Get Through The Hard Parts of the Semester With This Trick

photo (48)

This year I was a little late on the draw, but I’ve FINALLY got it ready for the second semester.

Can you tell that this is already — and will continue to be — a great year for me?! I’m so inspired by this collage.

If you haven’t already, use glue to tape a number of inspiring pictures onto your planner cover! Then cover it with packing tape (if you look closely, you’ll see the packing tape in this picture).

I promise that —  if you choose pictures that make you smile, your heart glow, or represent the way you want to FEEL this year — you will have an easier time getting through the hard stuff this semester.

Harvesting Joy Stories (or Why Is The Bad Easier to Remember Than the Good?)

Do you remember the first time you realized that everything is connected to everything else? For me, it was first semester of freshman year at Macalester College. I was shocked to discover that each of my classes, disparate as they were (Theatre With a Global Perspective, The Biology of Conservation) kept on resonating with each other. It became a game each semester to notice what themes were emerging across all my classes.

This weekend the theme of Sacred Stories rose up out of the disparate activities of my weekend. On Saturday I attended The Sacred Story Project: Messages to the World. What a sweet workshop offered by Cynthia Winton-Henry, founder of InterPlay. We spent the day telling stories about experiences infused with love and experiences that suck (thanks, Cynthia, for keeping it real!). We were searching for the stories from our lives that we want to tell over and over.

I was in kind of a bad mood on Saturday, so I had a hard time accessing stories that felt nourishing. I kept on thinking about the stories that I DO tell over and over which I’m TIRED of telling. Stories of pain, abandonment, disconnection, dysfunction. Going to therapy seems all about retelling my pain stories over and over. And even in my academic coaching work, although I often ask my clients, “What went well this week?,” we seem to dwell even more on the question, “What didn’t go well, why, and how can we fix it?”

At the Sacred Stories workshop, it occurred to me that I want to start harvesting all the joy stories from my life. There are so many of them! I want to mine my own life for the joy stories, and I want to hear my friends’ stories as well. You can bet that tomorrow at Tuesday Night InterPlay (which also happens to be my birthday!) we will be playing dancing, singing and telling our joy stories. And I’m so curious about my academic coaching clients as well. When was the last time I asked them about what their most joyful moment last week was? I wonder if any of them will tell stories of experiences in the classroom, with teachers, learning?! I hope so. And if not, I hope to start directing their attention towards those small moments of joy in learning.

As I remember my little “game” that I played each semester back at Macalester, I realize how joyful it felt when I discovered a new theme emerging among my classes. Aha!! I’d feel. Look at this revelation I’ve uncovered!! Through my InterPlay teaching and my academic coaching, I hope to help myself and my companions continue noticing their own joy moments and turning them into stories for safe keeping. (By the way, this doesn’t mean we won’t also keep talking about what sucks. Sometimes that’s soooo necessary and empowering! I’m just looking to create some balance…).

Shoot! This blog entry got so long, I didn’t get to tell you about the OTHER event this weekend that was all about claiming the sacred stories in our lives: I went to the Berkeley Rep to see How To Write a New Book for the Bible. I won’t say more, other than that I highly recommend it!

The Generosity of Being Selfish (or what I’m learning by teaching improvisational performance)

Coke Nakomoto and Gretchen Wegner performing a side by side story.Here’s a crackpot theory I’ve been testing lately in my InterPlay classes: to be a good teacher, the more selfish I can be, the better. It seems that, if I teach a class to meet those needs, I generally meet the needs of the class participants as well.

When Coke Nakomoto and I decided to start teaching a monthly performance workshop series, it made perfect sense that we allow ourselves to be supremely selfish. We wanted to create a space in which performers can nurture their artist-selves.

Why? Because we both notice that our inner-artists need some major tending. For example, my Inner Critic can be quite harsh, which limits the choices I make as a performer; I need a gentle, light space to practice creating and being seen. Also, I have a tendency to abandon my deepest expressions in favor of entertaining the audience; I am interested in figuring out how to slow down and be present to myself while I perform, and then meet the audience half way. As a result, most of my recent InterPlay-as-performance teaching centers around self-care and sweetness while I’m improvising infront of an audience.

A week ago Coke and I taught our first performance workshop of the fall, and it went swimmingly! Seven women — half of whom have performance background, and half of whom wanted to play with performance and personal growth — brought their bright, shining, courageous selves to the gorgeous InterPlay studio. We grounded with ensemble movement improvisations, then sunk deeply into some solo explorations, and finally performed for each other.  I’m consistently blown away by the profound simplicity of the InterPlay forms…and the artfulness they draw out in others!

The next workshops will be on the following Sundays from 2-5pm: September 11, October 30, and November 13. Come join us!

The Magic is in the Details (or How I Taught Storytelling)

 

The beautiful InterPlayce studio in Oakland

In InterPlay storytelling, we believe that some of the most important messages about living and loving come in the form of mundane details.

For example, I could begin a story by saying how life changing it was to witness the birth of my niece…    OR

I could tell a story describing the black smudges and tiny swirls on my newborn niece’s finger tips as she received her very first fingerprints.

Both versions tell the same story, but the first gives away the punchline whereas the other gets there along a sneakier path. Perhaps this is what my English teachers meant by “Show, not tell” (which I now repeat ad nauseum to my essay-writing coaching clients).

Tonight at my InterPlay Performance Technique class we practiced telling seemingly mundane stories about the most profound or important moments in our lives. Here are some of the favorite details I heard from our talented Tuesday Night storytellers:

  • The handiwipes tucked into a son’s luggage as mom sends him off to college
  • The lemonade from Trader Joe’s that accompanied the sharing of  a life changing revelation
  • The importance of showing firemen-in-training how to wield their axe
  • A graduate’s backache as she carries the boxes to the new house.

For all the InterPlay teachers out there, here’s the class outline (my apologies to those of you who don’t know the lingo):

  • Warm Up (including Walk Stop Run)
  • Babbling in partners: (1)  tell as many details as you can about a mundane moment today, (2) tell as many details as you can about the most important moment in your day, (3)  tell a three sentence story that describes a mundane details from the same important moment you just talked about. Notice in a group.
  • New partner. Make a list of important moments in your life that you could talk about.
  • DT3: Perform DT3’s for your partner. Dance first, then talk about a mundane detail about one of the important moments in your life. Repeat this two more times.
  • Reflect in a circle together. Then, perform short DT3’s (the 3-sentence story variety) for the entire group.
  • Group hand dance while humming our own music.

