horror dance

you know what? Eurythmy is the one thing that still scares the hell out of me; it’s the one thing that still fills me with horror. It’s not ‘schöne bewegung’; it’s the movement of horror.  Sorry. But it’s scary. It’s like watching humans pretending to be non-human, pretending to be ghosts. If death was a dance, it would look like eurythmy. If dying was a dance, it would look like that.

Here’s a recent German tv report on eurythmy. 

I sometimes speculate that eurythmy is the one thing I won’t ever be able to look at with forgiving eyes, with a forgiving mind. Not because it was worse than anything else, I believe, but because it has so few, if any, redeeming features. There’s no way in, there’s no way to understand, and no way to desire it either. At least I have trouble seeing it.

Edit: it’s now on youtube so I can embed it.

33 thoughts on “horror dance

  1. I am not surprised you feel this way. Eurythmy is the most strikingly odd aspect of a Steiner education to an uninitiated observer.

  2. It is very weird, isn’t it? And yet there are people who love doing it – like me!
    Mind you, I hated very intensely doing PE and Games when I was at school, so in an English context I must be very weird indeed.
    Thank Dog we don’t all like the same things.

  3. I think I felt the same way about PE and games as Alicia does about Eurythmy. I am so glad I never have to be in that situation again.

  4. falk — Oh, I hated PE and games. Awful awful awful. Totally agree with you about that, falk, and am also glad I don’t have to do that ever again (I actually refused to take part at all for a few years until I graduated high school… I went on walks, but that was all I did… accepting a very bad grade of course). One difference is that I find it horrible but totally uninteresting. Well, boring. Watching a video clip of some sports leaves me with a blank mind, I may have hated it in school, but the subject itself leaves me entirely bereft of anything to think or say! There’s no possibility of seeing its spooky meaning, because there is none to be found. (Or perhaps I’m blind to it, but see what’s in eurythmy. I don’t know. But I don’t think so.)

    Helen — yes yes! it is. I’ve shown it on youtube sometimes and had people say: ‘No?! You did that? Children do that!?! I know you said it was odd but could never imagine…’ something like that.

  5. Partly, it is the combination of gestures, body language and facial expression that makes Eurythmy so unappealing and scary; the smug and self-absorbed expression, the agressive stance, the uniformity and the constant assertiveness. All qualities that are useful in life in certain quantities if one is out to be competitive – very similar to some assertiveness training courses used in industry and commerce – some of which too is designed to see who ‘dares’ to stand their ground regardless of the content of their point. Interestingly, very simialr body shapes are found in Nazi ‘folk’ posters and Communist ‘worker’ posters of the 1930’s and 40’s – two systems that Steiner advocates clain not to be associated with.

  6. There are some interesting aesthetic judgements here. I am wondering what people make of Tai Chi?

    I am wondering if Nick finds these face ‘smug and self-absorbed’, the stance ‘aggressive’, the ‘constant assertiveness’, to be a problem.
    There are lots of other clips on YouTube. I would hesitate to say exactly what the precise expression on the face of these people is. I wonder of anyone can enlighten me?

  7. Haven’t seen the video (must turn the computer on for that) but seen tai chi in the park. It does have an eerie feeling to it. If someone came up to me in the dark behaving like that I’d scream ;-)

    I think one issue with eurythmy is that it’s dead serious. It’s so high up there. It’s like death in that way. It’s scary because there’s no space left. No air to breath. Every molecule is occupied by eurythmical dead seriousness.

  8. T’ai Chi has quite a few similarities but it pre-dates eurythmy by about 800 years I think so it is vastly more sophisticated in form. Eurythmy has borrowed a lot from elsewhere as there’s nothing really new in dance. Over that time a trial and error system (often dressed up as spiritual awareness) has turned into a popular fitness regime; unlike Eurythmy Tai Chi can be practiced almost scientifically and one is not, as far as I know, supporting any particular religion by doing so. Expressions? Why so difficult? Oh… you mean you can’t understand oriental expressions… or just T’ai Chi expressions? Some looked a little self-conscious to me and only one looked smug – the woman in purple. Agressive? No, the point is not to look agressive and by and large it works. Anthroposophy on the other hand is steeped in notions of hierarchy and it really shows in the movements and forms (re: posters of Communist workers and Nazi ‘folk’.)

    Helen, so sad! Poor old bloke :-(

  9. Nick, my point about the eurythmy performers is that not everyone would interpret the facial expressions in the way you have done. The most negative characterisation I would see there is impassivity. To me they are just people who are concentrating very hard.

