The following article was found in a bound volume of Outlook magazine, published in 1914. It’s a fascinating description of Eurhythmics in historical perspective, and illustrates how the essential principles of Jaques-Dalcroze’s method (if not all the practical applications) have lasted through time. I resisted the temptation to correct such things as punctuation, the spelling of the Jaques-Dalcroze name, and the mathematical error in the anecdote about various students in a Eurhythmics class. There are touches of the time, such as the derogatory remark about “ragtime dances,” along with ideas that are still directly relevant today. Here is the article in its entirety, with the illustrations referred to added at the end. — MD
The Dalcroze Idea
What Eurhythmics Is and What It Means
by Margaret Naumburg (1914)
At a time when the muse of dancing, having apparently borrowed or stolen the pipe of the Pied Piper of Hamelin, is whistling all but the halt and maimed into her train, the following discussion of the rhythmic gymnastics of Jacques Dalcroze should have particular appeal. If “rhythmic gymnastics” brings to the reader’s mind a vision of rows of bloomer-clad girls swinging Indian clubs to the insistent throbbing of a nasal-voiced piano, it is a misnomer. Equally misleading is this title if it conveys an impression that Jacques Dalcroze has merely built up a new school of aesthetic dancing. Last week a teacher of the Dalcroze method, Miss Lenggenhagen, gave a demonstration of “rhythmic gymnastics” in the rooms of the New York Society of Ethical Culture before the members of the Federation for Child Study. She showed how each different kind of note in a musical composition was expressed by certain definite motions of the arms; how each measure was translated into steps or series of steps. A little child of perhaps eight years likewise gave an exhibition of her knowledge of music and the dance. Perhaps the most interesting feature of this exhibition was the remarkable control which both teacher and pupil manifested over their bodies. The child marked three-four time with her right arm, four-four time with her left arm, meanwhile tripping off the measures with delightful self-possession, stopping either her feet or her arms at the direction of her teacher, and then continuing the dance with the next measure in perfect time. Any one who has attempted to pat his head and rub his stomach at the same time will appreciate at least some of the difficulty in such an undertaking. Such a demonstration of course dealt only with the elementary movements taught by the Dalcroze method. More elaborate dances were worked out. “Eurhythmics,” to use a shorter and better name for rhythmic gymnastics, is a scientific method of utilizing our natural instincts for rhythm in the acquisition of an intimate knowledge of musical construction, in the development of a more perfect co-ordination between mind and body, and in the creation of a new outlet for artistic expression. In the following article Miss Naumburg has written an exposition of this new educational method. Those who witnessed this exhibition of rhythmic gymnastics would be loth to say that she is over-enthusiastic. — The Editors.
Recently I happened to tell an acquaintance interested in music about the Jacques Dalcroze method of eurhythmics, which is causing quite a furor in the educational and artistic circles of Europe. I explained how students of the Dalcroze method develop an inner sense of rhythm and harmony by translating the varied rhythms of music into corresponding bodily movements.
“I see,” said my friend, after asking many questions about the method, “the musical significance of such a rhythmic training of the body in response to the musical values. But what interests me particularly is that idea of bringing out the inner sense of rhythm that all people have hidden within them. I’ve had some experience with that very thing in my factory. If my mill hands haven’t a certain inner rhythmic feeling, there is a set of looms in the mill that they can never learn to run. I’ve run those looms myself, so I know what it means. The shuttle moves one hundred and seventeen times to the minute, and unless the shuttle is shifted to the second the thread breaks. You can’t count the movements; you simply have to feel the rhythm of the machine to run it. If a man cannot feel the rhythm at first, not a lifetime of practice will ever teach him to run that loom. That’s rather a practical example for you of what use rhythmic feeling can be even to a mill hand. No doubt M. Jacques Dalcroze never thought of that.”
“But that is just what Dalcroze did think of — the practical significance of his rhythmic training,” I said. “At Hellerau, the garden suburb of Dresden where Dalcroze has his College of Rhythm, the children of the worker as well as the wealthy are trained in rhythmic gymnastics as the foundation of a complete education. You see Dalcroze now feels that his method depends on the discovery of a principle that affects every part of life.”
Plato discovered some two thousand years previously that without an inner feeling for rhythm no outward expression can be rhythmic. And then, because Plato was an educator and not a manufacturer, he reasoned that if rhythmic expression demanded rhythmic feeling we must work out the best possible method for such rhythmic training. This Plato did in his “Republic,” placing music and gymnastics in the Greek sense of the word as the basis of an ideal education. But our so-called classical education has wandered far afield from the original Greek conception of education, as the synthetic training of mind and body, and has completely intellectualized it. Mental training has become the bulwark of our education, physical and artistic training are regarded as incidentals. Artistic feeling and physical poise, instead of being regarded as the essentials of right education, are slipped in as extras if there is time. This modern attitude towards education speaks for itself in a recent book on “Experimental Education,” by Robert R. Rusk. “Gymnastics and music,” he says, “are not to be regarded as recuperative, and by reason of their slight educational value should be relegated to the end of the day.”