 

Art Every Day Month: Day 11 (Does a t-shirt count as art?)

OK, if you’re one of my teen coaching clients, don’t read this. My image as Perfect Adult With No Bad Habits will be forever destroyed.

I just frittered away 2 hours on the computer designing a t-shirt on Cafe Press while IM’ing with a friend on Facebook (see, dear clients, you are not the only ones to give in to the Technology Twitch). I just got sucked into the computer. And I was supposed to be creating a piece of art, because it’s Art Every Day Month.

So I guess I’ll just have to consider the t-shirt my art-for-the-day.

The inspiration to design the t-shirt hit me while I was writing an email to my friends and family. It’s kinda long, but since it’s relevant I’ll quote it here:

As some of you know, two weeks from now my Tuesday Night InterPlay class is performing for the first time. This is also MY DEBUT leading an InterPlay performance. I’m getting nervous and excited, and just yesterday I realized what a *special* event this is for me.

See, I’ve always been a theatre person without a vision (or so I thought). I went to a Performing Arts high school (kinda like the TV show Fame!) where my theatre teacher told me I didn’t have the “spark” of a professional actress; I then minored in theatre in college, where I longed to be a director but felt I had “nothing to say.” This led to a stint in India studying Indian performance (if you can’t do it, might as well study it, which depressed me because I felt so disconnected), and a job at a theatre company writing/directing educational mini-dramas (which was actually pretty cool because I loved teaching). When I decided to become a teacher, I left it all behind…

…until InterPlay came along. InterPlay has slowly been giving me back my artist self. During my first untensive, I reclaimed my authority as a storyteller. Then others started calling me a dancer (and I’m slowly embracing that, too). Two years ago I got to go BACK to India with InterPlayers (which felt like a beautiful coming-full-circle). Since I’ve been teaching the performance class, I’ve been feeling like a director again.

And guess what — I have something to SAY now. I get to say to my InterPlay students, “Be your biggest, fullest, most expressive, most luscious selves!! Be you! Be art! Be seen!”

As soon as I hit “send” on this email, I realized: I wanted a Tuesday Night InterPlay T-shirt to wear during my directorial debut. And so I designed the ones pictured above. The small print on the back is a little racy, and I’m a bit shy to wear it. (Interplayers often seem so sweet and pure at first glance; dare I sport a swear word?!).

We’ll find out come Tuesday… And if you’re local and want to read the fine print on my t-shirt yourself, come to the performance! Here are the details:

Art Every Day Month: Day 9

I did it!! I finished the painting! My first one ever. Today I worked with my white, silver and gold paint pens to add some highlights. Despite a small niggling feeling of dissatisfaction, I decided the painting was done. After signing it, I headed over to my altar for a final goodnight meditation.

Thanks to my InterPlay practice, I’ve begun improvising songs, often as a form of meditation. As I kneeled in front of my candle-lit altar, the following chant came to me: “Surrender to the rhythm of the life that I have.” Suddenly the realization hit me: These words belong on my painting!! I rushed over, grabbed the white paint pen, and voila!

Although the words look hastily done, I’m so pleased with the final product. I’d been wondering (sometimes judgementally) WHY I’d been painting — of all things — a fetus!? But these new words make it oh-so-clear. The baby symbolizes me surrendering to the rhythm of my life — this life! — with all its disappointments and regrets and surprising turns of events. I can’t know the future; I can’t change the past. But I can surrender into living the life that I have right NOW.

In this moment, that means surrendering into sleep. Good night!

Five “Best Practices” for Teaching Mixed-Level InterPlay Classes

Wow! We had 15 students at the InterPlay Performance Technique class tonight, which is twice as many as usual. All that energy was such a delight. As I posted on my Facebook status line:

For those of you who don’t know, InterPlay is an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body. We use storytelling, movement, voice, physical contact, and stillness as a vehicle to creating healthy individuals and communities. InterPlay is also a performance technique, which is what I teach on Tuesday nights. (By the way, in this blog post I’ve tried to translate most of the lingo so non-Interplay folks can understand what I’m talking about; however, if there’s anything I didn’t explain, feel free to ask in the comments section).

We turned the Tuesday night class into a performance class a year ago, and ever since then the class has grown like crazy. I’m so grateful to all the new and eager students! Many of them are experienced InterPlayers who have been hungering to practice performing; others, though, are completely new to the practice. Because it’s a drop-in class, the same folks don’t come every week (although there is a core of about five who are thankfully consistent).

As you can imagine, these disparities —  in experience  and attendance — pose interesting challenges for me, the leader. How might I teach in such a way that the new people learn the basic skills, but the more experienced folks feel challenged? How do I build skills with specific performance forms when folks do not consistently attend? (Note: I’m very aware that these questions are similar to the ones academic teachers ask in classes with both “gifted” and “learning disabled” students. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to reflect about how my InterPlay experience dovetails with my classroom teaching experience; however, there are definitely overlaps, and many of these best practices can be applied to the academic classroom as well).

Slowly, I’m gathering my own list of best practices. Below are a few things I noticed myself doing during tonight’s class. I’m typing them into this blog entry so that I can make them conscious teaching practices for myself, and also in the hopes of starting a discussion with other InterPlay leaders about the best practices they’re noticing.

1. Always teach the basic skills as a warm up into the more complex ones.

Just as a concert pianist practices her scales, so must the most experienced InterPlayers practice the basic forms. Sometimes I’m tempted to forego a hand dance or 30-second babble because I want to get to the “good stuff” of dancing and storytelling using the whole body. However, easing the body into the more complex forms often provides a richer experience — for both the newbie and the old hat. Plus, I’m learning that teaching the basic skills doesn’t have to take a ton of time (often just a minute or two).