  10. I think it’s important to point out that children hate eurythmy. I observed classroom eurythmy sessions very intensively on many occasions and can say without qualification that it was a disaster. Eurythmy has no redeeming features and is unhealthy and inappropriate for children. This doesn’t relate to the movements per se – which are unoriginal and uninteresting aesthetically, but harmless in themselves – but to the air of spiritual heaviness that hangs like a pall over everything. Children feel that and respond appropriately – by acting out, causing a disruption, crying etc. A number of times, observing eurythmy, I felt the urge to simply grab the children and flee. I was not alone in this response to eurythmy at our school. Many parents, on observing one of these sessions, felt quite disturbed. It is hard to put your finger on exactly what is happening but one gets the very clear and urgent sense that it is WRONG.

    Waldorf supporters will often insist that some Waldorf students like eurythmy. I do not believe this. It is possible that in some, less anthroposophically pure and dogmatic schools, a watered down version of eurythmy is being practiced that, perhaps mixed with other types of dance, in avoiding anthroposophical correctness also avoids this air of death and gloom, so perhaps some students in these situations are actually enjoying themselves. Real, pure eurythmy should be avoided – simply keep kids away from it. Alicia’s reaction is that of a normal child to what she accurately describes as a horror.

  11. Sam Harris says in the article ‘Delusions of martial prowess have much in common with religious faith. A crucial difference, however, is that while people of faith can always rationalize apparent contradictions between their beliefs and the data of their senses, an inability to fight is very easy to detect and, once revealed, very difficult to explain away.’

    Watching eurythmy especially as ‘performed’ by children seems to be a a manifestation of the control the teachers are exercising over them, and the indoctrination they are subject to.
    I have hesitated to use the term ‘child abuse’ which perhaps Richard Dawkins would not decline to use on this subject.

  12. Falk: “I am wondering if Nick finds these face ‘smug and self-absorbed’”

    Can’t answer for Nick but for myself, my reaction is not necessarily that they are smug or self-absorbed – it is hard to say – but I do think the glassy eyed, remote demeanor one often sees on the faces of spiritually self-preoccupied folks when they are meditating or performing such rituals in public is unpleasant and off-putting. Children in particular are often frightened by it. It isn’t unique to eurythmy. A wide variety of spiritual practices attract seekers who succumb to this.

  13. Diana says, ‘I think it’s important to point out that children hate eurythmy.’
    In my experience not all children hate DOING eurythmy, though some clearly do.
    I agree that the impassive face of performing eurythmists is a problem for children.

    I think a lot depends on the teacher.

    I have known music teachers whose lessons children hated because the teacher had the attitude that music is something serious and holy.

  14. Falk:

    >I think a lot depends on the teacher.

    Yes. If the teacher is willing to relate to the children in a warm, personal fashion; if the teacher is willing to talk to the children as an ordinary human being and explain things to the children, answer their questions, etc.; if the teacher is willing to make the class fun, to be flexible and change things up if the children are not relating to it, to let the children sometimes be silly, etc., then the children may not hate this.

    But this teacher wouldn’t really be doing eurythmy the pure, anthroposophically correct way. Which is what I already said.

    >I have known music teachers whose lessons children hated because the teacher had the attitude that music is something serious and holy.

    Yes. It isn’t unique to eurythmy. Eurythmy does seem, however, to attract disturbed individuals who do not like children. Probably this is true of some very serious music teachers – they shouldn’t be working with children. I feel it’s safe to say that as a class, serious eurythmists are not individuals who should be teaching children. They tend to be cold, self-preoccupied people who lack personal warmth. Perhaps this is because they are greatly spiritually advanced individuals, with their minds on the higher realms of existence; I wouldn’t know. Perhaps their astral bodies and/or their Egos are not present in the room, but are up in Devachan somewhere? That’s not for us ordinary mortals to sort out, all we know is it frightens the children.

  15. Diana sure loves sweeping generalisations.
    “I feel it’s safe to say that as a class, serious eurythmists are not individuals who should be teaching children. They tend to be cold, self-preoccupied people who lack personal warmth.”

  16. Unfortunately, she has a point. There is a particular problem with eurythmy teachers. I do think it has to do with the particular and very strong spiritual aspect of the subject they ‘teach’. It also has to do with the problem of finding ways to survive as an anthroposophist specialising in eurythmy — teaching in waldorf schools is perhaps the only way of getting a stable income. They’re too preoccupied with their own spirituality and with spiritual progress, and not very interested in teaching children.

