(I originally wrote this piece for Donni over at The Magic Onions. Donni does a great job covering different facets of the world of Waldorf. Please do go check out her blog here: http://themagiconions.blogspot.com/)
Eurythmy was invented by Dr. Rudolf Steiner and his wife Dr. Marie Steiner-von Sivers in 1912. It has often been called “visible speech” or “visible song”, and is not only a performing art, but also part of the educational curriculum within the Waldorf School setting. This is unique to Waldorf Education and eurythmy is often viewed as the pinnacle of the artistic component of Waldorf Education.
Eurythmy essentially integrates all the subjects taught within the Waldorf curriculum in a whole-body movement. The “Guidelines for Eurythmy in the Waldorf School” as put forth by The Eurythmy Association of North American and adopted by best practices by AWNSA and the Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science has this to say about the place of eurythmy within the curriculum: “The special skills children develop in eurythmy include bodily and spatial orientation, a sense for rhythm and measure, teamwork and social awareness, bringing poise, self-confidence, and the ability to think for oneself. The movements of eurythmy are filled with meaning which is of the same nature as language itself. The eurythmy curriculum offers exercises to provide a deeply somatic, kinesthetic understanding of all the subjects in school, including, for instance, math, geometry, botany, physics, chemistry, history, color, optics, poetry, and music. The wisdom of eurythmy supports the totality of Waldorf education. “It is the supreme example of a principle in all Steiner education that movement comes first. For it is the activity of the limbs which awakens and vitalizes the experience of the head.”
A eurythmist typically graduates from a four-year to five-year program. The curriculum typically involves attending eurythmy classes once a week from Kindergarten through Grade Three, and then from Grade Four through Twelve attending twice a week. Certain eurythmy exercises correspond to certain stages of development, and the eurythmist works with the Class Teacher to support the subjects being taught. I have heard Eurythmy referred to as “soul gymnastics” because the whole life of the soul can be moved through these exercises the way a gymnast moves the physical body through exercises.
Many Waldorf homeschoolers want to try to bring this art to their homeschool. I feel this could quickly become the children just imitating some of the physical gestures (if you even know those!) and not really getting the essential part that makes up eurythmy – the etheric gesture. Furthermore, the gestures of speech should certainly be brought by a trained eurythmist.
So what is a Waldorf homeschooler to do?
I would implore you to look for purposeful and precise movement that goes with verses and rhymes and songs. Look for what movement and gesture you and your child could experience with oral recitation and poetry in the grades.
There are many resources for movement and gesture in the Waldorf homeschooling arena. Two resources listed specifically for eurythmy come to mind. These include “Eurythmy For The Young Child” by Estelle Breyer (for the Early Years, some things are suitable for Grade One) and the “Come Unto These Yellow Sands” by Molly van Heider. (covers preschool through Grades Nine to Twelve). Neither of these resources will show you what gestures to bring for things such as letters, but will give you suggestions for what letters or purposeful movements go with the songs and stories and verses in the books. If you would like to see what eurythmy in a classroom would look like, I suggest you try the 2006 DVD of David-Michael Monarch entitled “The Waldorf Curriculum Through Eurythmy” from the Whole Parent, Whole Child conference and available through Rahima Baldwin Dancy’s website. “Joyful Movement” by Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschooling Resources is not a eurythmy resource per say, but certainly has many ideas for movement in the home environment and is very practical and accessible to the Waldorf homeschooler.
But best of all, experiment with your own heartfelt gestures for stories and verses. Try to bring out the exaggerated physical movement of the characters and archetypes in the stories you tell to your own children. Work on incorporating singing and clapping games into your homeschool. Work with skipping, stamping, tip-toe walking, walking on heels and the polarities found between quiet and loud and small and big gestures.
Your homeschool can have as much beauty in movement as you can offer; from the small points of beauty in your own rhythm to the sounds of careful recitation to precise movement and gestures to beautiful music to warmth. These things build the etheric body for the future health of our children.