Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dancing with the Dogs: Musical Canine Freestyle

By Julia Williams

Now that the internet is firmly entrenched in my life, the saying, “You learn something new every day” seems true for me. I am amazed at the things I discover by wasting time on Facebook and other sites. One of those recent discoveries was that there is such a thing as “dancing with the dogs,” aka Musical Canine Freestyle competitions. Not only that, they are very popular with dogs, pet owners and audiences alike. Who knew? I mean, I’ve watched dancing dogs perform on television shows like Pet Star and America’s Got Talent, but I had no idea this fast growing dog sport was so prevalent in America, Canada, Japan and many other countries. I spent more time than I care to admit watching dancing canines and their “handlers” strut their stuff on Youtube, and I have to say it really looks like fun. I love my kitties dearly, but now I really wish I had a dog!

What Is Musical Canine Freestyle?

Put simply, Musical Canine Freestyle (or just Canine Freestyle) is choreographed dancing with dogs to music. The objective is to bond with your dog while teaching them to perform a routine that’s enjoyable for all concerned. Wikipedia defines Canine Freestyle as “a modern dog sport that is a mixture of obedience, tricks and dance which allows for creative interaction between dogs and their owners.” According to the Musical Dog Sport Association, “training, teamwork, music and movement combine to create an artistic, choreographed performance that celebrates the unique qualities of each individual dog.”

The Canine Freestyle Federation says the sport is “an excellent discipline to illustrate the conformation and movement of the dog. The reach, drive and beauty of an athletic, trained dog moving to music can take one’s breath away.” And finally, the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) says that the goal of this sport 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.”

Freestyle doggie dance got its start in the late 80s as “heel work to music,” which used traditional heeling exercises set to music and added some variations to make it more interesting and challenging. Musical Canine Freestyle takes the concept even further by adding moves that do not maintain the traditional heel position. Several different people claim to have invented this fun new dog sport, including obedience trainers, dressage trainers, choreographers and show biz entertainers.

Canine Freestyle Competitions and Clubs

Musical Canine Freestyle events and competitions take place all over the world. Currently, there are several organizations in the United States that regulate competitive canine freestyle events, including the aforementioned WCFO, Canine Freestyle Federation and Musical Dog Sport Association. Canada and Japan also have Canine Freestyle organizations that sanction competitions.

Competition rules vary from group to group, but are usually based on a variety of technical and artistic merit points. The routines are done without training aids or leashes, except for some beginner categories. Competitions typically involve just one dog and their handler, but sometimes can involve teams of two, three or more dogs.

In addition to organizations that sanction Canine Freestyle events, there are a multitude of canine dance clubs around the world. These friendly groups welcome handlers and dogs of all ages and levels of experience. Their purpose is to develop and promote the sport through workshops, demonstrations, fun matches, discussion groups, fundraisers and sanctioned canine freestyle events. 

Teaching Your Dog to Dance

The first thing you need to do is choose the music you would like to dance to. You can use just one song or edit several together to create your own unique composition. The second step is to choreograph a routine to your music. You will need to design steps and movements for both yourself and your dog that relate to your music. This might be basic obedience steps or variations of them, dressage movements, tricks, and any new and/or unusual moves you can dream up. The third step is selecting costumes for you and your doggie dance partner that coordinate with the theme of your music. If you want to enter a competition, there is a fourth step to the process. You need to make sure your routine follows the rules and guidelines set forth by the musical canine freestyle organization for the event.

The great thing about Canine Freestyle competitions is that any breed of dog can do it, from itty-bitty Chihuahuas to medium-sized Shelties, to Labs, Golden Retrievers and Bernese Mountain Dogs. Even if you think your dog has “two left feet,” you can both still have fun with freestyle dance, because the most important thing is spending quality time together. Dance on!

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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