    But, yes, there is a difference depending on the individual teacher. The first eurythmy teacher I had actually — it was only the first and perhaps second year of school — seemed to at least like to teach and be around children even if eurythmy itself was rather impossible. Another eurythmy teacher we had matched Diana’s description eerily well. I don’t think she was a person who wanted to teach children; I’m sure she thought eurythmy was deadly important to children, but she was not a person who had the capacity to be a teacher and handle children. The lessons were total disaster.

    Although there are music teachers who take their subject as seriously (I had such music teachers and, well, it certainly affected me), there’s an additional layer added to eurythmy, I believe, because it’s a subject of such a unique and extraordinary status. It’s the most overtly anthroposophical subject taught in waldorf schools. And it holds a very special place. Eurythmists have a special status too. They aren’t like ordinary teachers, no matter how anthroposophically qualified these ordinary teachers are.

    Diana’s description of ‘an air of death and gloom’ is very apt.

    Helen:

    ‘Watching eurythmy especially as ‘performed’ by children seems to be a a manifestation of the control the teachers are exercising over them, and the indoctrination they are subject to.
    I have hesitated to use the term ‘child abuse’ which perhaps Richard Dawkins would not decline to use on this subject.’

    I wouldn’t call it child abuse (maybe I have done that, please don’t dig ;-)); such a designation seems to devalue actual child abuse.

    And I also think it’s important to say that the children rebel. They get out of control, because the eurythmists can’t manage to exercise control over them. Eurythmy is not, I think, a very powerful tool in indoctrination. It’s too obviously bizarre and children call the bluff — they don’t accept the deadly seriousness around this subject and they don’t accept eurythmy as an ‘object’ of reverence. They just don’t. So I’m inclined to think that, for strategic purposes of indoctrination, eurythmy is a pretty bad tool. Possibly the worst in waldorf, considering the ‘special’ (bad) quality of the eurythmy teachers. But of course children are influenced by what they go through… they always are.

    I consider it a boring waste of time for a child. I also think it can have a detrimental effect to be taken care of by dysfunctional individuals, which sadly was not unusual among eurythmy teachers. People who hate to teach children should not teach children, especially not if they think they can do it anyway because they’re on a spiritual high.

    Nick:

    ‘Partly, it is the combination of gestures, body language and facial expression that makes Eurythmy so unappealing and scary; the smug and self-absorbed expression, the agressive stance, the uniformity and the constant assertiveness.’

    Yes… and no, at the same time. Yes to the first sentence, no to parts of the second. There’s uniformity, there’s a certain kind of self-absorption. But I think one thing that makes it so scary is the lack of expressions — eurythmists are faceless dolls making bizarre movements. The only time they shake of their mannekin appearance is when the children piss them off too severely. In eurythmy performances they just don’t lose it, of course. They keep being faceless dolls; there’s no individuality and no emotion. There’d be more of that if the shop window mannekins came artificially to life. You have a feeling you’re seeing robots, not people. Deindividualized movement machines.

    Maybe there is another kind of eurythmy, but that’s the eurythmy I’ve seen. It’s still the eurythmy I see on youtube videos and so forth.

    There’s no playfulness, no humour, nothing human. It’s about robots, moving around in a graveyard of esoteric ideas. Dead serious spasms of dolls without personality. An art deprived of life and blood.

    I wish I was seeing smugness, agression or assertiveness because at least that would be something to tell us it is a human endevour. I have a pet theory — students pissed the teachers off to force them to become human. At least you can handle someone who’s angry. Handling someone who’s — seemingly — robotically shut off from the world is another matter.

  17. ‘And yet there are people who love doing it – like me!’

    … though, of course, seeing Falk do eurythmy would be entirely different (from my general impressions related above ;-)), I’m absolutely sure!!

  18. Perhaps the worse part of this eurythmy is that Waldorf teachers do not view the child as a ‘whole’ human being. These children are more ‘whole’ than the presumed adults who feel they must pressure/teach/indoctrinate these poor little souls into becoming some sort of Waldorfian robot.

  19. Falk:

    “Diana sure loves sweeping generalisations”

    I don’t, at all. I wrote:

    “as a class, serious eurythmists are not individuals who should be teaching children. They tend to be cold, self-preoccupied people who lack personal warmth.”

