at a regular, steady pace and pay careful attention to where they step. Their gestures display something of a watery-tenacious perseverance. They are calm, a little reserved, with an enveloping and caring form.

The sanguines are fast and alert, directed, like to dart about and enjoy changes in direction. They would love to be in several places all at once. Their gestures consist of airy flexibility, they are curious and full of beans.

When the melancholics start to move, they shape very movement with loving care and attention, circumspectly and soundly. With their earth-oriented circumspection, they form every gesture with greater awareness, their steps appear a little slowed down occasionally coming to a complete halt. Everything has the precision of a woodcut.

The clearer the character of each story comes to appearance through the text or the encouragement of the teacher, the more the differentiation with which the children integrate and feel their way into the characteristic style of movement of all four temperaments. Some things are very familiar to them, others not so. And although they imitate the movements of the eurythmy teacher, they introduce their own nuances into the events quite independently through their experience arising from their temperament.

The different events with their movements are always connected with texts, poems or stories, that is with the spoken word. In between or at the same time little pieces of music support the movement and mood of the event. Every shape and event is spoken by the eurythmy teachers with slightly different nuances in the flow of speech, a different tone or at a different speed. The children hear that and adjust their movements by themselves to go along with it.

If in eurythmy lessons in class 1 to 3 we succeed in supporting the gestures and steps both out of the content of the stories and the concrete course of the language, the children as they approach class 4 become more aware of their own action.

Individual children begin to sense that their movements are connected in some way with language and very gradually discover that the gestures they perform are linked with the sounds they hear. They take great pleasure in recognising individual sound movements and are keen to discover, practice and be able to perform all sounds. They unequivocally want to learn to “read and write in eurythmy” themselves and know the whole alphabet.

Sounds – temperaments – elements

In the transition from class 3 to class 4 it is noticeable that each child wants to keep making the movement for their favourite sounds while tending to avoid other sound movements or not being able to remember them at all. We can recognise the temperamental situation of the children here. By way of explanation: D, T, G, K, B and P, for example, need a specific burst of breath in order to be spoken. They arrive and are finished. They provide firm ground and in this sense belong to the earth. The gesture is made similarly. A melancholic, who first thinks about and wants to have a thorough overview of what they are supposed to do before taking action, feels at home in these sounds. The action is then mostly clear and unambiguous.

The rolling R sound requires a flexible tongue when spoken. Its movement can be initiated at the teeth or palate, as preferred. But it needs a continues light flow of breath – just like the sanguine child likes to keep moving from one thing to another. First here, then there, their interest is aroused. And they’ve already moved on.

The L, in contrast, can be spoken for a long time without the preceding E sound with a rolled up and wide tongue without needing to provide intensive new bursts of breath. If anything, they tend to be very delicate to keep everything moving. This corresponds to the watery element and the movement type of a phlegmatic.

The gesture is exactly the same: the right and left arm reflect the movement which is divided equally between upper and lower, right and left. When they meet, they together give the movement a slight new impetus.

The consonants F, W, S, CH or SCH need the active flow of the breath as they are spoken, similarly to the flame of a fire. Depending on how it is performed, the sound is quieter, louder, sharper or milder. Such power to guide the breath is related to the power of the choleric. They are persistent, approach a matter impulsively, perhaps also emotionally, and with a great deal of power – sometimes they also go too far. Often they will only notice afterwards what they did or said.

Here, too, the movement corresponds to the control of the breath: a clear impulse and then a kind of echo, as if we are asking ourselves what we have just expressed in movement.

Wind – wave – wavelet – wood

With the alphabet it is thus similar to the various figures and stories. Each temperament has favourite movements and thus sounds. But since all sounds of the alphabet are needed to “write” words through movement, everyone must become acquainted with and be able to perform also the other less favourite sounds.

But in order to avoid the creation of words turning into a new secret language, there is a further connection between movement and language in which the temperaments of the children help to make the movements more differentiated.

The children each transform one and the same sound in accordance with their temperament without losing sight of its identity. Let us take words with the sound W to explain this: wind, wave, wavelet, wood. The W, as a sound which is related to fire, is always positioned at the start of the word. But the words describe quite separate things. The choleric reinforces the W of the “biting wind” with their own inherent power. The W is performed very strongly, sharply, securely but also expansively and might frequently unexpectedly change direction.