2. Provide multiple options.

On a night like tonight, when I have a brand-spanking-new student along side a member of Wing It! Performance Ensemble, I’ve learned to provide multiple options. For example, tonight I knew that I wanted my students to practice solo dancing in front of a witness. This sort of thing can  scary to a newbie. So I introduced dancing by inviting folks to raise their arm into the air and practice moving it in a jerky way and then a smooth way. After a minute of this practice, I offered these words:

I’m about to make some more suggestions for how to move. Those dancing here for the first time might feel more comfortable responding to my suggestions using only your hand and arm.  However, for those of you itching for more, please feel free to use your whole body.

As I invited folks to find swinging movements and practice making shapes, I watched carefully. Sure enough, the newbies just worked with their hands and arms, swinging and shaping. Most of the class, however, dove in to the full body movements. And sure enough, I saw the newbie get pulled along. Soon, he was dancing with his whole body, too!

3. Practice being an expert.

Tonight during the warm up, we explored what it’s like to be an expert. I made up fake words and invited people to pretend that they were an expert in that topic. For example, an expert on “shuhneewa” might say, “Well, obviously a shuhneewa is a special type of baked bread that is kneaded by kneeling on the dough with ones knees. This kind of vigorous kneeding creates a bread that is extra fluffy and is best served drenched with honey.”

After everyone had a turn at being expert, we talked about how our bodies express expertise, even if it is simply pretend. Many of us stood straighter and talked with more clarity and authority. I then invited folks to access this feeling of being an “expert” in their dancing. I invited them to move with clarity and authority, even though all their movements were improvised.

I believe that this “pretending” to be an expert levels the playing field in a multi-level class. Suddenly no-one is expert or novice. Rather, we’re all “pretend experts.” Furthermore, it allows us to discover the wisdom in the phrase, “fake it til you make it.” In my experience, faking a skill is a preliminary way of learning it.

4. Name nervousness, but don’t dwell on it.

Tonight I found myself using the word “nervous” a number of times. Sometimes I suggested that, “if you’re feeling nervous or self conscious, you might try this,” followed by a demonstration of a choice students might make. At another point in class, I shared about a time that I felt self conscious in an InterPlay setting.  I hope that naming uncomfortable feelings demystifies them and makes them seem normal. However, I don’t want to dwell on the nervousness either. I name it as a possibility, but I move on quickly. No sense staying in it so long that folks actually start feeling nervous, if they weren’t there to begin with.

5. Change partners often.

People learn so much from each other body-to-body. When there are experienced InterPlayers in the room, I can rest assured that their example will teach the newcomers a great deal. For this reason, I change partners often. I try to ensure that every new person gets to work with a more experienced InterPlayer at some point early on in the class. Today during class, I used the babbling form (where partners talk to each other for 30 seconds about topics I give them) to give people an opportunity to rotate through three partners. This process only took about 7 minutes, but the settling of energies was palpable. By the time we were finished, I could tell that the new folks had much more ease in their bodies, and they were ready to do more complex work.

***

These five best practices are simply the ones I found myself using tonight. I’m sure there are many more ways of dealing with the challenge of mixed-level classes. I’m also aware that there were moments in class tonight, and in other classes, when I probably didn’t handle the mixed-levels as skillfully.

For any InterPlayers reading this, whether you are participants or teachers, I’d love to hear what you notice about participating in  and/or teaching mixed-level classes. Please comment!

Why It’s OK That I Don’t Finish My Homework


As an academic coach, I end the school year by meeting with parents to reflect on the ways their children have grown  — and to identify goals for the next year.

Recently at the end of one of those meetings, a mom sighed and said, “My daughter is simply developing at her own pace. Not necessarily the pace that I want her to be developing. But her own pace nonetheless.” Mixed into this comment was lots of love, some resignation, a little frustration, and a bunch of pride.

Parenthood sure comes with a complex set of feelings. And so does solopreneurship.

My sweet little academic coaching business is sure developing at it’s own pace. Sometimes it bursts forward! Sometimes it crawls. Just like a parent can’t control every aspect of their child’s development, neither can I do the same for my own business.

I’m extra conscious of this slow pace right now, as I take the Right Brain Business Plan e-course with Jennifer Lee.  I’m so behind on all my homework!! Every week I do a little something…but certainly not everything.

For example, this week we’re supposed to be making a balance sheet for our business. Instead, I’ve been working on the marketing assignments from last week. And even then, I’ve only did HALF the assignments.

The pictures (above) are the collages of my perfect customers that Jenn asked us to make. As I cut and pasted images that seemed to represent my ideal client, I learned a lot! For example, it seems that that my target clients are women and girls. That doesn’t mean that I don’t work with guys. Actually, I’m quite successful with a number of  teenage boys. But my ideal clients — the ones with whom I feel like I’m “in the flow” when we’re working together — are usually women! So why not claim that!?

Speaking of flow: finishing up those “perfect customer” collages was inspiring, although perhaps not in the way that Jenn intended. Her next assignment was for us to create a marketing plan, (two weeks later and I haven’ done it yet). Instead, I feverishly created a flier for a girls-only time management workshop I’m offering in August. Click on the picture to see the flier and read more about this never-been-tried-before workshop!

After creating the flier, I couldn’t wait to send it out. Thus ensued emails, photocopies, conversations. In fact, because I’d pushed to make the flier, two parents have registered their daughters already! Yay!!

Turns out that I didn’t end up making the marketing plan, but I sure did a whole lot of marketing!! Which is a new experience for me. And now that I’ve had real world experience getting the word out about my workshops, it’s going to be a whole lot easier to make the actual marketing plan

At a different time in my life, I might have been more stressed about not doing all my homework for a course. However, my participation in InterPlay has helped me understand the importance of ease and incrementality. InterPlay is a community arts practice that unlocks the wisdom of the body.  There’s so much about life that’s not easy! So when I’m feeling some ease around a specific task that I know is important to me, I give myself full permission to go for it, one small step at a time. Even if it means not doing my homework.

Uh oh. My Devil’s Advocate voice just jumped in:

Gretchen, I’m impressed on the positive spin you’ve just given your irresponsibility. Did it ever occur to you that you are just procrastinating?!  Is it possible that your push to send out the flier was actually a sneaky move to justify ignoring the balance sheet that is this week’s homework?

