Our bookstore is now open. Shop today →

The Rudolf Steiner Archive

a project of Steiner Online Library, a public charity

Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy II
GA 304a

V. Introduction to a Eurythmy Performance of the Waldorf School Pupils

27 March 1923, Stuttgart

As a complement to the art of eurythmy, to which we were pleased to introduce you earlier, I will be speaking today about its pedagogical aspect. This subject has become an established and organic part of Waldorf pedagogy. When it was my task, on previous occasions, to justify including eurythmy as a compulsory subject in our curriculum, it seemed appropriate to speak of it in terms of an “ensouled and spirit-permeated form of gymnastics.” However, I wish to emphasize right from the start that this remark must in no way be taken as derogatory as far as conventional gymnastics is concerned. It arose from the lack of a gymnasium, which initially prevented us from giving gymnastics its rightful place in the curriculum, in addition to eurythmy. Now that we are fortunate enough to have a gymnasium, gymnastics also is an obligatory subject.

I do not share the view once expressed to me by a very famous contemporary physiologist, after he had heard the introduction I often make before a school eurythmy performance. I had said that eurythmy was to be presented as an ensouled and spirit-imbued form of gymnastics, to be practiced along with the more physically centered conventional gymnastics, which also had its proper place. Afterward, the famous physiologist came to me, saying: “You declared that gymnastics, the way it is practiced today, has a certain justification. But I tell you that it is sheer barbarism!” Perhaps his words are justified, if they imply that this whole subject of gymnastics ought to be reviewed, having fallen prey to the materialistic attitude of our times. This, however, would be a very different issue. The point is that gymnastics, as it is taught in our schools, deals with physical movements and efforts of the human organism, which place the human body into a position of equilibrium relative to the outside world. The aim of gymnastics is that the human body, with its system of blood circulation and its potential physical movements, find the proper relationship to an outside space, which has its own forms and internal dynamics. Gymnastics is primarily concerned with adapting internal human dynamics, the human system of movement and blood circulation, to the dynamics of outside space. Gymnastics will find its proper and justified place in the school curriculum if and when one can find, both in freestanding exercises and in those using an apparatus, the appropriate orientation into world dynamics, seen also as human dynamics, for the human being stands as microcosm within the macrocosm.

On the other hand, eurythmy as an educational subject for children is very different. Eurythmy belongs more to the inner realm of the human organization. It can be seen as furthering and enhancing what is done in gymnastics. In eurythmy, the person works more with the qualitative and inner dynamics that play between breathing and blood circulation. The person doing eurythmy is oriented toward the transformation, into externalized movements of the human organism, of what is happening between internal breathing and blood circulation. In this way, the eurythmist gains an intimate relationship of body and soul to the self, and experiences something of the inner harmony inherent in the human being. This experience, in turn, brings about greater inner stability and firmness because the essence of the ensouled and spirit-imbued movement works on the entire human being. Conventional gymnastics mainly activates the physical part of the human being and, in its own way, indirectly affects the soul and spirit of the athlete, whereas eurythmy activates the whole human being as body, soul, and, spirit. Eurythmy movements cause the human soul and spirit to flow into every physical movement. Just as speech and song embody laws inherent in one part of the human being, so eurythmy embodies laws inherent in the whole human being; similarly, eurythmy works on the young child as a matter of course just as the organic forces inherent in speech work and flow through the young child.

Children learn to speak because of the stimulation of sounds coming from outside, and the children’s innate impulse to form sounds. Experience has shown that when children are introduced to eurythmy at the right age, they feel at home in its movements, with the same natural readiness as children finding their way into speech. An essential human feature — or, as I would like to call it, the most essential human feature — is developed and widened in this way. And since all education and training should aim at getting hold of the innate human being through the pupil’s own self, we feel justified in using eurythmy as a form of ensouled and spirit-imbued gymnastics in its own right, even though it originated and was at first cultivated only as an art form within the anthroposophical movement.