The phlegmatic, on the other hand, likes the W of the “wave” as a large, calm swell. He will bring the W to visibility not just expansively but also in a calm, regular movement. In doing so, they must not completely lose the power of the choleric quality of the W otherwise it would no longer be a W. The movement must thus be made in a well-structured way.

The sanguine likes the small “wavelets” which arise in a mountain brook when the water washes around the rocks. Their Ws will be fast and small and splash in many different directions. Every change of direction inherently needs a bit of choleric quality at this high speed which ensures the basic character of the W.

For the dark impenetrable “wood”, the melancholic might repeatedly make the movement of the W slowly from below upwards with a slight choleric touch in order to bring the many upright trees and impenetrable thickets of the wood to visibility.

In this example, the movement of the W as a choleric sound forms a continuous undertone like a basso continuo which must always be recognisable but which all the temperaments deal with in their own way.

Each child makes their own movement of the W in the way that they are familiar with the “wind”, the “waves”, the “wavelets” in the mountain brook, and the “wood”; or as they live in the child’s imagination. On this basis the children spontaneously make their own movement and endeavour to acquire that of the other temperaments.

Qualities of the individual lead to the whole

In class 5 and 6, the attention of the children is increasingly directed at the qualitatively heard sequence of sounds within individual words. Which word requires which movements for the sounds to make it visible?  Here, too, the different temperaments of the children introduce much vitality into the lessons. Each one spontaneously chooses their favourite sounds in the word and colours them a little in accordance with the picture. But the word with its own expressive power should also be made visible. This becomes clear in the example of the word Frühling (German: spring). The choleric chooses the F, the phlegmatic will take the L, the sanguine the R, the melancholic will think about it and not find their sound so quickly.

Of course Frühling has the fire of the buds breaking open in the F, in the R it also has the incredible diversity and enticing scents. And it is sappy and in constant flow, like the L. It has all these things, that is what it is! The word Frühling additionally has the final syllable “ing”, two interacting consonants beloved by melancholics. They do not seem to play such a large role in the word itself but help to prevent everything from floating away and to keep it connected with the earth.

Fire, air, water, earth – that is the sequence in which the consonants in the word Frühling proceed. All four temperaments are addressed, every child encounters their favourite sound quality. And now it is the task to find a gesture in which all the sounds of the word are combined such in the movement that Frühling in all its aspects becomes visible. One option is to set up small working groups of four children each, which discuss and try out various possibilities until they are satisfied and can perform the word Frühling which has been created in this way. The vowels can be included as transitions from one consonant to the next. The teacher goes round the groups and helps where necessary. At the end of the process, different forms of Frühling will be visible in each group. Everyone discusses what aspect of Frühling could be seen particularly clearly in each group and what could be shaped with even greater precision.

When the children respect and support one another, their collaboration always creates more than can be managed by the single child. In eurythmy lessons in class 5 and 6, this social process arises from the interaction between our own movement and the movement of the others.

A school of listening and looking

Classes 7 and 8 form a transition to the creation of larger contexts. Now tone eurythmy with its musical laws also increasingly takes centre stage. As with language, it contains the qualities of the four temperaments. In the work they do, the suggestions of the young people about movement and design come together here, too. But the focus gradually also turns to other things.

Every person acts, feels and thinks to some extent out of their temperament, even if they are not aware of it. In the same way the children and young people move in eurythmy lessons unconsciously out of their own temperaments. By taking the latter into account, it is not just the artistic imagination which is trained but primarily precise listening and looking. What is genuine, what is a poet or composer wanting to say? When I am capable of taking in the respective other point of view, my ability to form judgements becomes more objective, it is no longer dependent just on my own opinion. As a person, I become more secure and open to be enriched by others.

The goal is to integrate our own temperament into the community and to experience the balance in working with the others.

About the author: Helga Daniel works internationally in the field of mentoring eurythmy teachers at Waldorf schools and is responsible for the training of eurythmy teachers on behalf of the Section for the Performing Arts at the Goetheanum.

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