~ by Nandita Batheja
Five years ago, I lay on the floor at InterPlayce in the middle of the Art & Social Change training. We were in the middle of doing shape and stillness—I forget the prompt now, but it was something about purpose, or finding home. Or maybe those are the words I think of because they’re the ones I felt.
I rested in a shape on the ground, tears streaming from my eyes. I knew that I found something I had been yearning for my whole life. That I was lying on the floor of a home I didn’t know existed, that I didn’t know I could ever return to. Movement. Song. Art. Story. Community. Connection. Spirit. Healing. Freedom of Expression. And the dance between them all. This is how I describe InterPlay—but it’s also how I describe myself. To be united with this kind of home has been a blessing I cannot describe.
My InterPlay journey has been just like my journey to InterPlay—unexpected, magical, intense, full of love, sometimes there are accidents, and often, it has me Walking/Stopping/and Running along the precipice of the unknown. After my Art & Social Change training, I returned home to NYC where I was connected with another InterPlayer, Libby Mislan, now my close friend and collaborator. Over the next few years, we offered NYC InterPlay sessions geared towards artist-activists, low-income, intergenerational and largely bipoc communities. I watched IP give to others what it continued to give to me: internal authority, release, joy!, friendship, possibility, creative force, confidence, and the healing of internalized oppression.
As I grew, InterPlay also grew within me, adapting with my curiosities and work in the world. On a personal level, InterPlay became one of my main mediums to connect with my ancestry, something that became essential to my art and healing. I’m now working on a novel about belonging, migration, loss, memory and the body—much of which has been inspired by what I discovered through my IP ancestry journey. This process also grew into a collaboration with InterPlayer Natty Abdou, where we hold embodied ancestry workshops to similarly offer space for ancestral connection, guidance and healing, especially for those whose ancestors suffered genocide, violence and oppression.
On a work level, InterPlay has been crucial to me as a facilitator, conflict transformation practitioner and educator. In designing and leading mentorship programs for middle schoolers in Newark, NJ, I used InterPlay to build intergenerational community and to level power dynamics amongst kids and the adult mentors. I also strongly lean on InterPlay in doing conflict work with youth and adults. At Seeds of Peace, InterPlay helped build connection between young folx grappling with anger and mistrust across their intersectional identities. As time went on and the teens began to confront the extremely painful inequities between them, InterPlay helped groups exform and express. When people were too upset or triggered to dialogue, it offered another way to communicate their pain, their sorrow, their stories. At other times, it also helped them laugh and find ways to sustain their spirits through difficult identity work.
The same goes for adults. When I facilitate retreats for artist-activists with YES! World, InterPlay helps us dive deep into our personal stories of oppression and our dreams of liberation. It also gives us ways to find exuberance with one another across identity divides, which is its own freedom practice. Finally, and maybe most unexpectedly, I’ve used InterPlay in facilitating heated dialogues between community members and police in New Jersey. The group was barely able to discuss anything. The mix of betrayal, fear and anger kept people defensive and shut down. InterPlay helped me break the thick wall of resistance preventing authentic dialogue by getting people out of their heads and into the autonomy of their bodies. Babbling created more flow. A hand-to-hand dance (which I still can’t believe I led) created surprising connection. It also made space for the community’s container of rage, which held their grief and pain. We couldn’t heal anything without touching people’s truths—and the dance helped truth rise up. It wasn’t perfect, and I’m not sure I’d lead it like that again, but it helped the group move forward into necessary and honest discussion.
InterPlay is known as being ‘sneaky deep’. In my experience, that’s an understatement. It holds incredible power—and that’s because it encourages people to be in, live and lead from their bodies. The human body, the earth body, pleads for right relationship. Our bodies know how to do justice; they know what balance means, they crave harmony. Our bodies get reparations; they know how to repair, if given the chance. InterPlay connects me to my body and my spirit; and my bodyspirit shows me how to repair my own wounds, and then how to turn to the world and do the same. What is the value of that? Well, what’s the value of love?
Happy 30th birthday InterPlay <3. May we continue to grow together. I love you!