Maybe. However, check this out: last night when I was driving home from the coaching office, I started daydreaming about the balance sheet. “How cool is it that I just got two checks?” I thought to myself. “I wonder how much the workshop is actually gonna cost me? I guess it’s time to start that balance sheet!”

Aha! Never before in my life have I day dreamed about balance sheets! Maybe this means I’m ready for that next, small step! Whereas before working with numbers seemed like a chore, now I’m entering the task propelled by curiosity, ready to take on a challenge that before now felt big and annoying.

Luckily, Jenn is not grading us on our homework. If she did, I’d totally fail the class. At the pace I’m going right now, my Right Brain Business Plan won’t be done when the course ends.

But every week I make some good progress. I won’t be done when the course ends in a few weeks. But I will have all the information I need in order to finish. Which is one reason I’m blogging about my Right Brain Business Plan process:

I’d love you — my big bold blogging community — to hold me accountable. My goal is to be completely done with the entire plan by the end of July. If you don’t see any blog entries about it between now and then, will you bug me? I’d sure appreciate it.

Now, I’m off on vacation for a week, which means yet another week of not completing my homework. But when I get back on June 21st, I’ll get RIGHT ON that balance sheet!

Bon Voyage!

 

5 Key Ingredients to Building Community

ConstructionTonight we had another delicious Tuesday night InterPlay class.

On my drive home, I couldn’t help reflecting about how grateful I am for this community.

And I wondered — what has caused the Tuesday night community to grow and thrive over the last 2 1/2 years?

By the time I pulled into my parking space, I’d figured out the 5 key ingredients to building community (based on my own experiences, of course).

Here they are!

1. Show Up.

Sounds simple enough. Showing up, and holding the space, is one of the most important tasks in building community. The Tuesday night InterPlay class has continued for 2 1/2 years. Except for the winter holidays, we’ve showed up every single Tuesday. Just as people expect the earth to revolve around the sun, so do folks expect there will be a class on Tuesday nights in Oakland  (and other days of the week, too. I shouldn’t be Tuesday-ist). Point being: the community has been built brick by brick. We continued to show up even when students didn’t. And that patience has paid off!

2. Share Leadership.

Ever get that sinking feeling? You know, when you show up to your favorite yoga class and there is a substitute teacher? At the Tuesday night class we got around that by sharing the leadership between two people. Elizabeth Mendana or I would teach every other week. When one of us was absent, our students barely felt it because they were used to us taking turns!

Since Elizabeth has left the class, I’ve taken on full leadership. But I’ve also made it a point to invite a “guest teacher” at least once a month. In January, for example, we enjoyed the generous, gentle, playful leadership of Wing It’s Jonathan Leavy (a self-described recovering musical theatre performer).  I still attended class that day, but as a student rather than as a teacher. It’s so fun for the whole class to learn alongside another experienced InterPlayer. I also think there’s a benefit to having my students to see me learning and growing (and feeling shy, sometimes too).

3. Use Multiple Modalities.

In InterPlay we tell stories, move and sing, and we do it all playfully. There are so many different ways to connect with each other and be intimate. Tonight we spoke in “fake foreign languages” and made “sounds that sound like singing,” all while telling little stories about our week. Oh, and we moved a little, too. There are so many different layers and levels to the way we connect in a single InterPlay class; there is a space for everyone, every feeling, every thing. The variety of modalities makes it possible to express a wide range of experiences, which fosters connection among the participants.

4. Eat Food.

Haven’t communities been breaking bread together since time began!? During the first days of the Tuesday night class, we often went out to eat after class. Although we don’t do that regularly anymore, I recently introduced the once-a-month post-class potluck. Tonight was the first one, and it was sooooo lovely to share food and companionship. I’m certain that the food-sharing ritual was one that kept people coming back time and time again.

5. Play with People of Mixed Experience.

Newcomers get folded into the class culture so quickly during InterPlay classes. This is largely because there are always some very experienced InterPlayers in the room along with the newbies. So much of what is learned in an InterPlay class is taught, NOT by the teacher, but rather in a body-to-body communication from the other folks in the room. A new person in the room watches how everyone else is playing with each other, and joins on in! When he taught last week’s class, Jonathan was impressed with the high degree of willingness in the room. I believe that willingness is nurtured by the diversity of experience that is always in the room.

What Does Ensemble Performance Feel Like?

ObamaYear1

Recently a friend sent me a survey asking me what ensemble performance feels like. She’s getting her Ph.D. and she needed some help. Ever the dutiful friend, I complied.

I’ll share the text of those emails in a second. But first —  I want to share this: I just finished performing in the second of two Wing It! Performance Ensemble concerts. I’ve been a member of Wing It for three years now and have had a love/hate relationship with performance.

Improvisational performance is hard and makes me feel vulnerable. Every Monday when it’s time to go to Wing It! practice, I feel shy and reticent. But I usually make myself go because I know it’s good for me. And I’m slowly falling in love with the community.

At this weekend’s performance, I still felt shy and reticent, but also READY! Good thing, because instead of the usual 12+ performers, we were only 8. This meant that I couldn’t just hide in the wings, waiting for other performers to initiate. I’d have to pay attention, be engaged, and start stuff!

For those of you who’ve never been to a Wing It performance, let me explain. We perform in a huge dance studio. The performers stand on the side, at attention. We watch, we wait, we listen. And when we’re inspired, we move onto the stage. We’ll dance, tell stories, or sing; we might even do all three at the same time! More simply, in the words of our fearless leader Phil Porter, “We start stuff, we mess with it, and then we end.”

The last couple nights we were performing on the theme of “Obama Year One.” Some gorgeous dances emerged, and stunning music played by Shazam, Theron, and Amar. Amidst the stories, we learned:

  • How recent terrorism rules have restricted Phil’s ability to crochet on airplanes
  • How I spontaneously learned to hoola hoop, taught by a group of Grandmas at Lake Merritt
  • How Dorothy’s Filipina grandmother was detaind by INS on a recent visit to the US

Which brings me back to Nika’s question: “How would you describe, for someone who has never experienced it, what the experience of ensemble performance is like for you personally?” Here was my answer:

In ensemble performance, I spend my time listening — but in a different way than I’m listening when I’m in solo performance (and note: I’m speaking about improvisational performance here, not choreographed/scripted performance, which I imagine provides a different experience of the ensemble).

