Improv Is Just Like This 80s Craze, And They’re Both Good For You

By Alice Stanley Jr. | Jan 3, 2018

Step aerobics, or “step” (as those in the know call it) is/was an 80s workout craze that involves following an instructor as he or she demonstrates dance combinations using those dumb little flats while a club remix of “Honey, I’m Good” blasts in a yoga studio. There is one gym in all of Chicago that still has step, and ya girl is a regular.

My group fitness habits have taught me more than how to do a ham-hop. These classes have also helped me step up (sans Channing Tatum) when it comes to pursuing comedy and improvisation, because it turns out both activities share a lot in common.

Everyone Has Looked Stupid Before

At the start of my first step class, I smugly set my risers and sized up the room: a dozen elderly women in spandex. Within five minutes, I was huffing and puffing to keep up while an octogenarian sashayed circles around me. By the end of class, I was ready to lay down in my tiny step coffin and die of embarrassment, but after about six more classes, I got the hang of it. Every couple weeks, a new stepper comes in and–unbeknownst to her–models the exact same first day everyone else in the room had. They slip and stutters and often never return. If only they knew what I know now–that everyone looks stupid sometimes.

After bombing an audition, it’s tempting to leave thinking, “No one has ever done as poorly as I just did,” but actually, everyone has.

Watching Others Only Screws You Up

Ain’t nobody got time during a high-power “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” routine to be peepin’ other peeps. During step, eyes should either be on the instructor or yourself in the mirror (to evaluate when you could add more gusto to your mambo). Comparing myself to other, better dancers only broke my morale. On the flip side, once in the thick of a rocking-horse-pivot-jump, I started watching others who couldn’t get the move. “Ha!” I thought. “I’m queen of this gym!” And then I fell off the step and bonked my butt.

As with comedy, studying a pro is helpful, but comparing yourself to others is nothing but a butt-bonking distraction.

Enjoy The Grind

Occasionally, when there are a lot of Peter Pan leaps in a combo, I start eyeballin’ the clock. When is this class over? And then I consider what comes next: walking into the cold and going to work. Nah, dude. At the end of the day, I’ll realize shaking my rump to Fifth Harmony’s “Worth It” was a highlight, not something I had to “get through.” Ditto those midnight improv shows or those late nights spent revising your solo show or prop shopping on a $2 budget with friends.

That’s good stuff, and not to be rushed past.

Perfection Once Is Not True Mastery

It probably took me six months to get a full class routine “perfect,” meaning I hit all the right moves at all the right times. I didn’t biff a step and then have to stop in the middle, recenter, and figure out where to join back in with the rest of class.  It was a huge accomplishment for me, but after my “perfect” week, I still made mistakes. I didn’t become a master stepper by doing a perfect performance one time. I became a master stepper when I could make a mistake and seamlessly keep moving with the combination.

A dynamite show is a dynamite show, but that’s just one show. Consistency is way more satisfying and tangible. So lately, my goal hasn’t been perfect shows, it’s been recovering from a horrible scene as fast as I pop right back into a stomp-ball-change after I flub a Reverse Elvis.

And if that doesn’t sound like a dirty metaphor, I don’t know what does.

Work out your funny bones in 2018 by taking an improv class for a test drive! Or get funnier (and stay warmer) by not leaving the house and enrolling in a Second City Training Center online comedy class.

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