Imagine that we're gathered around the ritual fire in preparation for the year's final hunt. The one that will sustain us through the long and barren winter. The spirit leader, presides, she sings dances, paints images of our prey on the cave wall and tells stories of past hunts.
Our survival depends upon the success of the work we all do together with this dancer poet, singer, storyteller, healer, alchemist, teacher, our liaison to the spirits, working for the community and its practical relationship with the gods.red circle is to join us all [:
Over the past four decades, this episode's guest, Cynthia Winton-Henry, and the worldwide community, she and her collaborator, Phil Porter, have helped to grow, have sparked a reconvening of the circle of dance and song, and story that animated and nurtured the nascent human community, we just visited.
Now, she likes to say this movement, called Interplay, was a spontaneous manifestation and well, I'm sure there's some truth to that. But, as is often the case, there is much more to this story, as you will hear in what follows.
Part One: Body and Soul
So where are you calling from,[:
And I honor those ancestral peoples, their struggle and, our collective struggle to return to them, their, the lands, and their birthrights.[:
Right here the hardest question that I ask almost anybody is the following: How do you describe what you do in the world?[:
And I am also a dancer by training. So, my worldview is deeply influenced by perceptions around movement moving life. I'm a theologian. My history of curiosity has been largely about body and soul, and I'm also somebody who's deeply interested and delighted by healthy human designs, practices and patterns of human behavior that seem to create connection, and health, and a general sense of being hooked up with everything.[:
[00:03:50] CW-H: Yeah. my, my feet are firmly planted in physicality. So, by that I'm always curious to see where my body is and [00:04:00] where bodies are as the starting point. So, I'm really interested and have, I think, I'm under an instruction about remembering and relearning earth-based spirituality, practice design. I find deep resonance with ways that respect earth and come from, how do we design in harmony? Yeah.[:
[00:04:33] CW-H: So, I, I wanna say that I'm the co-founder of Interplay, which is now going on, between 30 and 40 years of practice. And that was rooted in, first being in a dance company called Body and Soul Dance Company in my twenties and early thirties, where I met my colleague, Phil Porter.blic high school. So, I just [:
And it was about congregational dancing and had a Snoopy on the front doing a happy dance. So, it wasn't like this really deep, profound stuff. It was like Snoopy. But the fact that these people saw me in high school, Bill is, I still am in awe of that, when mentors see you. And so, I came into [00:06:00] this through people seeing me and seeing some kind of question that I wasn't able to articulate.
And eventually at UCLA, and the Dance Department, I was asking these questions in such a way that it led to two profound things. And one was, my draw to an exhibit called African Art in Motion. And that museum exhibit was a very alive thing and it caused me to want to go to West Africa to, to be in a place where people did remember art in motion.
And the other thing that happened was that I read Ruth St. Dennis's book, because I asked my teacher, my dance history teacher, “What happened to the dancing body and soul.” And she was like… this is not a time when you were talking about soul in the seventies in, in colleges, and she handed me this book by Ruth St. Denis as one of the founders of Modern Dancer.zarre, wonderful experience, [:
And I asked, after this was happening, I was like, just wanted to serve that. I asked, “Wow, how can I serve this love, this thing?” And what I heard was, “We'll hold dance and religion together.” And I was like, okay, I'm in UCLA dance department. I wasn't adverse, but I was also a questioner and always have been of religion.
That led me to seminary, and that led me to Body and Soul Dance Company, and that led me to Phil Porter, and to then, trying to weave a path out of questions that only a few people seemed to be asking at that time.[:
[00:08:03] CW-H: Unusually, at Pacific School of Religion at the time, where this man Doug Adams was, I happened to fall in at a unique point in its history where it was, this is like just post-sixties, seventies and eighties, and people starting to re reflect on more experiential forms of learning, right?h. So, this deeper stream of [:
Yes, it was very supportive. I found my mentor, I found, I found colleagues, I found other artists at this time. That has since waned, because this is a place where some of the movements around LGLBTQ, wisdom, around spirituality took root in a number of theological centers in our country. And that, plus the clashes of white Western methods and racism, it's like a very hard conversation in these places to be from a lineage, and yet, in a shock about the lineage.s a liberatory body, I could [:
[00:10:14] BC: Mm-hmm. So, it just occurs to me that to withdraw is as powerful a spiritual act as it is to basically give yourself up to up a spiritual practice. It's, in essence, integrity is at the, has to be at the core of all those relationships. And so that must have been hard and, and I can imagine it also fed what you did after that.[:
It was painful. It was a kind of a divorce that I went through. I didn't just withdraw. I went through a process. I spoke to people. I was in a circle, and I told them what I was doing, and asked them to agree to it. And I found that, some accompaniment with, with some former ministers who were black and, other people that couldn't abide any longer in their vows.