By myself, the listening is mostly introspective. I’m listening “in” to my story, and then listening to myself as I tell it. To some extent I’m also listening to the audience and their response to my story, but that’s it.

In ensemble performance, I’m stilling listening “in” to my own impulses, but I’m ALSO listening to the group as a whole. It’s a weird balance between going inside and staying focused outside.

But it’s also important to say that the outward focus is what we, in interplay, call “easy focus”. There’s no way to have a directed focus on one thing; instead my attention is diffused and peripheral, and takes in the whole. And then I choose from moment to moment:  how do I want to respond to what’s happening?

In ensemble performance the question is no longer, “What am I creating?” but rather “What is being created here, and how can I contribute to it?

In her email, Nika also asked, “If you teach or coach other how to perform as an ensemble group, please also briefly state the 3 concepts and/or practces…that you aim to foster in performers who work with you.” Here’s are the 3 concepts/practices that I aim to foster in the Tuesday night InterPlay Performance Technique class: :
  1. Who are you as a performer? What are your personal riffs/motifs that you bring to the stage? (In order to be an excellent ensemble performer, I think it’s crucial that people understand their own individual offering… you can’t give to a group unless you know what you’re giving).
  2. Practice listening to the group body. Helping people become more and more “in tune” to the “middle thing” that is being created.
  3. Leading versus following. Know when to create something new/unique (to lead) and when to support that which has already been initiated (follow).

All in all, teaching and performing the InterPlay forms has been an intense and rewarding experience for me. Big hugs to all my fellow performers this weekend, and to all my Tuesday night students. What a journey we’re on together…listening, laughing, creating. It takes courage to be so vulnerable in public, and I salute us all.

InterPlay Performance Technique…as taught by the Red Dance Pants

reddancepantsI had so much fun teaching my first InterPlay Performance Technique class — totally solo!!

For the last two and a half years I’ve been Elizabeth Mendana‘s teaching sidekick. But then she decided to move away.

So, I took a deep breath… and a gulp…. and decided, “Yeeeeehaaaaaa! I can do this!!!” (And promptly bought fancy red dance pants for the occasion).

Last night I was totally prepared to teach a small, intimate class to a few Tuesday night regulars. But at 6pm on the dot, two gals bounded in to the room. InterPlay newbies! “Oh, no!” I thought. “What will I teach?! Can I gracefully cater to the entire range of experience in this room?”

As more folks streamed in (what a surprise, this close to the New Year!), I took another gulp…and made a crucial decision: I will not hold back just because there are new folks in the room.

Phil and Cynthia are always telling us to “trust the forms.” I’m gonna trust that InterPlay Performance Technique will hold us all in its warm, playful, artful embrace.

Lo and behold — it did! The new folks blended right in (in fact, an outsider wouldn’t have been able to tell who was whom), and the experienced InterPlayers seemed satisfied, too.

We got our silly groove on with following and leading; practiced side-by-side solo dances; and finally created gorgeous ensemble movement with 3-sentence stories.  We sure were making F-ing great art!).

I’m so grateful to this improvisational art form that allows a broad range of experience to play alongside each other (and allows me to improvise as a teacher, too).

P.S. A disclaimer: my new red dance pants are not nearly as cool as the ones pictured here. But I needed a picture for this blog post. And these are pretty hot, aren’t they!? Maybe they’ll be my next pair.

Wanna Make F-ing Great Improvisational Art?!

InterPlayPErformanceWordle

For the past two-and-a-half years I’ve been blessed to teach InterPlay with dancer extraordinaire Elizabeth Mendana. Tonight Elizabeth taught her last Tuesday night class (sniff!) and soon I’ll be leading it alone (holy cow!).

For those of you new to the blog, InterPlay is an uncommon, artful global social movement. It incorporates storytelling, movement, and vocal expression with an emphasis on community and play.

So often InterPlay is taught as a personal development tool, but it is also an improvisational performance technique. Four months ago we added a performance emphasis to the Tuesday night class.   Tonight after class, Elizabeth and I went out for dinner and reflection. In the course of our conversation, I asked how InterPlay has made her a better performer.

Eyes shining, she answered that InterPlay has:

  1. Given her access to the full spectrum of expression, especially the fullness of her voice (not an area that usually gets much of a workout for a modern dancer)
  2. Awakened her passion for (and skill with) infusing story into choreography
  3. Helped her embrace silliness on stage, and
  4. Through its affirming community, validated her as a professional artist.

Whew. Talk about gifts…!

And then there’s InterPlay’s uncanny ability to build ensemble. It’s no easy feat to make beautiful art on the spot…but to do it with others, with little-to-no rehearsal as a company…is amazing! And yet the InterPlay company Wing It! (of which Elizabeth and I are members) consistently creates amazing knock-your-socks-off-they’re-so-powerful performances with casts of (gulp!) 15 or more. As an ensemble we’ve learned to listen to each other with a depth, generosity and artfulness that astounds me.

The more Elizabeth and I talked, the more jazzed I got about sharing the InterPlay Performance Technique with other artists! It’s time to be intentional about sharing this hidden gem of a technique with other performers who want to broaden their range.

So get ready, Oakland, California! On Tuesday nights from 6-7:30pm starting January 5th, 2010 we’re gonna bust out some of the meanest, coolest, deepest improv you’ve seen. With an emphasis on storytelling, movement, vocal expression, and ensemble, it’ll be…

Subversive. Surprising. Silly. Sacred. Sexy. Sneaky.

Come make F-ing* good art with us! (And if you can’t join us in person, rest assured: you’ll be able to read all about it — maybe even see some of it — on my blog).

We’ll miss Elizabeth for sure, but we’re in for quite a ride in 2010. I hope you’ll join us.

*A note about the swear word: Tonight at class Elizabeth had us dancing side-by-side solos. At the end of performing for each other, someone explained, “This is F-ing good art!” And so it was. And so it is. Can’t wait to share.

