Is Eurythmy Essential to Steiner Waldorf Education?

Maurice Manning

I retired from teaching in the spring of 2018 after a prolonged period of illness but happily was invited back to say goodbye to the children (for whom I had simply disappeared for a long time!) as part of the end of term assembly just before Easter last year.

Some of the children and young people at that assembly I had taught for most of the nine years I had been at Michael Hall and we knew each other very well, so it was a very warm occasion. As well as saying goodbye I wanted to convey something about the work we had shared, namely eurythmy.

So I asked the question: “What three things, which are all invisible, are essential for human life?”

A voice called out “Air”. Yes, air. We all need air to breathe and we share this air with each other. But what else is essential for human life?

I would almost say miraculously, a boy in class 3 called out, “Language”.

Yes! Speech! Where would we be as human beings if we could not speak to one another, if we did not have speech?

But what else is there without which we human beings would feel bereft?

Another boy, also in class 3, called out, “sound”. Yes, I said, miming playing a violin, “Music!”

We human beings would be bereft without the wealth of experience and feeling we find in music.

I then pointed out that something they do every week in school allows them to experience and express speech and music through movement, namely doing eurythmy! This allows them to enter into speech and music in a unique and wonderful way! To speak and sing with their whole bodies. To play their body like an instrument.

That was as far as I went with drawing attention to that part of their school life, but actually Rudolf Steiner went further. He famously said it is not a Waldorf School if it does not have eurythmy. Quite a statement.

The first Waldorf School opened its doors in September 1919.

Eurythmy had been born only 7 years before in 1912, yet by 1919 Rudolf Steiner placed it at the heart of his new system of education, to be taught throughout the school from Kindergarten up. Why did Rudolf Steiner place such emphasis on eurythmy?

Having been connected to eurythmy for most of my adult life and taught it in many settings for 27 years I can see many benefits from doing it.

For a start it is a gentle physical activity which can be done by people of any age. It is centring and calming mindful movement.

It harmonises our soul forces of thinking, feeling and willing. It develops our spatial and social awareness when we move forms together with others. It is enlivening, it can be vigorous and strong as well as flowing and graceful. It can thus in its artistic form convey a whole range of feeling and emotion. Of sympathy and antipathy. Of drama and pathos.

Also modern science is more and more recognising the connection between movement and our physical and neurological development. The importance of movement for healthy human development.

Am I beginning to see why Rudolf Steiner placed eurythmy at the centre of his education?

While I believe all this to be true I still have a strong conviction that the real glory of eurythmy lies in something else.

I have long thought about it and asked myself the question: amongst all the myriad movement and dance forms in the world what is it that is unique to eurythmy? This new-born art of movement.

My answer is the gestures for the sounds of speech.

These gestures were not arbitrarily dreamed up but perceived by Rudolf Steiner as expressing the innate movement quality of each particular sound.

Having now lived and worked with these gestures for many years, with children and adults, I have noticed they are always readily accepted as a reality. There is a profound truth in them which people seem to recognise. This has to do with the fact that language itself is not arbitrary. There is a reason why building, box, basket, bottle, body, bowl. basin bean all begin with B. When you know the eurythmy gesture for the sound B (as any pupil from class 3 upwards will show you) then the reason becomes obvious. It is an enclosing gesture, forming a border or barrier which encloses and protects what is contained!

Even after all this time I still find this pretty amazing. I believe this is the real wonder of eurythmy in the Steiner Waldorf School. That the growing child can work with these living qualities of their own language and create these sound gestures consciously, again and again in many ways, in many fairy tales , in many poems and in the class 12 eurythmy drama as they grow through the school. This is a gift like no other. It really flows through their limbs like an elixir and enlivens their souls.

I hope this outline of the importance of eurythmy to Steiner Waldorf education is clear and understandable, I would far rather be able to move and demonstrate my ideas!

My answer to the question at the top of this article is of course: “Absolutely!”