Back to Articles Home
Gurdjieff Movements - Some Comments
It is quite natural that there is very little in writing about the Gurdjieff Movements & the Sacred Dances; after all the music and the Movements are to be heard and moved to, and the written word can only be a theoretical study of the ideas that they have as their basis.
The Initiation of a Priestess. Theatre des Champs-Elysees, 1923
I got to know in practice of the Movements when I moved to London in 1967 to join the Gurdjieff Work. The previous year, when visiting, I had seen some of them shown to me by a friend of Mr. Stanley Nott; I had been in correspondence with Mr. Nott for a couple of years. The 'show' took place after I insisted that I need to see what is waiting for me (there were no films or videos available at that time, like there are today).
The Swiss Connections
During the four years I lived in London I went once a week to Mrs. Rosemary Nott's Movements classes. Mrs. Nott, then Miss Lillard, had met Gurdjieff in 1922 while she was a student of the Swiss Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950), some time before she met her future husband Stanley Nott. She was Gurdjieff's first American student and apart from a teacher of the Movements also a music teacher. In her classes we were instructed in the Movements, while simultaneously the pianist playing for us was also learning under her guidance.
Gurdjieff had already in 1914 advertised his ballet "The Struggle of the Magicians" and started to teach the Movements around 1918 in the Caucasus. The first public demonstrations were staged in 1919 in Tiflis and followed up in the early twenties in Paris and New York.
Madame Jeanne de Salzmann, who established and also directed the Institut Gurdjieff in Paris until her death at the age of 101 in 1990, met Gurdjieff in Tiflis.
Jeanne de Salzmann was born to a Swiss-French Allemand family and studied piano, composition, and orchestral conducting at the Conservatory of Geneva. Like Rosemary Lillard she was a pupil of Jaques-Dalcroze, who had an institute of the arts devoted to music, dance, and theater in Germany in 1912. The Dalcroze Method is known as Eurhythmics (not to be confused with Eurhythmy, which is associated with Rudolf Steiner). In 1919 Alexandre and Jeanne Salzmann lived in Tiflis, where Jeanne had a school of dance and music.
A third important woman in the Gurdjieff Movements scene and with a connection to Jaques-Dalcroze was Jessmin Howarth, Gurdjieff's first English student. The Swiss Jeanne de Salzmann taught in France, the American Rosemary Nott taught in England and the English Jessmin Howarth taught in America.
This division reflects also the official organizations for the Gurdjieff work: Institut Gurdjieff, Paris; Gurdjieff Society of London and Gurdjieff Foundation, New York. Recently these have got an umbrella organization in Geneva. It is important to preserve the teaching, while at the same time it is necessary to offer it to those who can use it.
What Are the Movements
George Gurdjieff was born in the Caucasus with an Armenian mother and a Greek father. Although one of the houses he lived in in his youth has recently been 'discovered', we do not know exactly when he was born. The suggested birthdates are 1866, 1872 and 1877. He died in Paris in 1949.
Gurdjieff started teaching his 'Fourth Way' in 1912. He wanted to be remembered as 'a teacher of dancing' and in this way he indicated the importance of the Movements and the dances in his teaching.
Gurdjieff's teaching has been called 'a school for attention'. The Movements are directly related to the development and training of attention.
All processes take place in the body; they can take place with or without attention, with or without consciousness, with or without "I".
Gurdjieff knew already when he started teaching that the development of consciousness can not take place without work on the body. Through this began later a new research and development of the various methods now available incorporating his ideas.
Some of the Movements require the participants to move from one place to another making one set of movements with the head, another set in another rhythm with the hands and a third one with the feet, and at the same time saying aloud some words or sentences or counting.
Taking part in a Movements class will show very quickly the level of my attention. In other words it will show me something of myself and, when used in the right way, it can lead towards self-knowledge.
Gurdjieff's idea is the 'harmonious development of man" by which he meant the simultaneous development of our centers that initiate thoughts, feelings and movements.