Walk Stop Run

Grand Central Station

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

For the longest time, Walk Stop Run was the most challenging activity I experienced in InterPlay.

Which is funny, because in some ways it’s the simplest thing we do.

Here’s how it works: In a group everyone walks in any direction they choose. They play with finding the center of the room, and the edges. They walk in unusual patterns on the floor. They run and stop whenever they feel like it. And if they’re inspired, they play with each other. All with a backdrop of instrumental music.

Need to see it? Unfortunately, I don’t have any straightforward videos of Walk Stop Run. However, if you need an image, here are two:

So — why did I find it so challenging?! What could be easier than walking, stopping, and running in a room with other people?

The thing is, experienced InterPlayers don’t just stick to walking, stopping, and running. They also skip, lean, giggle, hug, push, cavort. In fact, not-sticking-to-the-rules is part of the intention of the exercise. The facilitator’s manual says:

In general, we want participants to learn for themselves that they might stretch the boundaries of what is “permissible” movement. … One of the basic elements, though, of Walk Stop Run is this “bumping up against” what we perceive to be the “rules.” This is one of the ways we learn to make choices for ourselves.

Harumph! You mean, Walk Stop Run is designed for me to practice making choices for myself in the midst of community? But this is exactly why the exercise was so painful for me at first!! I’d watch everyone else leaping, bumping into each other, and swirling — and I’d have this painful chatter in my head:

Oh, I feel so lonely. Look at them all, having so much fun.  They know what they’re doing and I don’t. I wish I knew how to fit in. It’s hard enough to figure out what I want, much less do it when I’m surrounded by other people.  I want to walk right up to someone and lean against them. But what if they don’t want me to interfere?! What if…?

Sheesh. That chatter was exhausting! I didn’t know how to simply relax into my experience. What might it feel like to simply play in the company of other people without worrying, second guessing, and questioning — my own intentions and the intentions of others?

Imagine my delight when — about a year ago — I realized I’d stopped thinking (during Walk Stop Run, at least). It’s now one of my favorite moments during InterPlay. It’s a time to move through the space, responding to other people (if I want) or keeping to myself (if I want).  Sometimes what I want changes from moment to moment, and I allow myself to go with the flow of the present moment.

It’s soooo delightful to have a safe, fun place to practice getting out of my mind. I know I’m more easy going, relaxed and flexible in my daily life because of this practice.

What other experiences do IntePlayers out there have with Walk Stop Run? Do tell!

Babbling: The Best Icebreaker Ever

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

The Best Icebreaker Ever

Recently, my mom forwarded me the following email:

Could I get instructions for the ice breaker Gretchen used at the retreat? It was the best I’ve ever experienced, and I’d like to use it at work.  She was so great!

Awwwww. Nice of this man (I’ll call him Matt) to compliment me and my workshop facilitation. But even nicer that he recognized the power of the InterPlay form of “babbling”.

He’d experienced this unique “icebreaker” during a church retreat (for the ultra cool Covenant Baptist in Houston, Texas), where I’d been invited to teach some sessions on embodied worship.

How to Lead Folks in a Babbling Sequence

Here are the instructions I emailed back to Matt:

  1. Put people in partners
  2. Have them decide who will go first.
  3. Tell them you’re going to give them a topic and they will talk about it for 30 seconds. Tell them you will ding a bell when it is time to switch.
  4. Announce the first topic. Simple ones are best. (For example, have folks describe their car. Or a friend. Maybe their favorite view from a window).
  5. After they have both spoken about the topic, have them thank their partner and find a new one.
  6. Repeat the process two more times.
  7. With the final partner, give them an extra minute to reflect on what it was like for them to talk in these quick bursts about different topics.

If you want to see an example of babbling, watch the video at the top of this post. It’s surprisingly simple!

Babbling Creates Instant Community

I’ll never forget when Phil Porter, one of the cofounders of InterPlay, revealed a discovery of his: community is created when each person in the group hears a personal story from 3 different members of the group.

This advice was a revelation to me, one I have tested out hundreds of times since. And it’s true. So often we think we need fun, unique games to serve as icebreakers. But really, people just want to feel connected to each other. And connection happens through personal stories.

Plus, as I mentioned in the video (above), we can reveal a great deal of information about ourselves in 30 seconds. Just the other day in an InterPlay class, my partner described the view from a window. From this seemingly innocuous topic, I learned:

she used to live in Minnesota, she lives in the second floor apartment, she really likes cats, she knows a lot about trees, she lives with a male significant other, she and her partner enjoy being silly together.

Wow! That’s a lot of stuff crammed into 30 seconds.We’re bound to find something we have in common there. (I like to be silly and I have lived in Minnesota!). The more we find in common with the people in our groups, the more connected we’ll be.

The Mundane Details Contain the Juiciest Nuggets

Another piece of InterPlay wisdom: Profound truths are embedded in mundane, daily details.

So often group facilitators try to get their students to “go deep” by having them share big deal reflections with the rest of the group. What are you most afraid of? What brings you the most joy?

In InterPlay we ease into the deep stuff. Why force people to share their intimate details so overtly? Instead, just have them, for example: describe their kitchen! A gay man might quickly have to choose whether he’ll reveal that his male partner does all the cooking. Or I’ll reveal that I’m still single at the age of 36, living with roommates. And we sometimes share meals.

These seemingly mundane details contain the nuggets of some of our deepest human experiences: loss, love, pain, surrender, courage. All that comes out?! But all I did was ask them to describe their kitchen!

What Should We Babble About?

Babbling is so quick and easy. Anyone can talk for 30 seconds. I’ll end by leaving you with a list of possible topics you can have folks babble about. Enjoy all the stories!

  • Describe the view out a window
  • Describe your desk at work
  • Describe the place you feel most relaxed
  • Describe one of your friends and what you like about them
  • Describe your car
  • Talk about things you did for fun as a child
  • Talk about things you do for fun now
  • Describe in excrutiating detail how you got here today
  • Describe what you ate for breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) today
  • Describe two objects in your living room and how they got there
  • Describe the contents of your refridgerator
  • Etc, etc. Add your own ideas by commenting! (The comment link is, strangely, up at the top of the post).

