Thursday, June 4, 2015

“Having It All” With Elders: My First Time Facilitating InterPlay with Seniors

by Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader, MS Applied Linguistics and ESL
The Oliver House is a new facility in downtown Decatur, Georgia, walking distance from my home. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
In the first week of June, I had the privilege of bringing InterPlay to the Oliver House, a new housing community for the Elderly in my own town of Decatur, Georgia. In fact, I was able to walk there, toting my music laden I-pad and speaker in my backpack!

As a fairly new certified InterPlay leader, I find it exhilarating to facilitate this grace-making improvisational system in different settings with diverse people. Thus far, some of the unusual populations I have InterPlayed with include Brazilian educators, Chinese business graduate students majoring in Quantitative and Computational Finance, American first-year college students in an animal tracking class, advanced level environmental science majors beside a Georgia marsh, artists in the Women’s Caucus for Arts at a potluck, as well as Mexican professionals at an Atlanta hotel.

Facilitating InterPlay for the Elderly at Oliver House offered me yet another new and exciting population to explore the components of “having it all” (body, mind, heart, and spirit together) through embodied play. Inexperienced in working with Elders, I was concerned about adjusting the InterPlay forms to meet any needs these Seniors might have. But then I felt reassured because of the beauty of the InterPlay principles!

We invite participants to move at the speed of their bodies--that is, to make choices about what movements to participate in and to adjust any movement so that it is appropriate for their body. We even say it is a good choice to be still.

So there I was equipped with this InterPlay philosophy, meeting eight women in the Oliver House community room bursting with curiosity to find out what InterPlay was! They enjoy the crocheting, gardening, and Afridance activities on other days, so they felt positive about finding out about InterPlay!
InterPlay Participants at the Oliver House community room in Decatur, Georgia, June 2015. (photo by Ruth Schowalter)
Oh did we have meaningful fun! Going around introducing ourselves, saying what we could talk about and finding movements our bodies what to make surprised everyone in what they learned about themselves and others. After the movement warm up there was more surprise expressed. Someone said she felt less stiff, and two others noticed it felt good to move their knees. One thing I noticed and especially enjoyed were the loud repeated “yes’s” everyone proclaimed so joyfully when we relaxed over our knees and nodded our heads “yes.” There was a lot of positivity in the room at that moment.

Storytelling was a big success too! Babbling about strawberries, watermelon, summer movies and vacation brought everyone a little closer. One pair discovered they had a lot in common. All of us lingered over how much we liked strawberries. The permission to talk without being logical or organized or even on the topic was met with a lot of approval. Easy focus, releasing the need to concentrate, was practiced—wheee…!

After we had played around with expanding our speaking range from slow to fast and using enthusiasm on mundane topics like washing clothes and describing our closets, I introduced the InterPlay form of the “big body story.” I sensed that they were not ready for more active movement at this time, and I knew a big body story would give them the opportunity to use their physicality without exerting themselves.

What is a big body story? The storyteller gets to move around the room, use her hands, and whatever else she needs to tell the story. It can be a great way for the storyteller to communicate ideas nonverbally—letting her body wisdom speak.

Well! I asked the Elders what topic they would like their big body story to be about, and they agreed on "weight." (Was it just a coincidence that big body story and weight seem to have a shared meaning if the facilitator didn’t explain this form correctly?) Anyways, everyone seemed to be finished talking in pairs and wanted to tell their big body story about weight to the entire group and not just their partner.

Oh the stories were interesting, devastating, and heart warming! The storytellers moved in their own expressive way. Everyone got applause!

I concluded our time together with "shape and stillness." Before beginning this lovely meditative InterPlay form, I asked them “who” or “what” they would like to dance on behalf of, offering a person in their lives, themselves, a particular situation, the Earth….They unanimously agreed to move on behalf of themselves!

Listening to Bobby McFerrin’s song, “Common Threads,” we formed the shapes our bodies wanted to create and held them in stillness until we felt ready to make a new shape. We did this in community with one another, some times being close, some times moving away.

My first InterPlay session with Elders ended in 60 minutes rather than the planned 90 minutes. We were finished. All of us felt it. I had gone slower than I had imagined I would need to. One Elder asked when I would be back. I hope I will be invited to return. They would love a one-hand dance and so much more!

Acknowledgments: Thanks as always to Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for InterPlay! I greatly appreciate Myguail Chappel from the DeKalb County Public Library Administrative Center, for giving me the opportunity to bring InterPlay to these Elders at Oliver House. I also am in gratitude to the Atlanta Regional Commission, which hosted Anne Basting for their 2015 Aging Forum here in Atlanta on June 2. Her work on the arts and aging is phenomenal.

1 comment:

  1. I know it was a special time for all. Hope it will become a regular session for you and the seniors.