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Dog Dancing in Connecticut

Doesn't this look like great fun!!!! I wish I had the time and discipline to do this, espcially with Sol! When I get wild and...

Joy  |  Dec 14th 2006


Doesn’t this look like great fun!!!! I wish I had the time and discipline to do this, espcially with Sol! When I get wild and crazy dancing around the house he loves it! In fact, he and Star do this sort of mirror move with one twirling one way and the other twirling in the opposite direction. I know they would absolutely love to dance!

Do any Dogsters dance? Bark in and tell us all more about this sport/art!

Carrie Neri and Calloway

This article comes from the Hartford Courant.

Dances With Dogs
December 10, 2006
By CAROLYN MOREAU, Courant Staff Writer

MANCHESTER — Laurie Sullivan is wearing a skin-tight bodysuit made from crushed velvet fabric that she bought in New York City and shipped to Kansas to be stitched.

Matching fingerless gloves cover her thin arms from wrists to shoulders, which are bare. With one hand, she fidgets with a pair of gray wolf ears attached to a headband. Her long brown hair is pulled back in a ponytail. As she waits her turn to compete in an annual dog dancing competition, she’s worrying that the ears might be a problem.

Bowie, her 2-year-old golden retriever, has never seen Sullivan, of Stamford, wearing wolf ears. Yet, in a few moments, he’s supposed to perform a choreographed routine with Sullivan to “Hungry Like the Wolf” by Duran Duran.

“I don’t know what he’ll do when he sees them,” Sullivan says.

As it turns out, Bowie is oblivious to the ears. The crowd at this second annual dog dancing competition at Tails U Win Canine Training Center in Manchester, is delighted at the spectacle of a wolf in crushed velvet dancing with a golden retriever.

In the world of dog dance, there is a school of thought that people who boogie with their bow-wows shouldn’t attract attention to themselves with flashy outfits. The World Canine Freestyle Organization, which sanctioned this competition, does not agree. Satin pants, pleather dresses, and Las Vegas-style tops gleaming with sequins are positively encouraged at WCFO competitions.

Patie Ventre, the founder and president of WCFO, likens this form of the sport to figure skating, except there is no ice, and one competitor in each pair is a dog. It’s scored much like figure skating, too: A 10.0 is the highest possible score. Pairs get points for jumps, twirls, and rolls, and routines are assessed for both technical merit and artistic impression.

Dog dancing began in many places simultaneously in the late 1980s, and quickly split into different forms, each with its own set of competition rules and standards. In the U.S., there is also the Canine Freestyle Federation and The Musical Dog Sport Association. England has its Canine Freestyle GB, and Japan has the Pawfect K9 Freestyle Club.

There is no big pot of gold for those who excel, though the WCFO does have big ambitions. The prizes at stake for the 24 competitors in the Manchester “Spooktacular” competition were mainly baskets of doggy treats and toys. The DogHouse Dancers, a group based in Maryland, donated a fleece dog bed as a prize.

Ventre, a former figure skater who wore silver nail polish on the day she helped to judge the Manchester competition, says her dearest goal is to see dogs and humans dancing in competition at the Olympic Games.

“I founded this with the concept of strength and beauty,” Ventre says. “I love dog dancing. I concocted the name.”

It is pouring rain on the first morning of the weekend-long competition. It drums on the tin roof of the Tails U Win Canine Training Center as humans and dogs stand for the national anthem. A German shepherd wearing a blue bandanna lets out a couple of howls.

“Now shake paws and get out there dancing,” a judge orders.

Ann Engen and Dusty, a corgi, are the first in the ring, performing a country western number to “If Bubba Can Dance (I Can Too)” by Shenandoah. Afterward, Engen explains that Dusty, a medically challenged dog, is lucky to be dancing at all.

Puppies, like human babies, can suffer from patent ductus arteriosus, when the connection between the aorta and pulmonary artery does not close after birth. Dusty’s heart condition wasn’t diagnosed until she was 2 and underwent open heart surgery at Tufts. “She still has a heart murmur,” Engen says.

Dusty also suffers from multiple allergies, for which she takes Benadryl. “She loves to dance, but she is never going to be speedy,” Engen says.

It’s not hard to teach a dog the moves. Laurel Rabschutz and Ben, a black-and-white Newfoundland with slobbery jowls, start their routine with a deep bow to each other. The song is “Godzilla” by Blue Oyster Cult, but Rabschutz is certain that Ben never follows to the music.

When Ben bows, he stretches out his body till his front end is on the ground and his rump remains high, like a yoga devotee performing a “downward facing dog.” Dogs (and cats) perform this movement naturally, and Rabschutz has captured it for her dance routine by rewarding Ben when he stretches, so that he now associates the movement with a cue and a reward.

“Dogs catch on pretty quick, so you have to up the ante,” Rabschutz says. “No reward every time. It is amazing how much they can really learn.”

But there is a difference between learning the moves and executing them flawlessly in a dance routine. Dogs are forever scheming ways to skip the stunts and go to the part when they relax with a piece of cheese. Rabschutz tries to avoid practicing whole routines with her dogs because she doesn’t want them thinking ahead.

“In any dog sport, the dog will anticipate,” Rabschutz says. “It never works quite the way you think it will.”

Rabschutz has been dog dancing since 1994 in a group that still has many of its original human members (most of the original dogs have since passed on). She has been helping out at dog dancing classes at Tails U Win in the weeks leading up to the competition. “I hope it will give us some new folks,” she says.

“Oh, very brave,” says Brenda Stoeke, one of about 20 spectators, who has just spotted the next competitor coming into the ring. It’s a Clumber spaniel, which means it’s a low-slung dog with a massive head and a body suited to hunting quietly in thick undergrowth. What the Clumber spaniel isn’t necessarily suited for is running backward in a tight circles around its owner. “They are dogs without legs,” Stoeke says.

Still, all the dog breeds have their good and bad points when it comes to dancing. The herding dogs are agile, but tend to bark and may even try to herd their human dance partners. Retrievers, those quintessential all-American dogs who get star casting in dog food commercials, are prone to spacing out in the middle of their routines, like absent-minded drivers at red lights.

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