So, I take some inspiration from people like St. Francis who also renounced his vows and is still regarded as a signature wisdom for health and coming back to the earth, right? And so, I'm just one of those many people that I think are everywhere. Sometimes it's easier just to step out or step away. For me, I had to do it in mind, body, heart, and spirit.[:
[00:12:14] CW-H: Yeah. Interplay is an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body. Which is the kind of the tagline that we tried to come up with for marketing, because you wanna be able to say something. It's an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body. My organization, nonprofit is called Body Wisdom Inc., and that we pretty quickly [:
And one of our first performances was called God's Sex and Power, and it was completely improvised, and we did it in a theater in In San Francisco, and I remember there was an earthquake,[:
[00:13:17] CW-H: Our dance reviewer was there and she, I don't know if she was shook up by the earthquake or by us,[:
But then, as the sweet piano gives way to a deep darkening drum, and throaty tuba thrums, the two nymphs transform into a grotesque collage of faces and, fingers, and limbs distorting, and growing, and spitting in anger and contempt.
This continues until the audience joins in with their own screams and jeers of derision that builds with a mounting frenzy, that is clearly being enjoyed.ng arm, flailing shrew thing.[:
And then just as quickly turns back into a slightly lumpier, bumpier, version of the silly, prancing folly that started the whole thing off.
Part Two: Interplay[:
And what we discovered in workshops, and as we brought Wing It into form as our laboratory, is that people are incredible in their performative skills. If they have, enough affirmation, if they have a sense of curiosity about inventing, and they just have a little form.
So, a form, that we use now is called… I could talk about, and it's, you know, these are like icebreaker forms, but people just going around in a circle, just saying one thing that they could talk about, going around three or four times, and pretty soon people have said some, something important.t's a platform. It's a space [:
First, we were dancers, and so learning to dance together, improvisationally in ways that were appreciative for the experiencer and the witness.
And then outta that our voices and our stories wanted to rise. Right? It's like it wasn't enough to just dance. And then are we supposed to be characters or create theater or, and eventually we learned the easiest thing was to tell our own stories and figure out ways to tell our stories together.And so we did that and [:
And so, at some point, Interplay started like branching out into workshops and people started experiencing it. and then the wisdom of the body that was coming through us wanted to be coalesced. And it did coalesce so that it was teaching us what it wanted, what bodies want. And we identified that and wrote it down.
And that's now part of what people are experiencing in Interplay, trainings, and workshops. core principles that come from the wisdom of the body that bodies can do. They're not just thoughts, and ways of playing together that create phenomenal, connection, to self and others.[:
[00:18:49] CW-H: The first one is, what we call easy focus. So, our bodies can be very focused and intent, and are trained to be that way a lot of times in academia, religion, medicine. [00:19:00] But we can also be much more of an in an easy focus that includes, your thinking, but is more spacious in the way that we're physically looking and sensing things.
So as soon as bodies move easy, focus turns on, you can't be, keep your focus, hard focus. That's important because in order to access the whole system of our body, you have to be able to open to it. You can't just be looking outside, right? So easy focus gives us access to noticing our whole system. Noticing is a big practice for us, as it is for many, spiritual practices.
