Cutting a rug with Rover

December 13, 1998|By Boston Globe

Unlike traditional pairs dancing, a new competitive ballroom event isn't so concerned with heel and toe, just heel. It's "musical canine freestyle" - humans dancing with dogs.

It's not the kind of dog dancing you might expect, where an over-exuberant owner suddenly picks up his dog's front paws and mambos around the living room.

In fact, according to rules codified by the World Canine Freestyle Organization, touching is discouraged. Instead, owners and dogs perform "dance-oriented footwork in time to the music." Basically, the human dances while the dog sticks close. Each routine is supposed to tell a story.

Entries range from novice to advanced and from single pairs to teams of three or more pairs. Scoring is Olympics-style, with scores from 1 to 10 on technical merit and artistic impression.

The competition's national guru is Patie Ventre, head of the dog dancing organization, which has a worldwide mailing list of 8,000 people and has been featured recently on NBC and CNN.

The beauty of dog dancing, Ventre says, is that anyone can do it. "Being a dancer is not necessary," her brochure reassures, though "some sense of rhythm is helpful" and your dog should be "accomplished in heeling." Ventre estimates it might take three to six months to work up a solid routine. Key is finding out "which music your dog responds to best."

Along with a catchy tune, you need a snappy outfit: Performers "must costume up." Humans anyway. Dogs don't dress, save for collars that must match the handler's attire.

While certain breeds, such as Border collies, are quick dog-dancing studies, competitions have seen some surprising entries, such as bloodhounds and Newfoundlands.

But as with any judged event, playing to the crowd is crucial. Ventre says that at the recent Nature's Recipe Footloose Fantasy Freestyle Event in Houston, the waltz "God Bless Texas," performed by a Chihuahua mix, had the audience in tears.

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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