    As you can see, that statement has two qualifiers in it, which is an awful lot of qualifiers for a “sweeping generalization.” “As a class” is an assertion I stand by regarding eurythmists; “as a class” does not include all individuals, but it is a firm characterization of at least a large majority of them. Then there’s that phrase “tend to”; thus the statement characterizes not all, but it is a tendency. In general, Falk, there is a tendency for statements that contain the word “tend to” to NOT be sweeping generalizations :)

    My statements tend to be qualified and careful. I’ve been writing about this for years. Check out some of the things I’ve written, here and on the critics list and on several other lists, and see. My conclusions about eurythmy are firm. I have seen a lot of it. I have read about the experiences of many others that confirm what I saw. Eurythmy has no redeeming features. As an art form, it is truly galling, and it is not appropriate for children, and one of the main reasons for that is that eurythmists, as a class, tend to be people who should not be working with children. They tend not to like them, and they are – in general – on a mission that is NOT the best interest of children.

  20. ” I have a pet theory — students pissed the teachers off to force them to become human”

    Yeah, I’ve sure seen that.

  21. Diana, does the class of serious eurythmists include all serious eurythmists? Are there serious eurythmists who are not members of ‘the class of serious eurythmists’?

    Lets change the terms of your assertion and see how it shapes up.

    “As a class serious social workers should not have final say in child protection cases. They tend to be focused on protecting their professional integrity and are insensitive to the emotional needs of children and parents.”

    I have had to deal with social workers who where like this. I wonder how most ordinary social workers (who are trying to act in the children’s best interest) would feel on reading something like I have just written?

    I wonder what kind of standing saying ‘such kind of people have a tendency to…..’ has in a court of law, Alicia?

    It seems to me that introducing a ‘tendency’ into one’s judgements about others is a great way of casting doubt on their integrity or suitability for a situation without any concrete evidence.

    Lets try, ‘Homosexual men have a tendency to have many different sex partners.’ Does this sound OK to say about the class of homosexual men?

    ‘As a class homosexual men tend to have a lot of different sexual partners’.

    Yet, according to surveys, (if one can ever believe what people say about their own sex-lives!), many homosexual men do claim to have a lot of partners at various stages in their lives.

    I know I would feel very uncomfortable talking in such a way about any individual person. ‘He is a homosexual so he has a tendency to have many sexual partners.’
    “She is a serious eurythmist so she has a tendency to be cold and self-preoccupied’.

    I can well understand that there are people who find eurythmy a repulsive and weird activity.

    I can believe that Diana and others have encountered eurythmy teachers who should not be working with children because of their coldness, their inablity to teach, their inability to keep control, or whatever, but that does not justify the kind of negative stereotyping being expressed by Diana, in saying, ‘They tend to be cold, self-preoccupied people who lack personal warmth’.

    “Every eurythmist I have ever met was cold and self-preoccupied”, is a statement of experience which has to be accepted at face-value, but not “They tend to be…”.

  22. ‘I wonder what kind of standing saying ‘such kind of people have a tendency to…..’ has in a court of law, Alicia?’

    Quite a good one, I’d say. It’s like saying ‘football players have a tendency to be stupid’. Ok. I’m sure that’s not a question for the law. Or we’d have courts deciding on all sorts of irrelevant stuff all the time. Not everything that feels hurtful or like an insult or like an error or injustice is really of such a quality that it makes it worth bothering the legal system for. Not every stupid or silly act or statement is prohibited, thank Dog. Or we’d all be in trouble. Almost all of us anyway. I’d be in trouble constantly.

    ‘I know I would feel very uncomfortable talking in such a way about any individual person.’

    But you aren’t. You’re talking about a statistic tendency within a group. There wouldn’t be any point to making such sex-life surveys (which probably are unreliable to some extent) if the purpose was not to track a statistical tendency in a group. Talking about what a certain group tends towards — even if the tendency in question is not esteemed by other members of society, whatever that means… — is not to say bad things about individuals.

    Not that we have any reliable statistics on eurythmists, but in essence that’s the same thing Diana is doing. I may have missed messages in this thread (I admit), but I don’t think she said this:

    “She is a serious eurythmist so she has a tendency to be cold and self-preoccupied’.

    It’s quite different from saying:

    ‘They tend to be cold, self-preoccupied people who lack personal warmth’.

    I get that neither statement may not sound nice to eurythmists, but there’s a significant difference between the two.

    Terriers tend to want to hunt bunnies. This doesn’t say anything about the individual terrier.

  23. I accept correction re/ ‘tend to’ and ‘tendency’.
    Nevertheless I ask myself what is the point of making such an unverified claim as Diana does? I find it a cruel and diminishing way to speak of people. As I said before, it is NOT like saying, ‘Every eurythmist I have ever met was a cold and self-preoccupied person’. which can be accepted as a true statement of someone’s experience.

