It doesn’t seem possible but in a few months as I celebrate
the beginning of a new decade in my life, I will also celebrate
10 years involvement in Canine Freestyle. As I prepared the requested
program copy for the freestyle demonstration in October 1993,
little did I realize that my definition explaining choreography
would become the basis for a sport as well as the development
of a training discipline for this sport.
The CFF Definition (page 4 in the Rulebook) establishes the
criteria for judging our competitions. It is also the foundation
of our training methodology for technical execution and artistic
expression. While traveling in this country, Canada, Bermuda
and England presenting demonstrations and giving seminars, I
have discovered that while we all speak the same language, the
words and their meanings may differ. Because CFF has declared
this the Year of Education, I believe it is important for all
CFF members to agree on our terminology. This will clarify how
we interpret the rules and why we teach and train in the manner
CFF defines Canine Freestyle as “a choreographed performance
with music, illustrating the training and joyful relationship
of a dog and handler team.” The word “freestyle” implies
choice, with no restrictions beyond its own nature or being,
and the choice in performance guidelines should neither be restricted
by nor conformed to conventional forms. By its very nature, Canine
Freestyle has a distinctive manner. Quality of expression shapes
how Canine Freestyle is created and performed. By its nature,
it has a distinctive manner. The very essence of Canine Freestyle
is movement; more specifically, a dog and handler team moving
together harmoniously with music in a performance space before
an audience. It is the pure movement (defined by CFF as the dog’s
movement enhanced by the handler’s movement) which is freely
designed by the choices made by the performers. It is movement
neither structured nor designed to imitate specific steps or
forms such as obedience heeling to music or recreational dance
forms and steps such as the polka, foxtrot, waltz or samba, etc.
If CFF’s intent was to create demonstrations and competitions
as simply entertainment focused upon these forms, naming the
sport “freestyle” would have been inappropriate,
because it does not fit the definition of freestyle. To clarify
the relationship and focus for the CFF freestyle routine, the
CFF Board chose to add the word “canine” to freestyle.
The intent was to create a sport. The routine and the performance
had to have the potential to be judged; judgment had to be more
objective than subjective. To maintain the freedom implicit in
the word “freestyle,” design of the sport had to
maintain the essence and spirit of choice. I choreographed my
first four routines and all of those that followed with that
The next word to address is “choreography”: organized
movement, with or without music, for presentation before spectators.
Choreography is a technical skill requiring some degree of creativity.
Just as rules exist for composing music, so are there choreographic
rules to guide the choreographer in making wise choices. These
choreographic principles are the necessary tools to focus the
movement in relationship to the elements of design, space (the
performance space) and time (rhythm). In addition, these principles
also clarify, by visual images of the movement design, what the
choreographer is striving to express to the spectator.
In Canine Freestyle, the choreographic goal is a visually pleasing
integration and balance of the elements of design with the movement
of the team. The structure of the choreography and the created
movement designs should follow or complement the musical choice.
Movement should be “with” not “to” the
music. CFF has adapted choreographic principles to the skills
of the competitors. Each competition level has a specific choreographic
focus for the team based upon the progression of required moves
at each level. A similar progression is developed with the choreographic
focus. In Levels I and II, the focus is on combinations of movements
using space and direction. Level III emphasizes the development
of movement phrases and the relating of these phrases with the
structure of the music chosen. Level IV combines space, rhythm,
and movement phrases with a focus on inventiveness and artistic
performance (see pages 12 and 13 of the Rulebook).
“The objective of Freestyle is to show the dog to his
best advantage in a creative and artistic manner.” To be
creative, one must have a reason or motivation. In Canine Freestyle,
the reason is “to show the dog to his best advantage.” To
be creative, one must problem solve by making choices intuitively
with wisdom gained through knowledge and experience. Creative
choices constitute the visual images (movement designs) seen
by the spectators, but it is the artistry of the performance
itself which communicates the objective “to show the dog
to his best advantage” to the spectator.
To understand the meaning of artistry, please review the first
sentence of the definition. Artistry and training have a relationship.
Artistry is executing a learned skill and expressing that skill
with imagination, invention and innovation to cause an emotional
experience. The key to any form of artistic expression is relationship.
The CFF definition contains a number of possible relationships,
all based upon choice.
The last words to define are “honor” and “respect.” To
honor and respect the dog is to recognize his worth as an equal
participant on the team and to hold in high regard his willing
nature to please, his devotion and love for his human partner.
By sharing equally with the dog our love, support and attention,
as well as respecting and honoring him a mutual trust develops,
creating a joyful team relationship.
One final note” the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate
Dictionary & Thesaurus, Deluxe Audio Edition, defines joy “as
an emotion evoked by the well-being, or success, a high degree
of gratification or something that gives pleasure.”
[Note: Additional sources used in this article were Webster’s
Unabridged Dictionary and Chujoy’s Dance Encyclopedia.]