Friday, February 7, 2014

Atlanta InterPlay September 2013: THE RACE DANCE

THE RACE DANCE. In September 2013, Atlanta InterPlay hosted Soyinka Rahim, an InterPlay leader from California, to facilitate "The Race Dance." The workshop took place in Little Five Points Community Center. (photo by Stell Simonton)
Soyinka Rahim and “The Race Dance: Exploring Connections and Actions”

Interview by Ruth Schowalter (Atlanta InterPlay social media facilitator)

On a cool breezy September day in Decatur, Georgia, I met with two InterPlay leaders, Soyinka Rahim, visiting from California, and Jennifer Denning, Atlanta resident, to discuss the “Race Dance: Exploring Connections and Actions,” the workshop Soyinka had facilitated the night before at the Little Five Points Community Center.
Jennifer Denning and Soyinka Rahim (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Ruth Schowalter: Who are you in relationship to InterPlay?

Soyinka Rahim: I’m a passionate InterPlay leader, performer, friend, and facilitator. I hold the space for people to explore their authentic expressions through play on any topic.

Jennifer Denning:  I’m an InterPlay leader who is passionate about the joy, freedom, and transformative power that can be found through the InterPlay forms.

Ruth Schowalter: How did the “Race Dance: Exploring Connections and Actions” workshop develop?

Soyinka Rahim:  Lots of different things happened to arrive at this discussion about race and racism. It began with the Oakland company, Wing It, using the InterPlay form to explore cultural diversity and race. One of the InterPlay co-founders, Cynthia Winton-Henry, and I decided to develop a way to have the “race dances.”

I thought what a great thing for me, an InterPlay leader, and the co-founder, Cynthia, two big spirited women, one Black and one White, to hold the space for the race dance.

Soyinka Rahim
In InterPlay, we have reached back to some ancient community building tools to support the discussion of race and racism so people can explore their own stories. Through InterPlay, we get “sneaky deep.”  Explorations of race and racism could be a really sticky and heavy place to play, but since we are using playful tools people are allowed some air space to view their own experience.

Ruth Schowalter: How did this particular InterPlay workshop on race get to Atlanta?

Soyinka Rahim: I’ve been living a nomadic life. I go where I am asked. I’ve asked to go wherever I am summoned. I will bring InterPlay to corporate development and to seniors’ wisdom conversations. I imagine an InterPlay workshop where there are seniors and children interacting.

Well as far as getting to Atlanta, I was doing InterPlay in Pittsburgh with friends of mine who were attending a Black Wellness Women’s Conference at Spelman College, and they invited me to co-facilitate with them.

I have been very interested in having people of color explore the InterPlay tools. What a joy it was for me and so powerful to share the InterPlay forms with the Black women at the conference. And I look forward to holding a space for Black boys and men to explore the InterPlay forms.

Jennifer Denning: Once I knew that Soyinka was coming to Atlanta, we discussed what she would like to bring to our community. I had heard of “The Race Dance” work she and Cynthia were facilitating and was curious about that. We quickly discerned that this was the right workshop for her to bring to Atlanta.
Promotion for The Race Dance in Atlanta
Ruth Schowalter: Can you discuss what you witnessed or experienced at last night’s workshop on race and racism?

Jennifer Denning: I witnessed the feeling that we barely scratched the surface. We have so much to say on this topic of race, and so much needs to be healed—myself included. We need some help having healthy interactions and making sure we are moving forward in the world.

I saw a hunger for more discussion. There were lots of questions emerging. I appreciated how the InterPlay structure kept the discussion and interactions “safe” and gave everyone the freedom to express themselves. I think the way InterPlay allows you to speak about a topic like racism and move it through your body in play, song, and movement is a really healthy way to engage in this difficult topic.

Oh, and one more thing! It was so interesting to see that photo (The group photo taken at the end of the workshop) and how everyone is so happy!  That photo is such an affirmation of the work. People are glowing even though we had just experienced a sticky and intense subject.

