Q&A with TELOS Instructor, Claudia Lawrey

Claudia Lawrey

What are the 3 most important things a student will learn in the course, Dance for Stage and Film, Part II?

In this course, dance scenes from 33 stage and movie musicals are viewed, analyzed and discussed. Our discussions focus on the context of the historical, social and sometimes political themes expressed in these dance segments. As with any art form, much is often said through the symbolism and metaphor that dance uses to help move a story forward. Students who took Part I of this course commented on the social, cultural and political implications so apparent in dances that often purport to be used for “entertainment” value, but are actually serious, tacit messages spoken through movement. Students also learn the fascinating inside stories behind the casting choices for stage and movie musicals. For example, most fans of Dick Van Dyke would think he was a trained dancer, at least a student of dance–but no! With no dance training at all, he made movie musical history with his lithe, Ray Bolger-esque dancing in Mary Poppins’ Step In Time. Another example: Audrey Hepburn was not the producers’ first choice to play Eliza in My Fair Lady. Every musical has its own back story, and the dances chosen for this course reveal some of the most interesting. Finally, students will come away from this course with an ability to distinguish between stylistic and technical differences of famous choreographers. The lives of these and many other choreographers are revealed before we watch their dances. Students will be able to identify a Bob Fosse dance and articulate how they know it is his work, and not the work of Hermes Pan or Agnes de Mille. This is a multi-faceted learning experience, with many surprises in the syllabus! View course info here.

Who should take this class?

This course is for students who already enjoy dance, music and theater of any kind. They will greatly benefit from a unique perspective offered. Students who are curious to learn how dance came to be an integral part of movie and stage musicals, and how it has evolved over the decades, will gain a thorough understanding of the subject. Students who are looking for a seriously fun hour and a half each week should take this course! The energy is high in this class due to engaging dance videos, historical information, lively discussions, and occasional dance demonstrations by the instructor.

Why do you want to teach this course?

Part I of Dance for Stage and Film consisted of dances from 34 musicals, but there are at least 33 more!  I could not fit them all into one 8-week quarter, and each of the 10 students who took the course expressed an interest in continuing to learn about the dances from shows we could not fit in. This is an important part of theater history, taught from my perspective of a long career in dance, opera and musical theater. I see that there is an audience for this course.

How did you get started with this topic?

I have nearly 40 years of experience as an actor, dancer, choreographer, and company director. I came up with this course a year ago when I realized that such a course would tie together my concert dance career, my musical theater and opera work, and my teaching experience. This course was created expressly for TELOS students.

If you could tell students one thing about this class, what would it be?

This class is full of enlightening insights into musical theater that you won’t get anyplace else. It’s not solely a history course, although it is rife with historical references. It is not simply a “sit back and watch videos” class, because much context is studied. It’s one of the most fun-filled, yet intellectually engaging courses I’ve ever taught.

What have you learned from teaching?

This answer could be a whole book–I am sure most seasoned professors/teachers would agree. I am a born teacher. It is always a challenge and a privilege to teach. A good teacher is always learning. I constantly learn from my students how to be a better teacher. They are full of facts, information, and my student-centered pedagogy gives them a safe place and the freedom to express themselves. This allows me to learn what works and what needs improvement. Naturally, I learn by continuing to be engaged in my work as a dance maker, researcher, and writer. Thus far, the most striking thing I have learned from teaching is that the more I learn, the more there is to learn. And that is what keeps my teaching fresh!


Interested in exploring TELOS offerings in Art and Literature? Take a look at the full list of classes here. New Spring Quarter 2017 classes will be posted on Tuesday, February 21. Register online or by calling Customer Service at (425) 564-2263.

Last Updated February 21, 2017