There are some 250-300 different Movements in circulation. Jessmin Howarth's daughter Dushka, an experienced Movements teacher herself, recently pointed out that not all these Movements are such that Gurdjieff wanted them to be taught further. Gurdjieff often, after working a whole day on a Movement, said: "Never this again!"
This is rather problematic today as the Movements have been taught to persons and by persons who have not always a natural ability to do them exactly and no knowledge of which of the Movements were accepted by Gurdjieff as suitable to be exercised.
Other questions about the Movements are if they should be taught without prior knowledge of Gurdjieff's ideas and if they can be taught without the support of an established group.
One can get very different answers to these questions depending on who one asks. The only way to find out is to use Gurdjieff's own advice: "Never believe, verify!" One has to find out for oneself.
There are different series of movements, starting with the six 'Obligatories'. There is a second series of obligatories, Tibetan dances, Pythagorean dances, Greek movements, dervish dances, dances based on the Enneagram, rituals, special womens' movements , work movements, prayer movements and others.
How to Find Them?
Switzerland has had a connection through various people and organizations with the Gurdjieff Work for a long time. I moved to Amden, St. Gallen, 2004 in June and visiting the local tourist office opened a book dealing with a man called Josiah Klein, who lived about 100 meters from where I now live. He was going to establish Paradise in Amden, but was apparently hindered by the war and so on. To my surprise up came a whole page picture of Gurdjieff taken when he arrived in New York in 1924 for the Movements demonstrations.
The same picture reappeared a couple of months later in Paul Beekman Taylor's new book "Gurdjieff's America". Paul Taylor is Professor Emeritus of the University of Geneva and lives in Geneva.
There are active Gurdjieff groups related to the Institut Gurdjieff, Paris, and the Gurdjieff Society of London in Geneva and Zürich. These groups have the Movements included in their programs.
Mrs. Rosemary Nott gave me the details of Lizelle Reymond in Geneva, who I visited in 1979. Miss Reymond had spent a long time in the Himalayas with her teacher Sri Anirvan, who adviced her to get in touch with the Gurdjieff organization when she returned 'to the Swiss Himalayas'. She got in contact with Jeanne de Salzmann and started the group in Zürich.
My partner Agnes Hidveghy tells how the Zürich activities started in the beginning of the seventies by Gabi Patak, a pupil of Dr. Maurice Nicoll, who is well known for his over 2000 pages of Psychological Commentaries on Gurdjieff's teachings. The Movements were then provided by the Amersfort group in England.
In the early eighties the Zürich group got a place for practical work and for the Movements in Stettfurt, the same house that last year became the center for ars sacra Life Workshop. The Gurdjieff Movements are now back in the same studio after some 15 years.
In ars sacra we have been careful in choosing our contacts for the Movements instruction. Having started in 2004 with Alexandra Kharitonova we had to accept that it is not possible to get a visa from Russia to teach the Movements in Switzerland; it is a strange world! We have been lucky and through Vim van Dullemen came into contact with and are now working together with Maja Möser-Thimm from Germany. Maja's first experiences with the Movements were in the Summer school at Sherbourne in 1972 with John Wilkinson, with whom she studied for many years. In the Bennett school in Sherbourne Maja learned also Movements with Michael Sutton and Vivien and Pierre Elliott.
Later Maja's teachers included another one of our contacts - the Dutch director of the Movements Foundation in Berlin, Mr. Wim van Dullemen, who is doing valuable work with his research into the Movements and the music of Gurdjieff. Wim studied with Madame Solange Claustres, Paris, for 15 years. He was a professional musician before starting to play for the Movements. Van Dullemen has built a center for his teaching in Berlin.
Public Performance of Movements in Amsterdam 2002
It is interesting to note that in at least two Christian churches in the U.S. the Movements are now taught regularly. Movements are also taught now within a Swiss Church. What Gurdjieff started to teach in the West in 1912 is steadily reaching more people, often in the form of the Movements. His influence for better understanding of the message in different spiritual traditions, often not seen, is far reaching.
Photos courtesy Wim van Dullemen - Gurdjieff Movements Net