The first time we stumbled upon Raymond Shaw and his weekly, televised distance-learning class, we thought we were watching a Mad TV
sketch. Shaw's teaching techniques were so delightfully bumbling, so very way out there, that we couldn't believe that Arizona State University -- or the man himself -- could possibly be serious.
Au contraire! Shaw's three-hour-long Dance in the Movies was the real thing, even if it never -- even for a single minute -- got around to teaching anything about dance. Or the movies. Or dance in the movies. Although we watched faithfully, week after week, Shaw never once discussed Rogers and Astaire; never uttered the names "Hermes Pan" or "Gower Champion" or even "Gene Kelly." There were hourlong discussions about how to turn in a term paper, and endless screenings of the most excruciating "student films" ever seen, and repeated references to something called "the male gaze." But nothing about the evolution of the MGM musical or Busby Berkeley's influential Golddiggers films.
Our favorite moments include the time Shaw had a guest speaker, a profoundly effeminate baldy who muttered for two hours about Marxism and sexism but who -- because this is Dance in the Movies! -- never got around to talking about choreography or the cinema. And then there was the single occasion that Shaw mentioned a movie musical and got all the facts wrong, claiming that West Side Story was a stage musical based on the movie and starring somebody named "Chita Moreno."
Sadly, we'll never see the likes of this sort of sidesplitting bon mot again, as Shaw's show was canceled after a single 13-week season, leaving us to watch ASU-TV also-rans like Learning Math and Essential Science, neither of which is as fun as Dance in the Movies, but both of which are nearly as enlightening about the art of dance on film.