Soyinka Rahim: Bibo (Soyinka’s mantra which means “breathe in, breath out)! I experienced a hungriness and a willingness. People were open to exploring their own stories, willing to share their own experience, not knowing what racism is to them, and witnessing racism in a bigger picture.

I noticed a very incremental relaxation happen from the time people walked in the room not knowing what was going to happen to becoming totally transparent. I saw the fear, sadness, hurt, pain, and frustration in the room, all of which are valid. That is why it is necessary to hold spaces for the race dance.

I noticed how beautiful the dance was. It was magical. People surrendered to the shape and stillness and the movement, then a transparency appeared.

Jennifer Denning: I felt the “leaning” (an action in an InterPlay form where participants run, walk, stop, and lean on one or more people) was particularly rich for me. There was support in the leaning, and I felt very open through that with folks I knew and didn’t know.  

Soyinka Rahim:  I read some of the surveys (participants answered a survey at the end of the workshop). The time we had for the workshop wasn’t enough. People needed more time. There were so many more forms I wanted to explore. This particular race dance workshop is screaming for an “untensive” (InterPlay language for a two-three day InterPlay workshop).

Ruth Schowalter: Have you done InterPlay workshops in Atlanta before? Will you come back?

Soyinka Rahim: I haven’t done InterPlay in Atlanta before. I would love to be able to hold the space for people to explore whatever the topic may be. I am honored at this time in my life to hold the space for the race dance for others to explore. Now is the time for shifting the energy, with all of the killing and the stop-and-frisk laws. We need to start sharing our stories and seeing that these types of things don’t happen any more.  I look forward to returning to and collaborating with the Atlanta InterPlayers.

Ruth Schowalter: Jennifer, you and Debra Weir have been holding InterPlay workshops in Atlanta since 2008. Do you see Atlanta InterPlay doing future workshops exploring race and racism?

Jennifer Denning: Yes I do. There is a desire for more. I think Atlanta is ready for it. Possibly, we may offer something in the summer 2014 or next fall. Soyinka and I definitely see a one-day event or maybe an untensive (two-three days). We will see.

Ruth Schowalter: Why InterPlay?

Soyinka Rahim:  InterPlay has reached back to some ancient community building tools, and it is time for us to use these tools to reconnect the human heart and hold the consciousness for people to reawaken to the truth of humanity and choose to have our fundamental needs met. No longer can we remain silent and isolated.

Like “Sankofa” we must return to the past in order to move forward. So let us dance, sing, tell our stories, and celebrate the past, present, and the future.

Jennifer Denning:  When Soyinka talks about InterPlay being ancient, it calls to my mind one of the first forms I did with InterPlay. We held hands in a circle and sang a simple improvised chant. I felt I was reconnecting to a very old way of being that my spirit had sorely missed. Accessing my voice, my body, my story in community creates such joy and open-heartedness.

I think that we can all benefit from having that creative connection. I love that InterPlay is a common language, and that beyond Atlanta, we have a larger circle of InterPlay players and anyone of us can drop into these forms wherever there is a InterPlay group. As an InterPlay teacher, there is support I get from knowing that there other kindred spirits out there.

Ruth Schowalter: What does Atlanta need to know about InterPlay?

Jennifer Denning: I would like to see Atlanta grow InterPlay so that every night of the week there is a different teacher offering his/her “flavor” of InterPlay. There are so many communities that could be enlivened.

Soyinka Rahim
Soyinka Rahim: Atlanta needs to create its own InterPlay performance group.  For example, Pittsburgh has A Wing & a Prayer, Oakland has Wing It, Raleigh has Off the Deep End, and Minneapolis has Soul Play (see a list of the InterPlay performance groups HERE). What is the name of the InterPlay performance group for Atlanta?

Jennifer Denning: (Nodding enthusiastically) Yes, I would like to see Atlanta have its own InterPlay performance group! What should we call it?

 See another interview about "The Race Dance" with Soyinka Rahim in Atlanta, HERE.

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