Article and photos by Rosalie James.
Is it difficult to keep your feet still when you hear dance music? Well you aren’t alone. From “Dancing with the Stars” to Animal Planet’s “Pet Star” everybody and her dog is dancing.
Dancing with dogs, known in the dog sport world as “canine freestyle” or “musical canine freestyle”, began in Canada in 1989. England, the United States, and the Netherlands were close behind. Nobody really knows what first inspired people to turn on a boom box and dance with their dog partners, but some believe it was an attempt by traditional obedience teachers to add a little zip to their classes.
This new dog activity has taken firm root and is branching out in several directions. While some people dance with their canine partners in their own living rooms, others learn formal steps and choreograph routines to present to therapy clients or perform at community events. Now competition-minded people can win titles in this exciting new dog sport.
International organizations, such as the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO), the Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF) and Canada-based, Paws 2 Dance, hold competitions in the US and other countries to earn titles. The Musical Dog Sport Association (MDSA) is a newcomer and will soon be offering competitions as well. Depending on the organization’s philosophy, a costume for the human and a decorative collar for the dog are often part of the fun.
According to Patie Ventre, founder of WFCO, “…the object of musical freestyle is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative, and original dance, using music and intricate movements to showcase teamwork, artistry, costuming, athleticism and style in interpreting the theme of the music. Canine freestyle is a showcase that truly demonstrates the joys and fun of bonding with your pet.”
Does the human part of the team actually have to dance? Absolutely not. You can move in time with the music and use body language to convey the spirit of the music. Your canine partner joins in with pre-trained movements such as circles, spins, jumps, and weaving motions between the human’s legs. This combination of movements conveys the picture of the human/dog couple dancing together.
One of the most intriguing aspects of canine freestyle is the bond that develops between the human and canine partners as they dance together. This bond carries over to other dog sports. Freestylers often report a renewed spirit of partnership in their agility, obedience and rally efforts because the dog can do no “wrong” in canine freestyle. In fact, sometimes the canine partner is the one who develops a new move that is celebrated and incorporated into routines. It’s a true partnership.
Since there are no required moves in canine freestyle, dogs who are physically handicapped or who are in their golden years can still participate in the joy of freestyle. The human partner determines the moves that the canine partner does, keeping in mind any physical limitations. That goes for the human partner too.
Canine freestyle is performed by not only the young and physically fit, but by those who have physical challenges as well. Even wheelchair users can enjoy this unique bonding experience with their dog. Canine freestyle is gaining popularity in New Mexico. I became fascinated with it three years ago when I saw a video clip of Carolyn Scott and her golden retriever, Rookie, dancing to the song “You’re the One That I Want” from the movie, “Grease.” Tears of joy totally overwhelmed me when I saw the bond those two had and I knew I needed to find a way to experience that with my own dog. No one in New Mexico was doing canine freestyle, much less teaching it, then so I taught myself through books and tapes. By using the internet I questioned experts from all over the world. My Australian Labradoodle, Rocky, and I have since earned a WCFO title, co-founded the Rio Grande Canine Freestylers club (RGCF), and are now sharing the joy of the sport through our classes.
Rosalie James is a canine freestyle instructor and the founder of Rio Grande Canine Freestylers club. Her dancing partner is her Australian Labradoodle, Rocky.
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