Follow Your Feet by Evey McKellar

Editing is a crucial tool for a lively and energetic improv show: the well-timed edit secures a joke in infamy; the strong edit leaves the audience at the height of their laughter, thirsty for more.

When we first learn editing in improv, our instincts are brand new. As we practice and progress, a phenomenon occurs. Watching our teammates play out their scenes, our feet begin to communicate their own message. Our teachers encourage us: follow your feet. They seem to have a wisdom of their own; we lurch forward as if about to fall off a ledge. Coming up to our toes and then back down to our heels, something within us had an idea, something within us felt that the scene could end here; together we found a height of connection and comedy.

With improv we teach our bodies to be warm and receptive to each other, to support and show up, following our feet. Even if we do not have a strong idea, we can initiate with our postures a gait as we enter the stage. Even if we do not have a song in mind, we can support our partner by showing up and tapping them out. Truth be told, an idea will always follow we emerge, even if we make it up as we go.  

Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk wrote a book entitled, “The Body Keeps the Score,” sharing his research about how trauma gets lodged and locked in our bodies. Healing and release from these histories are experienced through somatic therapeutic techniques, attending to the wisdom of the body as distinct from talk therapy. Van der Kolk’s work has revolutionized our cultural trust and attention to the wisdom found in the body. Our overall health improves as we become attuned to our bodies: mindfulness practices such as meditation, body scans, yoga, and attention to one’s breathing can decrease anxiety, lower the heart rate, and alleviate depression. Van der Kolk writes, “Mindfulness not only makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity but can also actively steer us in the right direction for self-care.”

In contrast to a society easily stuck in our heads and disconnected from bodily needs, through improv we learn to pay attention to and honor the wisdom our bodies teach us, allowing them to be communication partners rather than ignored vessels.

I once played the game “7 Things” at a community meal. 15-20 individuals gathered disjointedly at my house; before and during the meal they talked over each other, one or two refused to break out of their shell, lots were talking but few seemed heard. After the meal, during a time of reflection and conversation, we started with “7 things”. As the circle cheered “yes!” excitedly to each other, I witnessed the spines around the circle straighten, faces soften, and openness to each other grew. The self-proclaimed loners were energetically encouraging others; those who initially refused to stand were on their feet and leaning in. As we finished the game, the energy was high, the circle was filled with smiles. We shifted into a time of sharing, and the impact was potent and undeniable: people listened with more attention and less interrupting, space was offered for opinions to differ, and those usually quiet led the conversation flow. I was astounded. We had taught their bodies to cooperate and support each other, and their brains followed. (This TED talk goes deeper into the impact that changing one’s body language has on attitude, confidence, and perception.)

What we teach our bodies we teach our minds and souls. Improv is teaching our bodies to cooperate, play together, look for ways to support each other, listen to one another, and trust ourselves. Imagine what the improv stage can teach our policymakers, parents, families, teachers, religious leaders, influencers, neighbors.

Evey McKellar is a Level 4 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso.