We're Only Human 

Body art, body awareness, body wisdom

Cynthia Winton-Henry was five the first time she saw a performance of Swan Lake. Her parents had brought her to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles to see the ballet, and from the moment the dancers entered the stage, Winton-Henry's body tingled in sympathetic excitement. At that moment, she discovered in herself a person she didn't know was there, waiting silently until the time came to be born.Now Winton-Henry and her colleague, Phil Porter, specialize in helping others to have similar encounters. As dancers and ministers, both believe that the words "body," "mind," and "spirit" make artificial distinctions between experiences that are fundamentally physical. Over the past twenty years, they've developed InterPlay, an improvisational technique and a set of philosophical principles that use movement, spoken word, vocalization, and stillness to help participants create improvisational art that bridges the gaps between the physical, intellectual, and spiritual. One of InterPlay's basic premises is that when people see their bodies not as machines to be mastered but as organisms to be explored, they become aware of physical information that can be used to live more holistically.

"Our interest has always been in the power of human stories, human experience," Winton-Henry says. "We're trying to answer questions like, 'What is it like to be a body in the world? What is it like to have a spirit?' InterPlay is a system of incremental steps that help people begin to answer those questions."

Winton-Henry and Porter met in 1978, when they both joined a Bay Area-based dance company called Body and Soul. Later, the two dancers began to develop what would eventually become WING IT!, an improvisational ensemble based on InterPlay principles. Since then, they've written books on InterPlay, and have founded Body Wisdom, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, the creative breeding ground for InterPlay classes, seminars, and its leadership program; the WING IT! Performance Ensemble and Press; and BodySpirit Celebrations, gatherings that focus on spiritual expression.

"We've found that the arts allow for direct experiences of the spirit," Porter says. "It's a challenge to experience ourselves only through words. The arts offer ways to both transform and make apparent the connection between our bodies, our minds, and our spirits."

InterPlay has begun to branch out from the Bay Area. Since 1994, more than 150 participants have been trained as InterPlay leaders, and InterPlay centers have been established in cities across the United States and around the world, including Seattle, Santa Fe, Chicago, and Boston, as well as in Australia, Thailand, and Germany. In the midst of this expansion, Winton-Henry and Porter have found a center for their work: in February 2000, Body Wisdom and Porter bought a building at Telegraph Avenue and 23rd Street that will eventually become InterPlayce, a permanent home for the organization.

Because InterPlay is improvisational, people who haven't had much experience using their bodies can experiment without pressure; in fact, participants describe the ease which with the technique allows them to explore artistic expression often reserved for professionals. Leslie Warren has been involved with the group since 1995, and now teaches classes and uses the principles in her own life.

"InterPlay invites each of us to experience our own ability to make art," Warren says. "I came [into InterPlay] telling myself that I wasn't creative, but now I've become an artist of my own life, and my tools are singing, storytelling, and dance. With these things, I get to create my life."


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