Once upon a time Plato said that every man’s life stands in need of a right rhythm. In these turkey-trotting days, the world says that for every man’s life there is but one rhythm. The rhythmic instinct is still as strong in young America as it was in ancient Greece. Rhythm will out. The question for us to consider is whether we will use it as a force for a complete educative training or let it take the perverted form of ragtime dances.
For various people the Dalcroze method will have different significance, depending on their temperament and their interests, and varying with their aesthetic and mental endowments. To cite an illuminating example. A group of young women with the most varied interests and training started to study the Dalcroze method together. In this class there were two aesthetic dancers, two musicians, and one painter. It was interesting to see the effect of the work in eurhythmics on such different pupils. One might expect that those who had done aesthetic dancing would most easily grasp another method of expressing music by movements of the body. But this was not the case. The Dalcroze method makes bodily movements depend on the exact musical values, so that the music and the bodily expression are so closely related that together they form a whole. The dancers were used to expressing themselves by free movements, with music merely as an accompaniment. Just because the Dalcroze method depends on exact interpretation of note and measure duration, it was the three musicians and not the dancers in the class who first grasped the Dalcroze idea — a proof that eurhythmics, as the entire system is called, is not just a new variety of aesthetic dancing.
The painter in the Dalcroze class felt that the rhythmic work gave her a fresh aesthetic sensitiveness; that it made her understand more deeply the purpose of the Post-Impressionists to express pure rhythm in painting. “I used to laugh,” she said, “at the people who talked of painting in terms of music, but now I can’t help feeling composition that way myself. When I did this picture,” she explained, showing me a sketch of Fifth Avenue done from the top of a motor bus, “the converging lines of all the streets seemed to express the main theme, the flow of the music. And all those moving vehicles in the streets below seemed to be the running accompaniment. The tall buildings, one next to the other down the line, were the individual notes of the music. And those recurrent church spires in between were the accents marking time on the beat.” Then she added, “I suppose if I said this to any one but you, he would think I was posing, and never believe I feel it just that way within me. But then no one who has not experienced the Dalcroze eurhythmics himself can really understand.”
Eurhythmics makes possible an active enjoyment of music. Heretofore only those skilled in the use of a musical instrument could express themselves through music. Now Dalcroze trains us to again regard our bodies as subtle and supple instruments easily within the reach of all for the expression of the finest nuances of harmony and rhythm. How many of the people who fill the concert halls know how to listen to music actively, mentally as well as emotionally? A goodly number certainly go to concerts for an emotional thrill. Incessant concert-going, like incessant novel-reading, may become just a method of emotional debauch. Plato might have had our modern passive concertgoer in mind when in the “Republic” he points out that music taken passively may undermine the fiber of a man, while music used actively for self-expression strengthens a man spiritually.
The Dalcroze Method of Rhythmic Gymnastics was originally evolved as a special training for musicians. But the scope of the method when applied to children turned out to be far wider than had been foreseen. It became a method of education, developing physical poise, attention, and a new susceptibility to beauty of form and sound. In the Dalcroze work the time of the music is indicated by the movements of the arms and the head, and note duration by movements of the feet and body. The Note opposite the illustrations on the preceding page explains this in detail. At first it seems impossibly difficult to beat even the simplest time with the arms while walking the length of the notes with the feet. But very rapidly the motor habits are formed, and subconsciously one can continue to beat a rhythm with the arms and attend to change in the length of the notes for the feet. Later on, the power of concentration and motor control is so completely developed that pupils are able to beat different rhythms with each arm while keeping time with their feet. When the technic of the method is mastered, it falls into the background, and simply becomes the language by which the form and time of the music are expressed, and is subject to infinite variation, while the person expresses the spirit of the music by his own moods and the quality of his gestures.
M. Dalcroze, speaking of the way his method of eurhythmics was built up, said that the method seemed simple enough at first, but his experience proved the opposite.
He says: “Most children have no instinct for time, for time values, for accentuation, for physical balance, because the motor faculties are not the same in all individuals and because a number of obstacles impede the exact and rapid realization of mental conceptions. One child is always behind the beat when marching, another always ahead, another takes unequal steps, another, on the contrary, lacks balance. All these faults, if not corrected in the first years, will reappear later in the musical technic of the individual. Unsteady time when singing or playing, confusion in playing, inability to follow when accompanying, accentuating too roughly or with lack or precision, all these faults have their origin in the child’s muscular and nervous control, in lack of co-ordination between the mind which conceives, the brain which orders, the nerve which transmits, and the muscle which executes. And, still more, the power of phrasing and shading music with feeling depends equally upon the training of the nerve centers, upon the co-ordination of the muscular system, upon rapid communication between brain and limb — in a word, upon the health of the whole organism.”