Hand to Hand Contact

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBIaOEsabZk&hl=en&fs=1&]

How often do you giggle these days?

I’m guaranteed a good giggle whenever I stand palm-to-palm with another person in an InterPlay context. There’s something about a partnered hand dance that gets me every time!! Just watch the video, above, and you’ll see what I mean.

The hand dance is one of the most basic InterPlay forms. It builds on the idea of the one hand dance, which I blogged about recently. However, unlike a one-hand dance (which you do by yourself), a hand-to-hand dance is done with another person. As a result, it can be unpredictable. I never know exactly what the other person will do, or how I will  respond.  Talk about being in the moment!

Now, I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of my life hyper focused on myself (“Am I being a good person?”) or on other people (“How are they responding? Do they like me?”). During a hand dance, these two perspectives soften a bit. Instead, I’m focused on our hands, on the adventure that is unfolding  between the two of us.  And so often, what unfolds is hilarious! And surprising! It makes me laugh out loud! Laughter is such a precious resource; I treasure when it erupts.

I also treasure the opportunity to have safe, affectionate touch with other human bodies. Physical contact is, after all, a minimum requirement for health and happiness. Too often in American culture our needs for physical contact get met only in the context of sexuality. Those of us without a regular romantic partners often get little physical affection, other than an occasional hug or hand shake.  Before InterPlay this used to be true for me, too. But now I have a weekly space where I  am guaranteed  some fun, playful physical connection with others.  It rocks!

Plus, there is something about hand to hand contact that is, quite simply, profound. Amidst my giggles, there are moments of awe, connection, affection, hope. For this reason, I try to build a hand dance into every InterPlay class I teach.  I hope you’ll come play sometime on Mondays in San Francisco or Tuesdays in Oakland. I look forward to the mini adventure that will ensue when our hands meet palm to palm.

Body Data, Body Knowledge, Body Wisdom

Photo: Katherine Kunz
Photo: Katherine Kunz

Listening to my body isn’t hard at all.  But acting on what I’ve heard is.

For example, most mornings my body hurts.  Especially my neck and back. When I’m getting more exercise, they hurt less. When I’m not exercising, they hurt a lot more.

Take this very moment.  It’s 6:55am.  I just got out of the shower. As I was brushing my teeth, the phrase that begins this post sauntered through my mind, swinging her pretty li’l hips.  Ha! I thought.  That’s a perfect line for a blog post about InterPlay philosophy.  I want to go write it right now!!

But then My Body spoke back: Um, Gretchen, don’t you think it would be a good idea to stretch first.  I mean, we’re in pain right now.  And you know how it goes: the minute you open the laptop, you get sucked in for hours.  Pay attention to me first, and then write all you want!

Me: Good point. In fact, what you’re pointing out is a perfect illustration of InterPlay’s distinction between body data, body knowledge, and body wisdom. That’s brilliant!  I want to go write about it right now!!

My Body: Gretchen, dahling. Please pay attention. You notice that our neck hurts pretty badly right now and that our spine is longing to stretch. That’s body data: the little bits and pieces of your experience.

Me: Right! And body knowledge is about collecting those little bits of data over time. Looking for patterns in my experience.

My Body: Yuh huh. And I’ve noticed that pain in the morning is a pattern that doesn’t go away without exercise.  I also notice that it’s a pattern of yours to let excitement for starting the day get in the way of taking care of me. And then I’m in pain for the rest of the day.

***Pause, to let this information sink in. Gretchen is nodding her head, aware that her body is telling nothing but the truth.***

My Body (probing, using her best teacher voice): And…what is body wisdom all about, according to InterPlay?

Gretchen: Body wisdom is about taking action, using the information we’ve gathered about our patterns to make our lives more wonderful.

Body (quietly, almost to herself): And wouldn’t life be more wonderful if we stretched first!

Gretchen: (acquiescing) Yes, yes it would. (but then jolted by another creative urge) But my GOD, this thinking process you just led me through is so wonderful.  It’s a perfect illustration of how important the Body Data-Knowledge-Wisdom thinking process is, and how hard it is as well!  I need to write it down right now or I’ll forget. And I promise ~ I PROMISE ~ I won’t spend more than fifteen minutes on it. … And then we’ll stretch. Pinky swear.

Ecstatic Following

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This blog post is a quickkie. I’m technically on retreat, but I couldn’t resist the wireless access in one corner of the dining hall.

You see, I’m infinitely grateful the Wreck This Journal women. And today is the final day of our summer experience. What a wild, zany, luscious, creative, insightful, unconventional group to play with for the summer.

Not the least of which is the power of ecstatic following!

Lately I’ve been thinking that our culture places too much emphasis on leadership. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m infinitely grateful for Jamie Ridler’s leadership.  Without her vision and initiative, we wouldn’t be here.

But Jamie’s leadership needed a flock of willing followers. Not just willing. Ecstatic!! And we rose to the occasion. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you check out what all the other women have been doing with their journals this summer.

Plus, check out my piece on Ecstatic Following on the Virtual Friday Morning InterPlay Blog.  I’m proud that InterPlay co-founder Cynthia Winton-Henry trusted me with a guest post. And I’m curious whether the idea of “ecstatic following” resonates with the other Wreckers.

Off to the retreat now. Big squishy, messy hugs to all my readers, but especially the Wreck This Journal gals!

One-Hand Dance

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKnSFdNUIxA]

This post is part of a project to share reflections about all 28 of the Core Elements of InterPlay.  For background information about InterPlay or this project, read What the Heck is InterPlay?!.

What’s a One-Hand Dance?

A one-hand dance is exactly that — a dance in which only the hand moves (well, I guess the arm moves, too; it’s attached to the hand, after all).

Experience it for yourself by watching the video (above).  I’m giving the instructions while Dorothy does a hand dance. Follow along if you like.

OK. So you dance with your hand, Gretchen.  Big deal. What’s the point!?

A one-hand dance is strangely satisfying. Totally relaxing. Plus, I’m frequently surprised by all the different ways I can move my hand. If there’s that much expression in one hand — just imagine how much there is in a whole body!

Here are some other good reasons:

Stress Relief

A hand dance is great for stress relief, too. When I’m feeling too overloaded, taking 30 seconds to shake, punch, and zoom my hand above my computer can work wonders. (In InterPlay we call this exformation).