The following may seem a little difficult to understand at first, but if we can recognize how, in accordance with human nature, the child incorporates into the organism what is derived from eurythmy lessons — complemented by musical and sculptural activities — one can see how all these elements affect the child’s organism, and how they all work back again upon the entire nature of the child. One sees the child’s faculty of cognition becoming more mobile and receptive through the influence of eurythmic exercises. Children develop a more active ideational life, opening with greater love toward what comes to meet them; and so, by using eurythmy in appropriate ways, the teacher has the possibility of training the children’s powers of mental imagery.

Eurythmy also works back very powerfully on the will, and especially on the most intimate traits of the human will. For instance, it is easy enough to lie with words, and there are many ways of counteracting such a weakness in children, merely by speaking to them. But in such a case one can also make profitable use of eurythmy, for if, as a eurythmist, one lets words flow directly into physical movements so that they become visible speech, it becomes very evident that the use of this medium simply cancels out the possibility of lying. The possibility of lying ceases when one begins to experience what is involved in revealing the soul through one’s physical movements. Consequently one will come to see that, with regard to the human will, truthfulness, which is of such great ethical importance, can be developed particularly well with the aid of eurythmy exercises. To sum up, one can say that eurythmy is a kind of gymnastics developed out of the domain of the human soul and that it gives back to the soul, in turn, very much indeed. This is the reality of eurythmy and its specific character. Eventually it will be regarded quite naturally as an intrinsic part of education. We have no doubt that it will happen. However, these things take their time because the public first needs to overcome built-in prejudices. There will be those who say, “Look at this handful of crazies,” but such has always been the way of the world. There once were a handful of people among whom one crazy fellow actually maintained that the Sun stood in the center of the universe and that the planets, together with the Earth, were revolving around it. Such a crazy idea was at first totally rejected, for no one of a sane mind would contemplate such nonsense. Nevertheless, during approximately the first third of the nineteenth century there was quite a following for this “crazy” idea, which Copernicus had asked to be taken as the truth. Why should one not wait patiently until something that cannot even be proved as convincingly as the Copernican system of the universe is accepted by society at large!

Eurythmy feeds back into the child’s cognitive faculties, endowing them with greater mobility, causing a keener interest and a sense of truthfulness; it feeds back into the human emotional disposition, which lives between the faculties of cognition and a person’s will capacity. It is tremendously important that the human being, with the aid of eurythmy, be able to keep hold of the self as a whole, instead of living in the dichotomy of soul and spirit on one side, and human physical existence on the other.

One could keep asking forever, “What is the relationship between body and soul?” It is downright comical to see the question coming up again and again! There have been no end of attempts to construct theoretical explanations of how the one side affects the other. But if this matter can be experienced directly — which happens when one does eurythmy — the question immediately assumes a different character. The question then becomes: How does an intrinsic unity composed of body, soul, and spirit come to work in separate ways, on the one side as soul element and on the other side as physical element? Getting hold of these interactions completely forces one to reshape the question altogether. Then, there is no need for theorizing, for everything is founded on practical experience and in accordance with reality. Some people have the opinion that anthroposophy deals with “cloud-cuckoo-land,” whereas in fact, anthroposophy aims at working directly into practical life.

Nowadays, the spirit in matter is no longer perceived; as a result, the nature of matter is no longer understood. This nature can be comprehended only by doing. This may suggest how eurythmy affects the child. One can say that, when doing eurythmy, children, through the will, gets hold of the inner harmony between the upper more spiritual side of the human being and the lower more physical side, so that will initiative is being created. And will initiative is the very thing that needs to be cultivated in today’s education. Those who observe the psychological development of our times know very well that there is a great lack of will initiative. It is badly needed in the social sphere, and the art that will bring it about os most needed in pedagogical practice.

The things I have indicated briefly, you will be able to witness for yourselves while watching the children of the Waldorf school perform eurythmy. I hope that what you see on the stage, done with youthful joy and vigor, confirms what I have tried to put into words for you.