And then the, the second thing, and I won't go through the whole workshop here because I know it's a lot, so I'm just gonna try and name these now. The second thing is that we can notice our body data, our body knowledge, and what to do with it, which is our body wisdom.thing is that we can notice [:
[00:20:16] BC: So, I'm assuming that for each of the things you just described, that part of the training and the practice are finding ways to, experience those principles in a way that you, embody them and learn them, so that you are practiced at it. Is that right?[:
They help the mind dance too. The mind wants to be organized with the experience, and that kind of does make it a spiritual practice, right? When your mind wants to be in agreement with how to proceed, how to be, it's a way of being, and Interplay offers that, you know, but in a creative sense too,
BC: So, are most of the people that show up to, do they have a background in movement practice? Or is it just a whole range of folks?actice, or whether they've a [:
[00:22:17] BC: Here are a few Interplay participants and leaders describing some of the Interplay principles and experiences they've had starting with dancer, storyteller, Masankho Banda.[:
Modalities that are very simple, very accessible. I've been able to do them even with [00:23:00] translation with people who don't understand English. But they know what it means to bring their hand up to somebody else's hand. They know what it means to tell their story.[:
[00:23:38] BC: That was Interplay life practice leader, Coke Tani. Here our writer, Kira Allen, and Bibalove US founder, Soyinka Raheem.[:
Yeah, there's something called notice. Notice, notice. Right? And so, the first time you notice it's just a little bit like data. But as you collect data, then you see a pattern, and once you understand the pattern, then you develop wisdom, and it gives you a sense of internal authority about how, how, and what your body needs.[:
[00:25:16] CW-H: It is. Like we have really accomplished artists, but we have people, doing Interplay in prison, in detention centers, in mental health centers. We all of us need, if we get a chance, to feel that creative, generative, artful energy in us moving. And, so yeah, it's all over the place.
Part Three: Trust, and the Fruitful Gardenre is an element of risk and [:
[00:26:19] CW-H: Oh my. such a good noticing Bill, right? Trust, for me, in my body. I don't invite people into safety cuz I have not experienced the world as safe, even in safe environments like churches or therapy rooms. So, I don't understand, safety as a condition, but what I do understand is resonance and connection and incrementality and respect and dignity.ensitive to being shunned or [:
Okay, my body today. I just threw my back out, I trust that I can sit up straight. I'm gonna be able to walk for, not too far. I trust that. I like trusting real stuff, trusting real patterns in my experience and in yours. I trust you because we've had some conversations. You also, you have these beautiful credentials. Se to build up. I'll just say [:
It's like that, what's trustworthy about that, right? It's not trustworthy. So, the fact that people have courage and desire to have this, especially, black women and men and, indigenous folks to who are coming into Interplay, emerging leaders like that, they're coming in because they're saying, this is… I need this. I don't know if I trust you, but I will trust myself. And I, because I can trust my body and then watching people have to learn again, is it. I would say, I would call it safe enough.[:
[00:29:14] CW-H: Yeah. improvising, not having a big plan, watching one thing lead to another at the same time. I am a, I'm a co-founder with a colleague who has a lot of organizational brilliance. His dad, Phil's dad was a business professor at I Indiana University. Phil's a graphic designer. He has designed all of our stuff, [00:30:00] and he did educational programs that he designed himself, and I am really good at gathering people for some strange reason. So gathering people and co-designing together, making things, short things, workshops, designs, and watching what happens. I really think that what happened is that in Interplay we created the alchemical space for the right things for the earth to show up like a good garden.
It's a very fruitful garden. And at each step, it just surprised us, not just me and Phil, but everybody. Like I remember early, we drew people together in a week long workshop up in the wine country and, old do Dorothy's Retreat Center, did a bunch of stuff, and then we didn't do much for a whole year.d the ability in the bodies, [:
Like he wasn't talking about it. Right. And now that's what he primarily brings. And like watching that like build up, and then how he takes that into environments also that help people and lift people back up out of the muck that they're in. The social muck of prison life, or war, or whatever it is. And I just, just keep seeing that.ng on, whoever is leading it [:
We just know it in our body, and we want that for others. And, it can have lots of good organizations. So, I do believe Interplay is a body wise or organization that is going the speed of the body not too fast, not too slow within its means. And, we are not trying to spread it, with a kind of a, launching energy. We think it's a grassroots movement. Yeah. And it, but it is. Standing up and moving around in the world like itself, it's so cool.[:
The Interplay website has a directory of leaders that lists over 450 people from 39 states and 11 countries. And these are folks that have been through your training, who are actively involved in Interplay, organizing, and advocating, and mentoring others. Now. I know that you and Phil didn't set out to build an international network of fellow travelers, but that's what seems to have transpired, can you reflect a bit on how and why this happened?[:
I knew this before, and I was so grateful to realize it, that I was picking up stuff from other bodies, both icky stuff, horrible stuff, and beautiful stuff. And like the way that Interplay has moved best is body to body is, and I think the spiritual language for what this is transmission, right, to mission.ard at all. And fair enough, [:
So, the movement of Interplay is waking something up. we talk about the, that, that language, in social change right now. Bodies, many bodies want something. they want connection, they want belonging, they want resonance. They wanna feel true. and so someplace that can provide that, so these people all over the world, you walk around and do a few things, and more and more people are getting that I… And the hard work of organizing, community organizing, organizing performances, organizing people to learn,on a shoe string budget -- happy to do that, a lot of that work has happened.that, that happens now, not [:
[00:36:37] BC: So, could you take us into the Interplay landscape? Uh, what's going on when you walk into the room.[:
They're invited to say thank you when they bump into each other. They're invited to run. and then they're invited to move however they, however they want, or just walking, stopping, and running, and playing with each other. And the music is going, and that's the instructions and they start doing it.kind of a practice for a few [:
Which is this set, system of recognizable forms that we can call on and repeat, like jazz musicians. All these primary birthrights and people of all kinds entering in as this very full, rich garden that you can feel, and that this is the part that's got me most excited again and again. It doesn't feel like it's just unto itself. It feels like it's connecting outward to the space, to other people, to the stars.other environment, you start [:
Like I'm in co-housing right now, of, as of three years and slowly my way of being, of affirming and syncing up with people and supporting creativity. it, people just say it has an effect.[:
Given all these interactions, all these relationships that you've had over these many years, are there, some stories that rise up from how people have come to the work, and then applied the work in different ways out in the in the world of, change work, community work, organizing work, in service to their work.[:
But I'm gonna just name one I, I know that this isn't gonna be visual, but my colleague Kelsey Blackwell recently, came out with a book called Decolonizing the Body: Healing, Body-Centered Practices for Women of Color to Reclaim Confidence, Dignity, and Self-Worth.y health. Now she's a person [:
And something in her kind of just went, “huh!” And this, the approach made a big difference to her.
Mairi Campbell in Scotland is a fiddler. She's highly regarded in the folk artist music scene. But more importantly than being a folk artist, Mairi has an unusual ability to ground herself into the Scottish lineage on the land of her grandmother, on Lismore an island, and to sing and find through, and embody through the supportive and improvisational Interplay approach like an ancient voice.any indigenous peoples have, [:
The Lea Rig
When o'er the hill the eastern star
Tells bughtin time is near, my jo,
And owsen frae the furrow'd field
Return sae dowf and weary O;
Down by the burn, where birken buds
Wi' dew are hangin clear, my jo,
I'll meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.
At midnight hour, in mirkest glen,
I'd rove, and ne'er be eerie, O,
If thro' that glen I gaed to thee,
My ain kind Dearie O;
Altho' the night were ne'er sae wild,
And I were ne'er sae weary O,
I'll meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.
The hunter lo'es the morning sun;
To rouse the mountain deer, my jo;
At noon the fisher seeks the glen
Adown the burn to steer, my jo:
Gie me the hour o' gloamin' grey,
It maks my heart sae cheery O,
To meet thee on the lea-rig,
My ain kind Dearie O.
Lyrics Robert Burns, Tune Mairi Campbell
In India, the, the work of my friends Hazel and Prashant and others, Suman in these different contexts. Like the willing, the courageous willingness to take this kind of support system where you don't have anything, you don't have a lot of money or resources or any of that. For Interplay, you don't need that.
You just need a body and others. And so being able to have people who are lepers, people who are like so squashed in the caste system, people, oh, just one of the most astonishing things is just working with the trans people, trans groups in India, my friend just supporting them to shine in unto themselves. it's like watching people do this. and I've had occasions to be in these rooms and see people working and partake and, and the same things are happening.Like in [:
[00:43:34] BC: So, a good portion of Western culture, which in many ways become a world culture, has been to center, the intellect, and a framework, and a story about humans as rational creatures, and cause effect and predictability.es, produced amazing things. [:
And a, a language and a ritual and, a practice that helps bring us in contact with, with something other than just the here and now. And when you describe these three folks out there in the world doing their work, it felt like a mission to reintroduce, something that is, intrinsic to what it is to be human.And [:
And what I hear you saying, and it's my own belief, is that we still need it as a survival strategy, to make sense and meaning in a world that, we'd like to kid ourselves into thinking we've got figured out, but it's very obvious that we don't. Does that make sense?[:
I think we now have the theory and some support for epigenetics, right? And that our bodies, our DNA is part of carrying streams of intelligence. So, why do our family feel important to us? Why aren't we just, robotic around our families and so much deeper, things that people are remembering and knowing and caring [00:46:00] about?