Prayer*

One-hand dances are lovely for remembering people we care about. For example, lately I’ve been waking up with specific people on my mind. Right there in bed, I’ll do a one-hand dance on behalf of the person I was thinking about.  Usually it lasts under a minute, and I always feel more connected to that person after wards.

Discernment

But I’ve saved the BEST reason for LAST. The one-hand dance is a remarkable tool for discernment. I know, that sounds wierd. How do you discern something by dancing!? Here’s what the facilitation manual says on the subject:

Have each person think of a question they have for/about themselves. Then have them take the question directly out of their “focusers” and let it float out in the space. … Do a one-hand dance, then afterwards notice with a partner about anything that came up.

I’m constantly astounded by the ideas that “show up” when I move. When I was writing my thesis, I often used movement to “discern” what the next steps in my research should be. You can read more about that here.

But why does it work!? Why does movement sometimes free up our ability to think innovatively about something? Maybe because the brain stops thinking so hard. It’s often in this “letting go” place that inspiration strikes. More about this in a fabulous New Yorker article on eureka moments.

It might also because the movement of the hand distracts us from our inner chatter. Since we’re focusing on the movement of our arms, we’re less likely to spend time listening to all our judgments, worries, fantasies, etc etc etc. Freed up from our habitual thinking, were more likely to notice new ideas that pop into our minds.

I’m sure there are other reasons, too, related to the neuroscience of how movement changes our thought processes.   The body-mind connection is fascinating!

Now What?!

So, I’m curious: did you try doing a hand-dance along with the video? If so, what was it like for you?

Please don’t think you had to have a “aha!” moment in order to comment. All experiences are totally legit.

(If you want to comment, the link is actually up under the heading to the blog post; sorry it’s so hard to find!)

*P.S. I hemmed and hawed about whether to use the word “prayer” in this post. It’s such a loaded term in our culture, and I think some people are turned off by it. Here I refer to prayer as a way of sending good thoughts in the direction of people I care about. It does not have to be specifically religious or spiritual, although it can be.

Danger! InterPlay Now in San Francisco

Gretchen Wegner and Randy Newsanger
Gretchen Wegner and Randy Newsanger

Next month my new InterPlay class with Randy debuts in San Francisco. Heed this warning:

InterPlay is designed to unlock the wisdom of the body.

But unlocking the wisdom of the body is DANGEROUS!

Why? Because if you uncover what you really know, if you trust it, and then if you act on it: it will CHANGE your life.

Of course, life transformation doesn’t happen all at once. Thank goodness. Change sneaks up over time. That’s why we call the processes “sneaky deep.”

What we really do in InterPlay is have a lot of fun together. We tell stories, move our bodies, free our voices, play with physical contact, and share stillness.

And somehow all that fun, connection, and reflection turns into — gasp! drum roll please!! — personal transformation. At whatever level is perfect for you. For example, I found more boldness and freedom to be myself.  Others discovered:

  • More comfort in public speaking and self expression.
  • A recovered sense of play in daily life.
  • Greater ability to embrace spontaneity
  • More ease connecting with others
  • Permission to relax & reflect
  • Practical tools to deal with overwhelm and stress

InterPlay is hard to describe, but easy to do. It’s not for everybody. But it might just be for you. Try it and see! For more information about the new San Francisco class starting Monday, August 10th, go to www.interplaysanfrancisco.org

To read others’ perspectives on how this subversive practice changes lives, here are a few additional resources:

P.S. Big thanks to Dorothy for the tweet that inspired this blog entry.

P.P.S. The delightful-and-dangerous Randy Newswanger is my partner-in-crime. Come to InterPlay in SanFrancisco and you’ll get to play with the two of us.

Dance on Behalf Of

indiagroupreach

There are many things that cannot be held by one individual alone
if we are to have health.  When others play with our prayers,
concerns, questions, hopes or dreams, …  surprises and relief can come.

~Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry

The Bachlorette Party

Last week at my Wing It! rehearsal, we improvised a bachlorette party for a fellow performer. There was raucous laughter as we offered bad relationship advice and danced a mock strip tease.

But when Phil (our artistic director) suggested a “Dance On Behalf Of,” I was touched beyond words.  A soft piece of music was put on, and six dancers twirled and glided in support of the bride-to-be’s deepest wishes for her new marriage.

What’s a Dance on Behalf Of?

A “Dance on Behalf Of” is a nonverbal way of paying attention to, or sending energy towards, a person, place, or situation that we are carrying in our hearts. The mover(s) can dance on behalf of the person who is witnessing (as we did with the bride-to-be).  It is also possible to move on behalf of a person, place, or situation that is not present.

Having An Easy Focus

Sometimes at the Tuesday night InterPlay class, we’ll have participants tell stories about someone who is on their minds. I often  talk about my nephew Sebastian, who lives achingly far away from me. Or a client who is really struggling at school.

Then we’ll put on a piece of music and invite folks to simply remember that person while they move. Often I get so caught up in my dance that I forget all about the person I’m dancing on behalf of. And that’s OK, too. Easy focus is the name of the game!

Try It Yourself

Do you have someone or something on your heart right now? Try your own mini Dance On Behalf Of.

  • If you like, put on a piece of music that moves you (‘tho music is not necessary).
  • Take a moment to remember that person or situation.
  • Then, let your focus soften so you’re not thinking too hard.
  • Allow your body to move. This might look as simply as swaying back and forth or walking mindfully. Perhaps it’s more energetic, with full out dancing. Move in whatever way feels enjoyable for you.
  • When you’re finished –after 30 seconds or 3 minutes — take one more moment to remember the person or situation.
  • Notice whatever sensations you’re experiencing in your body.
  • Then, shake it all out!

Although there is much that I am grateful for about the InterPlay practice, the “Dance On Behalf Of” form is one of its sweetest gifts to the world. I hope you enjoy it, too.

(The picture, by the way, was taken by Katherine Kunz on a trip we took to India last year. We had just finished participating in a workshop with Cynthia Winton-Henry, and these women are saying thank you to us with their own Dance On Behalf Of.)