Mary Poindexter McLaughlin
WRITER. TEACHING ARTIST. THEATRICAL FUN-MEISTER.
Part 1: The Improv Part
Improvisation delivered me from my addiction to “doing it right.” I had acted in plays and musicals in high school and college, but always with an overwhelming fear of making a mistake. I couldn’t sing solos, and before any performance, I was a total wreck. I can remember being backstage moments before the curtain opened for an in-school assembly to showcase our winter one-acts, feverishly petitioning a higher power: “Please, oh please God, let someone pull the fire alarm. Let there be a power outage. A tornado drill! Just please don’t make me perform in front of my entire school.”
And then I had the good fortune to study improv with Patricia Ryan Madson at Stanford. Once the initial panic of “What? No script?!?” wore off, a welcome calm settled. I learned to trust my instincts and my scene partners. No longer worried about mistakes – there were none to make! – I became a better listener, onstage and off. I even co-founded an improv troupe, and soon we performed regularly.
When I went to NYC to pursue acting after college, I called on my improv training frequently. In auditions, I was more relaxed, and therefore more creative; my peaceful brain could make more interesting and varied choices. Onstage, I was soothed by the knowledge that if, god forbid, I went up on my lines, I had the tools to keep the scene moving. But it was offstage, in my everyday existence, that my improv training kept serving me, in unexpected and truly marvelous ways.
Part 3: improviDance – A Match Made in Heaven
And then it happened: the marriage of improv with conscious dance. Like peanut butter and jelly (or chocolate, if you prefer) these two activities complement each other perfectly. Both embrace freedom within structure; both support a “stepping out” of our culturally reinforced cranio-centric lives; both encourage individuality within community. So many times I have seen an improv scene explode with creativity and confidence after a dance, and seen an individual blossom into unselfconscious self-expressive dance after breaking through a difficult challenge in improv. There is a lovely synergy between the two modalities, creating exponential growth.
The word “improvidence,” with an “e,” means “not providing for the future; rash; incautious.” Most of us are conditioned to be prudent and thoughtful, planning for all contingencies. That’s fine, and it keeps us safe. Yet too much scripting, across many aspects of our lives, confines us and makes us small. ImproviDance with an “a” celebrates the rash and incautious, always drawing us back to the present moment, where we can be fully, and magnificently, alive.
I teach improviDance to share this beautiful path to inner freedom that I’ve found. I teach it to help others break through the tyranny of “perfection,’ shed old habits of thinking and being, and live in authenticity. Bottom line? I teach improviDance because I absolutely love seeing people connect with their divine selves and have a blast doing it.
Part 2: The Dance Part
As a child, I loved to dance. I danced to Broadway musical LPs in our living room, I studied tap and jazz, and later, choreographed for my high school showchoir. Years later in NYC I took my first –and last – dance class at Broadway Dance, the go-to studio for aspiring Broadway dancers. In Beginning Jazz, I lined up next to a rail-thin girl in leotard and legwarmers (it was the late 80s), and watched in the mirror as she warmed up by kicking her leg so high that her shin grazed her ear. I fled, never to return. Clearly, I was NOT a dancer.
Fast-forward over decades of dancing only at weddings. While living in Connecticut, a friend recommended I come with her to a “dance class.” I must have looked stricken, because she was quick to assure me that it wasn’t your typical dance class. No mirrors, no routines to learn and perfect. No recitals. No legwarmers. I went.
With seven or eight others of beautifully varying sizes, I stretched and moved, listened to my body and allowed it to respond to the music. Our teacher gave us just enough structure to provide a container for freedom. Freedom! While dancing! A revelation! I was hooked. I went to Kripalu in Western Massachusetts and trained to become a teacher of YogaDance, a form of “conscious dance.”
Origins of improviDance