Thursday, June 25, 2015

Going the speed of the body- InterPlay at the Atlanta Pretrial Detention Center

By Jennifer Denning

Incrementality is a powerful tool. In a world that often goes too fast for my body, it is reassuring and affirming to remember that InterPlay recognizes and values the wisdom of small steps. Yes, sometimes we need to leap, but much of our day-to-day accomplishments happen step by little step.

InterPlay at the Atlanta Pretrial Detention Center keeps me grounded in those little steps. While some of the women awaiting trial are open to full body play, many are not. We breathe. We allow. We pause. We put a hand in the air and move it (or not). We walk. We stop. We run. AND.... we sit! During one of our first sessions one of the women in our class was very hesitant to move, so we put two chairs in the circle and said, "Okay, you can sit. In this space you don't have to do anything you don't want to do." And so our song played, and we all played around with walking, stopping, running and sitting. And then....the same woman who did not want to move started singing.

There is a magic in allowing. As a teacher I often desire certain outcomes. There is a part of me that thinks the freer someone is being the better I am doing my job. But who am I to say what freedom looks like for anyone but myself? Who am I to say when it is appropriate for anyone to feel safe enough to be free? I work on my own freedom. Freedom from expectation. Freedom from equating my own self worth with what anyone does or doesn't do in my presence.

Atlanta InterPlay leader, Christine Gautreaux and I play with our shadows outside the detention center. The picture on the sidewalk includes this wing and words such as, "mother, father, cousin, wife..."

I am grateful to bring InterPlay to the women at the Atlanta Pretrial Detention Center. I know I learn as much from being with them as they learn from me. To find freedom within the confines of detention is a courageous thing.  Many of our participants are shackled during our sessions.What would my state of being be like in the same circumstances? Would I also find moments of laughter and joy? Would I trust these unknown women coming in to "play" with me?

Step by little step we are getting to know each other in different ways. We share simple stories about our favorite candy, rain and flowers; we dance for people who are on our mind; we use our voices and bang on a drum; we move the speed of our own bodies.

Monday, June 22, 2015

InterPlay, Father’s Day & Summer Solstice: Ritual enhanced by play

SUMMER SOLSTICE. How does the sun on this longest day of the year illuminate your life? What would you like to grow this summer? Where will you go with this solar power? (art by Ruth Schowalter)
By Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader, MS Applied Linguistics and ESL

InterPlay has beauty and elegance! Its principles and forms allow for a myriad of ways to be implemented. Ritualizing the events in our lives is one of those ways.

Yesterday, Sunday, June 21st, 2015, was both Father’s Day and the Summer Solstice. As a rather newly certified leader, I have been experimenting with developing ritual around the solstices using InterPlay, and yesterday was my third solstice event here in Atlanta, Georgia.

Thinking about how to create symbolic actions—or ritual—to honor TIME (the seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall) as they pass is simplified with InterPlay forms for telling stories, moving, singing, or being still.  In addition to InterPlay forms, the Internet has numerous sites that offer the significance of these solstices and ceremonies enacted over the centuries.

So my task was to take elements like the sun, solar energy, the longest day, and fire and to elicit meaning. For example, the sun could represent “consciousness” and solar energy might symbolize “generation” or “regeneration.” Once the meaning was established, then all I had to do was choose InterPlay forms to play with!

It was perfect that the Summer Solstice fell on Father’s Day! The sun symbolizes a kind of masculine energy! So the group of women only that I had assembled to ritualize this solstice began with babbling about our father’s, who they were, what we learned from them and what they might say to us now.  Then we danced on our fathers' behalf.

Afterwards, we considered what kind of solar, masculine energy we had in ourselves and what we would like to generate or regenerate as Summer 2015 unfolds in our lives. We told stories. We witnessed. We danced. We wrote down our desires and….

DANCING WITH THE "RING OF FIRE." How special it was that Cecilia Kane, a visitor from Vermont, was able to join us. A writer, visual and performance artist, she was happy to jump in and dance with her desires playing with the "ring of fire." (photo by Ruth Schowalter)

….and tied these “desires” to the “ring of fire”—a pink hoola hoop. Oh! Each one of us had the opportunity to dance with “ring of fire,” while Joyce Kinnard, a member of the InterPlay Atlanta community, played her guitar. Then we danced together with the “sun wheel,” each of us holding onto it and moving like energy waves and light, weaving in and out of the hoop, connecting, laughing, and surprising ourselves as we created ritual for this longest day of the year in our Atlanta community.

How to bring such an evening of summer celebration of solar light and fathers to an end? Flowers! We created headdresses, scarves and bouquets from carnations, lit candles and walked to the park next door to my Decatur condo community. We created a flower altar, our offering to the Earth, and danced under the open sky with the crescent moon looking on. The trees witnessed us and the cicadas and crickets chirped. The humid Georgia night was slightly cooled by a breeze which touched our cheeks and stirred our hair. The trees talked too whispering about a full leafy summer.

FLOWER HEADDRESSES, SCARVES, AND BOUQUETS. A handful of us stayed until darkness had befallen the long hot, humid Atlanta day to make flower adornments and to journey outside to make a flower altar. Notice our desires tied to the "fire wheel"!

We blew out the remaining burning candle truly feeling we had celebrated the longest day of 2015 and welcomed the summer while creating opportunities to cultivate our deepest desires.

Wishing us all light, joy, and abundance as the summer opens out before us. May our desires become manifest! Thank you InterPlay!

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.