Alicia Santacroce, Eurythmy, Waldorf Schools and Rudolf Steiner


Students at a Waldorf School in Sebastopol learn eurythmy with copper rods.

Wendy Hammarstrom

One of the fascinating things about Fallbrook I noticed since my first day here is the abundance of wise and creative women of all ages, each with their own story to tell.

I recently met Alicia Santacroce, who is in her mid-80s and has the spirit and grace of a young woman. Known by many for her goat cheese with the garlic and herbs she grows, much of her time is taken up with her anthroposophy studies based on the work of Rudolf S

teiner.

The first time I met her she told me about eurythmy, or the New Art of Movement, brought into the world by Rudolf Steiner and his wife, Maria. I assured her I knew about eurythmy from my days as a dance student at Temple University. She assured me that it takes years to learn and know it.

As I watched her demonstrate her interpretations of the alphabet, I was transported to another place and time. She performed the letters of the alphabet, starting with the vowels and ending with the consonants, seated in her chair as she had recently broken her ankle. Her seated position in no way detracted from her grace and fluency, and I could easily picture her eurythmy movement through space.

Santacroce is the granddaughter of famous evangelical preacher Aime Semple McPherson and was raised in Los Angeles, surrounded by this world. After leaving home, she had two daughters. When she began exploring Waldorf schools for her daughter Heidi, she became fascinated by eurythmy and was so intrigued that she traveled to Switzerland to study at the Goetheanum, the Anthroposophical Society's artistic center.

After several years, she completed her training to become an eurythmist. She taught in Edinburgh, Chicago, New Mexico, California, New York and Detroit. She has performed in New Mexico, Santa Rosa and Marin County.

After returning to Los Angeles to care for her father, she eventually moved to Fallbrook in 1999, wanting to live in a place surrounded by nature.

I participated in a mini eurythmy class, along with Barbara Findler who introduced Santacroce to me, at her home center in a verdant valley in east Fallbrook. Walking to the classroom, or the "great room" as she calls it, we passed native plants, flowers, fruit trees and artwork which was welcoming and soothing to the senses, similar to the feeling one gets in a Waldorf School environment.

As her students, Findler and I experienced many of the movements representing letters of the alphabet that are used in eurythmy classes, therapy and performances. Not unlike tai chi, the movements are simple and often tranquil, and one is relaxed simply from observing.

We learned some exercises using copper rods that are used in Waldorf School eurythmy classes to help students become more aware of themselves in space, more left and right brain balanced, and ambidextrous.

As children work with copper rods they learn about geometry, creating two- and three-dimensional shapes. According to one Waldorf student I talked to, copper rod exercises were his favorites. Unfortunately, his school does not offer eurythmy presently, and he said he misses the relaxed feeling he got from it.

Before students study the laws of geometrical forms, they gain a vital experience of them in movement – walking and running in squares, circles, pentagons, pentagrams, etc. It is a kind of golden rule in Steiner schools that learning begins with movement and, in this respect, eurythmy can be the interpreter of many subjects in the curriculum.

As I tossed a copper rod to Santacroce on my right, Findler simultaneously tossed one to me from the left. We experienced this first with eyes open, then closed. It required sensitivity to the space around us, to the energy of the people around us, an ability to receive and give at the same time, and trust. These are all important for learning to work with another person and a group.

In fact, one aspect of eurythmy is therapy. Therapeutic eurythmy is claimed to bring about a reintegration of body, mind and spirit. When Santacroce worked with the developmentally challenged in Scotland and Chicago, she found that her students experienced improved balance and calm.

According to The Association for Therapeutic Eurythmy in North America, therapeutic eurythmy is currently practiced in hospitals, clinics, centers for special education, schools and medical practices throughout the world.

Conditions treated include: ADHD, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression, emotional issues, learning difficulties, stress and fatigue and trauma recovery.

Eurythmy dates from 1912 when Austrian-born scientist, philosopher and artist Rudolf Steiner was asked if it was possible to bring new impulses to the existing arts of movement. Eurythmy predates modern dance and, of all modern dance forms, resembles Isadora Duncan's style and use of flowing costumes the most.

Steiner called speech eurythmy "the art of visible speech" and tone eurythmy, its sister art, "the art of visible song." Eurythmy has a beauty similar to that of hearing-impaired signing except that it extends to the whole body and is often slower moving.

During a performance, one person may read a poem or story while one or more dancers creates movements based on letters, words or mood.

The letter "S" may be danced as a snake or serpentine movement, or a star. "L" may be a lifting, liquid movement or represent light, love, life or limberness."R" could be a rolling movement. "B" could represent bark, baby, blue, bone, bottom, etc. The sound of an "A" is open due to the position of the articulators during the vowel. A "K" sounds sharper due to the manner of articulation of the consonant.

Performances can be accompanied by the spoken word or music.

Waldorf schools place equal emphasis on intellectual, artistic and practical skills in an integrated and holistic manner. In Waldorf education, the nature connection is also about showing children the natural rhythms of life and revealing our kinship with all living things.

It is about careful observation and about stewardship and understanding our place as humans collectively and as individuals who take care of the natural realm.

Locally, Willow Tree School on Reche Road and Rock Rose on East Mission are the closest to Waldorf schools in the Fallbrook area. But these movement forms are not limited to children.

In fact, when practicing eurythmy exercises in a chair, I thought what a nice complement it is to chair yoga for the less mobile. Although it looks effortless, it requires and builds strength.

Also, many of the copper rod exercises are great for circulation and flexibility of the hands and wrists. Participants also benefit from the enhanced circulation due to the healing component in copper.

Anthroposophical medicine does not regard illness as a chance occurrence or mechanical breakdown but rather as something intimately connected to the biography of a human being.

Or as Rudolf Steiner said, "A real medicine can only exist when it penetrates into a knowledge which embraces the human being in respect to body, soul and spirit."

I look forward to learning more about eurythmy, biodynamic gardening and anthroposophy and to observing a master at work, while delighting in her peaceful and beautiful haven.

For more information you can email her at asanta32@yahoo.com.

Wendy Hammarstrom has been practicing, teaching and writing about bodywork since 1976. Her book, "Circles of Healing, The Complete Guide to Healing with Massage and Yoga for Practitioners, Caregivers, Students and Clients" is available on Amazon or http://www.circlesofhealingbook1.com.

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