People are very much puzzled as to how to classify the Dalcroze eurhythmics. It is very difficult to make them realize that it does not come exactly under any one of our modern categories. One person asks, “Isn’t it more like dancing than musical training?” Another asks, “Isn’t it really a system of gymnastics and not fancy dancing at all?” Still others inquire, “Isn’t it fundamentally a musical rather than a physical training?” Others question, “Don’t you think it’s more of a training in mental than physical co-ordination?” or, “Doesn’t this method of leg and arm movements lead to mechanical rather than spontaneous movements for self-expression?”
Not one, nor two, nor three of the categories mentioned in these questions describe what the Dalcroze method really is. In a sense it is all and yet none of these things. It is certainly a synthetic training of mind and body. The entire body must feel the rhythm, when the mind analyzes it and the muscles express it in movement. It is a method of musical training, because the bodily expression of the music depends on the musical analysis of its rhythm. It resembles dancing in so far as it expresses movement in harmony with music, but, as I have explained above, eurhythmics differs fundamentally from dancing by translating musical values into exact space duration, so that body and music become one. Rhythmic gymnastics resemble ordinary gymnastics only in so far as they both require the muscular exertion of the body. There the resemblance ceases, for the Dalcroze method of eurhythmics never becomes an automatic group of exercises, because this series of movements is only the means to expressing musical ideas, which are infinite.
While teaching harmony at the Conservatory of Music at Geneva in 1892, M. Dalcroze first developed his method of rhythmic gymnastics to train musicians in more accurate feelings for rhythm. Only later was the value for eurhythmics in the education of children realized. To quote M. Dalcroze’s own words:
“It is true that I first devised my method as a musician for musicians. But the further I carried my experiments, the more I noticed that, while a method intended to develop the sense for rhythm, and indeed based on such development, is of great importance in the education of a musician, its chief value lies in the fact that it trains the powers of apperception and of expression in the individual and renders easier the externalization of natural emotions. Experience teaches me that a man is not ready for the specialized study of an art until his character is formed and his powers of expression developed.”
In 1910 M. Dalcroze was invited to come to Hellerau and establish his college of rhythm there in spacious buildings planned especially for that purpose. Since then interest in the method has spread to all parts of Europe. Visitors come to Hellerau from Russia, France, England, and America. And they are not merely the curious-minded sightseers, but world-famous musicians, painters, actors, stage managers, playwrights, doctors, and educators who go there for inspiration. Such a varied array as Prince Wolkonsky, Rachmaninoff, Max Shellings, Nijinsky, Max Reinhardt’s stage manager, Granville Barker, and Bernard Shaw have gone to Hellerau and come back convinced of the importance of the Dalcroze method. Students from every foreign country are to be found working with Dalcroze. Schools for training in eurhythmics have been running successfully for several years in Paris and London. There are already three Dalcroze teachers in America — one in Chicago, one at Bryn Mawr College, and one in New York. Next year M. Dalcroze expects to come to America to lecture.
NOTE, in explanation of the A B C of the Dalcroze method, with special reference to the illustrations on the opposite page
From experiments with musicians Dalcroze tried experiments with children. First using only the head and arms to express rhythm, he later added the movements of the feet. He soon threw over completely the old method of teaching music to a child by means of an instrument. Instead he began the study of music by a careful and experimental teaching of movements for the feet and arms and head, to express time values, and these might be called the alphabet of the Dalcroze method. These elementary movements have first to be mastered in order to work out the interpretation of more and more elaborate music. At first the arms beat the time, whether it be 2/4, or 5/4, or 6/4, etc. The quarter note forms the unit on which the rhythmic work is built. So for the value of every quarter note there is an equivalent arm movement. For instance, in 2/4 time the hands drop down to the side and then swing above the head; for 3/4 time the arms go down beside the body on the first beat, then out to the sides on the second beat, and above the head on the third or final beat. In 4/4 time one more movement is inserted; the first movement is again arms down to the sides, the second is arms crossed in front, the third movement is arms out to each side, and the fourth movement is arms above the head again. This series of beating time is elaborated, always one more movement being added to the series as the time increases to 5/4, 6/4, etc., up to 12/4 time. A glance at the illustrations will make this idea clearer. Figure No. 1 shows a variation of the first movement in any time. Figure No. 2 shows the second position in 4/4 time. And Figure No. 4 shows the final position in any time. Following the illustrations in the order of Nos. 1, 3, 2, 4, the four positions show the consecutive order of the movements in 4/4 time. No. 5 is a somewhat freer interpretation in which the movement of the body expresses note duration while the arms express the time; and No. 6 is the fourth position of the arms when beating 6/4 time. Note duration is expressed by the forward movement of the feet and the body. A quarter note, the length of an average step forward, forms the unit. Eighth notes are stepped rapidly, half the length of the quarter note, and sixteenth notes are so short that they become light running steps. A half note is held double the time of a quarter note; the first quarter note value is expressed by a step, the second by a bend of the knee. A dotted half note is represented by three movements — a step forward with one foot and two movements with the other. A whole note in 4/4 time is shown by a step forward with one foot and three movements of the feet. If the whole note occurs in 5/4 time, it is expressed by five movements of the feet; if in 6/4, by six movements, etc. — M.N.