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More Articles

Where Obedience Leaves Off and Freestyle Starts
A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose
The Freestyle Challenge
Getting Started With Freestyle
Definition of Freestyle and Structure of a Freestyle Performance
More Than Just Heeling
Creative Development of Movement
Music, Rhythm and Freestyle
Understanding Required Moves
Do I Have to Dance?
Freestyle - A Point of View
Training: a New Mindset
My Introduction to Training a Freestyle Dog
It Takes Three - The Audience
Choreography: How to Begin
40x50 Feet: The Empty Canvas
Rhythm: The Great Organizer
What is a Guild

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The Empty Canvas is that magical place we step into with our dogs to present a Freestyle performance. It is similar to a stage and within its boundaries many of the theories relating to stage use also hold true. The presentation space according to CFF rules is an area 40 X 50 feet, with the space defined by markers at the corners and midpoints of each side. There is always one long side which is considered front. In a competition this is the side where the judges are seated.

There are two aspects of space which need to be clarified. The first concerns the visual image, the shape or picture of the movement the handler and dog create as they move through space. This is the picture that remains in the mind of the spectator; it can be momentary or remain long after the performance is completed. The second involves the patterns the team makes on the floor as they travel from one place to another. I call this the floor pattern. The corner and midpoint markers are very important to this pattern because they help define and clarify the pattern for the spectator. The markers frame all of the choreography and without a frame of some kind movement and focus are lost to the spectator. However, the shape of the frame can also cause certain problems for the choreographer.

Let’s take a moment to look at different sized frames for the presentation space and see what problems they can present to you as the choreographer. The shape of the presentation space has a far greater effect on us, the human element of the team, than we would like to admit.

If your space is a square, or very close to being a square, you will find yourself repeating most movements because the symmetry of the space forces you to conform to its balance. The middle of the space will be where most of your movements begin and end. Your choreography will tend to focus on you, the handler, while the dog becomes a moving object around you. The dog becomes secondary to your movements instead of you enhancing the dog’s movement.

Now, let’s look at the other extreme: a rectangle, but in this case it is extremely narrow on one side and very long on the other side. This frame creates an entirely different effect. All movement seems to move forward and back either near the long sides or up and down in the middle. This effect is particularly evident if a judge is placed at a narrow end and the spectators are placed along the sides. Diagonals are either extremely short or very long. There also appears to be no center. You, the choreographer, will feel that you are simply passing through the space. Alternatively you will feel the need to confine your movement to several smaller areas, moving between them to balance your choreographic design. However, the final result is still a picture of movement traveling back and forth from one end of the space to the other.

For our last examples let’s briefly look at a frame which is circular or oval. With the oval frame we have a center but all movement seems to be curved. Straight lines seem to work only when passing through the center point. There is a definite pull to focus along the sides of the oval. On the other hand, the circle seems to pull the focus into the center or around and around. Movements can pass through the center but seem to always stop at the edge of a circle, which gives the illusion that everything is even or equal.

In general, in any frame with no orientation toward a front, it is difficult for the choreographer to focus movement, and the choreography will appear to meander through the space. It might be helpful for you at this point to set up framed spaces, similar to those just discussed, to aid your understanding of how the shape of the space influences choreographic design. Improvise in the different spaces to experience how the shape of the space affects your movement and focus.

Now let’s look at the presentation space of CFF. It is a 40 X 50 rectangle. This is a space with which all obedience people are familiar and one we have been in frequently. There is a definite front and all breeds, toys through giants, seem to perform comfortably and well within that area. There is space for both single and multiple dog teams. Handlers have many choices, permitting them to present movements that will fill the space. The choreographer can showcase the dog’s movement in different directions to create a visual image which focuses on the dog’s grace, beauty and athleticism. In this space the center area is the strongest focal point, followed by the upper and lower diagonal corners and, finally, by upstage (back) center and then downstage (front) center. Knowing these focal points, you as the choreographer, can stage your movements for the greatest effect.

The corner and midpoint markers become your guides both technically and creatively. For instance, imagine you are heeling on a diagonal line from the upper left corner to the lower right corner and include a series of back steps. Not only will the straightness of your dog be seen relative to your body position, but it will be clarified and emphasized by your relationship to the two corner markers. The symmetry of a serpentine heeling pattern is visually improved when observed relative to the framing markers. The same principal applies for contrasting movements such as large versus small. These are just a few of the possibilities. There are many more. Choreography which does not relate to these guideposts appears to the spectators as wandering or meandering. Consequently the movement design becomes muddied or vague.

It is important to choreograph and to practice in a space which is exactly the same as your performance space. This permits the team to hear music cues and to know exactly where they need to be in the space for the greatest visual effect. If you practice in a smaller area, then in the actual performance space your movements will appear confined to one small area. The visual effect is to accentuate the handler’s movements while the dog becomes secondary and the team relationship is lost. On the other hand, if you choreograph and practice in an area larger than your performance space, the dog is forced to adjust to the handler’s change in stride which again changes the visual image and the team relationship is again lost.

There is a special kind of magic which exists in the presentation space. Before you begin your choreography get to know that space framed by the markers. Walk around the space with your canine partner, put on a musical selection and improvise in the space. Once you are comfortable in that space the movement ideas will flow, but always remember to determine which side is front. As you choreograph think first of the visual image from the front and then from the sides. Do not be concerned about the area behind you. If you fill the space with movement that area will also offer interesting visual images.

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