The “We” in Me – Global Sisterhood through InterPlay

Happy First Birthday to Sustaining International Sisters 
& Happy 30th Anniversary to InterPlay!

“There is a ‘we’ in me,” writes Cynthia Winton-Henry, co-founder of InterPlay.* That is, “the group” is within each one of us. However, what happens to the “we” when the individual is a refugee, a person seeking asylum, or an international visiting the United States and is feeling like a fish out of water? 

Here in Atlanta, our InterPlay community is offering a way for individual international and American women to create a new sense of “groupness,” a new “we” in their “me.” We have created Sustaining International Sisters (SIS), a 3-hour monthly “play and potluck” so that women can begin to weave themselves into a new communal fabric. Each month, we are figuratively and literally stepping across cultural boundaries through movement, storytelling, using our voices in fun and surprising ways and sharing an international lunch together.

The InterPlay tools and forms offer the international women of SIS an easy yet profound body-to-body connection while they are here adapting to our American culture, which as we all know, tends to be individualistic. This American penchant for individualism leaves many internationals (and Americans) with a feeling of separateness or isolation. Yet, InterPlay’s basic forms, help alleviate this isolation while honoring cultural and individual differences and nourishing the communal body.

WALK STOP RUN. A basic InterPlay form, "Walk, Stop, Run," allows each woman to listen to her own "body wisdom" and to decide if she wants to move alone, fast or slow, move with someone else, or stop. The InterPlay system invites each one of us to move at the "speed of our own bodies" while still being a part of a larger community.

Take for example the InterPlay form, “Walk, Stop, Run.” Individuals are invited to pay attention to their own needs (or body wisdom) and given the choices to walk, to run, or to stop at any given moment during the activity. While attending to their own personal needs (the me), they are also moving within a community (the we) of other women making individual choices. We are independent women “dancing” or moving and co-creating a community – the dance of a new American life while here in this country.

IMAGINE. Each circle represents one woman from a different culture – a “me” – collaborating and making a “new” communal circle or “we” where the circles overlap. The magic is simple.

INTERNATIONAL BOUQUETS. In August, the Dancing Flowers for Peace visited SIS and offered us the opportunity to choose a flower to embody and then to make a moving bouquet in groups of 5 to 6 women.

For more than a year now, individual women originating from Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, Italy, China, South Korea, Colombia, Brazil, the United States, etc., have been participating in the physical experience of community or “we” through InterPlay’s active creative way of unlocking body wisdom. These 13 gatherings have more than fulfilled our initial dream of empowering disparate women in the Metro-Atlanta area by bringing them together.

In the beginning, Canan Arikan from Turkey - now an InterPlay Leader-in-Training, and I (Ruth Schowalter, Certified InterPlay Leader) envisioned creating a “sisterhood” of international women who would not only learn from one another but also inspire each other. We pictured laughter, storytelling, good old-fashioned listening, moments of discovery and deepening connections. 

SIS CO-FOUNDERS. Canan Arikan and Ruth Schowalter hold our InterPlay Sustaining International Sisters sign. We've had so much fun bringing our vision into the community! 2018 and 2019 have been so fulfilling in many unexpected ways. We've had donations to pay for our rental fees; we've witnessed women laughing, speaking English more confidently, and moving with ease; and we've experienced a deepening connection with each other over the year.
In awe, we have watched the women who attend our “play and potlucks” find friendships, new ways of telling their stories, and a profound sense of "being" that is not all that easy to explain. Yet our SISters offered  testimonials to express what our gatherings have meant to them:

I feel I’m not alone because I have many international sisters.  We are strong together. -Hatice, Turkey

SIS is a wonderful and amazing place to make you feel something new in your heart. You may feel tired sometimes, but once you encourage yourself to join in SIS and play together, wow, you will see things are getting better and better. Open your heart, open your body, listen to your body and see what is needed is deep. Thinking about yourself, free from everything that bothers you. You are just a little girl when we are playing, dancing, talking, thinking, and connecting.  -Yue, China

I love being part of the SIS community. It has been an excellent way to meet wonderful women and learn about their cultures and also share mine. You will always feel welcome and you know that you are joining a group of supporting and caring people looking forward to being more aware of themselves and have a bigger understanding of the world. -Laura, Colombia

SIS gives me a wonderful opportunity to be with women whose lives have been quite different from my own, and to share a common experience of expression through InterPlay. -Rachel, United States

The first-year birthday celebration on Saturday, October 5th, was sweet and memorable with close to 35 women in attendance! We had a four-layer cake prepared by Canan, pink and white roses and carnations, “happy” gift boxes, and an amazing array of intercultural foods. Our three-hour SIS expanded to 5-hours to allow cultural dances to be shared. We danced to Turkish, Colombian, Italian, Chinese, South Korean, Bulgarian, and American music. We are communal play creating a community – one dance at a time, one story at a time, one friendship made at a time and one gathering at a time.

INTERNATIONAL DANCES. Laura Cuellar, from Colombia, teaches SISters a dance from her country. She brought extra two extra "dance" skirts that allowed women from China, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy, and the U.S. to "play" with moving differently. What a celebration! Stepping across cultural boundaries through play, dance, and food! Laura has been doing InterPlay for more than three years since she took a "Talk More" class with Ruth Schowalter at the Georgia Tech Language Institute. 

We took more than 150 photos! I’m so appreciative to the “photo station” created by Canan that gave us a gathering place for “posed” photos, which was staged with balloons, birthday cake, gifts, and SIS 1 sign! To share in our celebration, watch our SIS First Birthday photo video below:

IN GRATITUDE: Thank you to InterPlay co-founders Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry for creating this deep, rich and playful way of coming together as a community ( InterPlay is 30 years old! 

Many thanks to our InterPlay Atlanta (a 501c3 non-profit, that uses improvisational structured play to foster freedom and play, decrease stress and build just communities), for holding SIS up and supporting us. Heartfelt appreciation for all of the women who attend SIS each month and share their lives with us. 

Finally, I am so grateful to the powerful ways my collaborator Canan Arikan has of moving our vision for SIS into reality. Her calmness and sense of fun bring sunshine to the cakes, messages, food, signs, and all that she does for sustaining us SISters. Visit the website Canan has created for us:

*Move: What the Body Wants, Cynthia Winton-Henry with Phil Porter


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