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The Contemporary Context of Gurdjieff’s Movements

In: Religion and the Arts
Author:
Carole M. Cusack University of Sydney

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The “sacred dances” or “Movements” were first revealed by George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (c. 1866–1949) in 1919 in Tiflis (Tblisi), the site of the first foundation of his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. The proximate cause of this new teaching technique has been hypothesized to be Jeanne de Salzmann (1889–1990), an instructor of the Eurhythmics method of music education developed by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865–1950). Jeanne and her husband Alexandre met at Jaques-Dalcroze’s Institute at Hellerau in 1913, and became pupils of Gurdjieff in 1919. It was to her Dalcroze class that Gurdjieff first taught Movements. Esoteric systems of dance and musical education proliferated at the time. Gurdjieff was deeply interested in music, theater, and art. When Pyotr Demianovich Ouspensky (1878–1947) met him in 1915 he spoke of dances he had seen in Eastern temples, and was working on a never-performed ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians. This article argues that body-based disciplines introduced by esoteric teachers with Theosophically-inflected systems are a significant phenomenon in the early twentieth century and that Gurdjieff’s Movements, while distinct from other dance systems, emerged in the same esoteric melting-pot and manifest common features and themes with the esoteric dance of Rudolf Steiner, Rudolf von Laban, Peter Deunov, and others.

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