  24. I think it’s accurate. I concede that I don’t have statistical evidence from randomized double-blind studies of large samples of eurythmists who took validated personality trait questionnaires compared with similarly sized samples of non-eurythmists who took the same questionnaire. I base my opinion on what I saw. I am very certain that what I saw was eurythmy of the pure anthroposophical type, based on the credentials of the persons who were teaching it, and promoting it heavily at our school. There was no mistake there and it wasn’t an aberration, it was as close to Steiner’s intentions as it gets. Though I haven’t seen eurythmy live in some years now, what I can see on youtube assures me that it’s the same stuff. From what I perceive of eurythmy, it’s clear to me that it’s not something a psychologically healthy individual desires to spend hours doing, let alone teaching to others.

    It is also completely obvious that it’s not an activity with any particular usefulness with children, at least not compared to the many, many other forms of dance or movement or sports available to children. It adds no value whatsoever to a program for children. It is absolutely indisputable that the purpose is spiritual – specifically, anthroposophic. This is the explanation for the extremely bad “vibe” around it in the Waldorf schools. Alicia’s post that started this thread explains it. There’s no way to view it as healthy for children. There aren’t two sides to the issue.

    This is how I reason that as a class, eurythmists aren’t warm people, in the sense that is really important in dealing effectively with children.

    I don’t think you need to take this quite so personally, Falk. It isn’t intended as a terrible insult. I’m not a particularly warm person myself, nor particularly good with children. (I don’t think I’m cold, or disturbed, but I have no gift for working with children.) I think that when you take a person who is already not particularly warm or outgoing or well suited to work with children, owing to personal shortcoming – basically, the type of person who is often attracted to anthroposophy – AND THEN on top of this you put them through an intense and deadly serious spiritual training and then god help us, you sic them on young children, what you have is truly horrid. That’s eurythmy.

  25. I think it does go some way to explain why eurythmy is such a troublesome subject. Parents don’t understand why the kids feel that way, schools don’t understand (or want to) why eurythmy causes so much problems. I don’t think it’s possible to determine why this is, unless we look at the subject itself and the teachers who teach it (who are they? Why are they doing this? What are they like in their contact with children?).

    We had these eurythmy companies come visiting. To give performances. They were also displays of gloom and deadly seriousness and incomprehensible in general. They weren’t interacting with the kids but I still find the expectation that kids should enjoy that stuff rather odd.

  26. Let me add another piece of anecdotal evidence to falk’s collection ;-) A young person I know thought eurythmy was boring and incomprehensible. Despite the fact that he is very fond of both music and physical exercises.

    He also found the waldorf attempts to integrate movement and mathematics a total waste of time. As a counter-example I once met a very creative teacher, much interested in health issues. She had her 7 year olds count the steps while running up and down stairs. What was the difference? The smiles on the children’s faces :-)

    I have a third interesting case here, especially for those who might think I’m just opposed to anything waldorf. In fact I’m very grateful for the work of one waldorf-trained teacher who organized really enjoyable camping trips. These physical outdoor-experiences successfully passed the smile-test. But I have always wondered why she had chosen not to work at a Waldorf school …

  27. Hi, I came across Waldorf schools and biodynamics and Antrhoposophy, some years ago. I got it that it was a spiritual way to understand the world. It did not mind to me because from what I saw and the shape that the philosophy was taking in schools or products It appealed to me. But I am critical, and I don’t engaged myself lightly into a life changing experience. I was interested to become of Waldorf teacher, but the more I know the more suspect I become. But I had to say that I participated in a eurythmy session and it was quite enjoyable. It was not at all dreadful. Someone said that people attracted by antroposophy are “persons who are already not particularly warm or outgoing or well suited to work with children, owing to personal shortcoming”. Well, I was attracted to anthroposophy because I felt it was very much a human, natural and spiritual but non-religious approach of living one’s life. Now, I have doubt when I started reading Steiner more deeply. Because the book I read about education did not mention all the anthroposophy beliefs as the book of Genesis that I am reading now. And it feels weirder and weirder. I am kind of disappointed because I was thinking that anthroposophy was the right way to go.

  28. Depending on what you want, it might actually be the right way to go. (Only you can know that, of course!)

    It certainly is spiritual — whatever spiritual means! (we’ve not really come to any conclusion on this blog…) — and whether it’s human or natural is, I guess, in the eye of the beholder. And it is definitely more of an ‘approach to living one’s life’ than anything else. And therein lies the problem: people who become waldorf teachers often don’t have pedagogy and teaching children as their number one priorities, what they want is ‘an approach to living [their] lives’. Ie, personal spiritual development. And education for children is not about creating spiritual life-paths for adults.

    You’re right to be suspicious. And think about it critically.

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