With the Interplay folks, I wanna just call it knowingness, a sense of knowingness, especially once you're a little bit steeped in it. You've done a program, or something and you go, “Yeah, I know I know something about this, and how does it apply to me and, where does it wanna take me?
And, it, our… I've done quite a bit of study, and exploration myself in a appreciative way in indigenous communities, always with the instruction not to borrow. But, you have to wake that up, right? So those ritual fires, the dancing, the singing, the storytelling, the hooking up, the trance states, the, imagination as the motherboard of perception. It's not a, it's not a toy, it's not a tool. It's a home basejust is a good memory, right?[:
[00:47:22] CW-H: It's ridiculous. And it's just like when, when people are just crying all the time about why can't we find the answers? Why do we have this mess? And yet we don't have a yet other than beautiful podcast like this… a cohesive forum. I'm not sure we should even create one. I hope it just wants to, I dream of arise like a pink tsunami.I, I'd like to buy a ticket [:
CW-H: Yeah. It is overwhelming to look at our website. We don't know how to narrow it down. But if you go to, Interplay.org on the web, you will see, a lot of information, and I would put my email to get it newsletters and I would just start watching that stuff go by, and see if there's any expression of that ,that is interesting.
If you think you really are, might be an Interplayer, look for at the list of locations and geographies. we're now like so many organizations on Zoom, as well. And yes, we dance, we move, we tell our stories, we create, we are not inhibited at all about, the media.of the strategies as well as [:
[00:49:00] BC: a workshop or something? Is that what that is?[:
[00:49:03] BC: and I would imagine there's so many, in this list, there's just lots of contacts, that, if you live in a particular place, it looks like just, states all over the country and countries all over the world there are people probably in your backyard that have some connection and that also is a place to, to make connection.
[00:49:25] BC: If, if somebody were, let me go back to just to close this with, if you would say, what is this good for?[:
It's good if you're lonely. And we have an epidemic of that. and you don't have to be even out of your chair to feel connected, right? so it is not a solo practice. It's a a connectional practice. so it's [00:50:00] definitely good for that and it is really good at getting to know, your neighbors, in a way that's surprising that you wouldn't normally because of the way the prompts work.
And people always say that very quickly after, one workshop. It's “Oh my gosh. I just feel like I know these people so much more.”
And then you build on that. And then it's really good if there is some kind of a sense of a creative in you that wants to grow, in any form. You don't have to be good in any of them, but you will definitely grow as you embody and in soul, you show up as a mover, or as a voice. Yeah. and other things pop out. Weird things like people start doing amazing, weird things that are not related at all to what we were doing in the room, just because that's what happens.[:
[00:51:16] CW-H: It is. For me it's also a crucial, necessary reset. I don't wake up in the morning and start dancing. I don't start singing. but if I do, seven minutes of warming up with my buddies and Interplay seven minutes, I feel reset. So, I think it resets people to, our human nature in an easy, graceful way that gives, that gives you a sense of okay, I can go on. just to reset, keep resetting.
Where are we on the planet? Where are my feet? Here's my body. There's your body. Hello.[:
CW-H: Oh, I think the planet and the divine, if those are even separable, tend to be plain spoken and not pushy.[:
Cynthia, this has been, a great way to start my day. It's also a good place to, again give, thanks to our listeners who, sitting here in my little closet studio, I picture in my mind's eye, you know, lying back, maybe driving, walking, taking time to listen [00:53:00] and ponder and reflect on the many, many different voices that rise up and make their presence felt on this show. I know their stories and perspectives have been a blessing to me over these years. And I sure hope the same is true for you
Change the Story / Change the World is hosted by, yours truly, Bill Cleveland, our theme and soundscape rise up from the miracle head, hand, and heart of Judy Munsen. Our text editing is by Andre Nnebe, and our inspiration comes from the ever present, but totally mysterious presence of UKE 235. If you have any questions or comments or recommendations for guests drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org show on your website, drop [: