Those of us actively involved in freestyle are heartened by
the public's growing interest in seeing freestyle performed.
That people are interested in it is obvious by their requests
for demos. What they think freestyle IS or how well they perceive
the technical, much less the artistic, elements of a performance
is less obvious. The common popular explanation of freestyle
as "dancing with dogs" is misleading and, in my opinion,
gives rise to a somewhat demeaning image of dogs awkwardly waltzing
with their forelegs clasped around their handlers' waists. All
demos should reflect CFF's official definition of freestyle as "a
choreographed performance with music, illustrating the training
and joyful relationship of a dog and handler team."
For the widest appeal, freestyle demos should involve more action
than talk but should include some audience education and familiarization
with what freestyle is, what moves to look for, and the goal
of a balanced performance and interactive team. If the audience
is one with well-behaved dogs (not necessarily trained in formal
obedience), an opportunity to experiment with freestyle, particularly
as a group (less intimidating), is popular with participants
and audience alike. (I might add that audience participation
greatly enhances, by contrast, the skill and smoothness of the
experienced freestyle performances, demonstrating--sometimes
dramatically--that performing freestyle isn't as easy as it may
The more dog-oriented and experienced in training the audience
is, the more detailed may be the explanation of techniques and
moves--without dominating the demo or boring the audience with
too much talk. On the other hand, the artistry of a performance
is much harder to explain in tangible terms and may actually
become most obvious by watching how individual moves can be choreographed
into a flowing, "living" performance event.
CFF has performed many, many demos in venues ranging from horse
shows to pet expos, centennial celebrations to preview parties,
dog shows to club meetings, agricultural fairs to Special Olympics.
Our usual format has been a brief explanation of what freestyle
is (clearly explained in CFF's rule book available to all members
or by request). Each dog/handler team is introduced with a usually
very brief (2-3 sentences) "bio." For example, I might
say my dog "Cajun is an 8-year-old Belgian sheepdog trained
in obedience, agility and Service Dog tasks. He howls at my arrivals
and departures and literally smiles all through his routines."
a rare audience that understands or cares what actual titles
Cajun holds (and if there is a program the information is there),
so I don't think listing them adds much more than clutter.
Bios should be kept to a minimum, partly in the interest of time,
exhibitor nerves (at least in my case), and audience attention
span toward a little known sport. I have even sometimes wondered
if it would be better to simply introduce the team by name
and music and at the conclusion of all performances bring the
teams back in for bows and quick bios. Perhaps having snagged
the interest of the audience right away by action, spectators
would be more curious to learn about the teams' backgrounds.
In our normal course of events, 3-5 teams perform individually
and rejoin for a short "grand finale" or group number,
ending with quick bows to the audience. If time and interest
allow, or the demo is part of a seminar on freestyle, we often
ask if anyone in the audience with sociable dogs would like to
perform a group demo. We usually modify our grand finale (we
have several) to its most basic elements (heeling on leash, turns,
circling around a partner, comforts, etc.) and play music that
has an obvious, steady, regular beat such as country, zydego,
pop orchestras, etc. Obviously, this takes some preplanning.
Occasionally, depending on the type of audience, we briefly
demonstrate moves beforehand. I particularly favor this addition
to the program, because so much of the public has no idea how
complex good choreography can be or what really interesting and
athletic movements the dog is performing, especially when performed
smoothly and quickly during a performance. Frankly, I want the
audience to sense not only the artistic performance as a whole
but to also appreciate the individual complexities of movement
and technical skills of my dog! CFF has a handout defining required
and optional movements and describing what to look for in a freestyle
performance. If it is feasible to have something like this available
beforehand, so much the better. Trained freestyle dogs of various
breeds and body types, as well as ones in training (and clearly
defined as such to the audience) are all enlightening and entertaining
to watch perform (or be trained in) sidesteps, weaves, pivots,
backing, spins, etc., while the emcee narrates, in BRIEF, the
activity. This demo of individual exercises followed by performances
of finished and perfected routines increases the audience's appreciation
and understanding of choreography as a blending of both artistic
and technical elements chosen to enhance that particular dog.
When planning a freestyle demo, take into account the interest
and orientation of the audience ("horse" or "dog" people
vs. fair-going family groups, etc.), its comfort level (seating,
weather, acoustics), its age level (school children? seniors?
special needs populations?) Consider CFF's Mission Statement
when matching your program to your particular audience. For obedience
groups, note how freestyle "expands the sport of obedience
by broadening the scope of dog training" and adding artistry
through music and choreography. For the general dog-owning population,
use freestyle to "promote responsible dog ownership by presenting
a positive image . . . " that "encourages and promotes
the value of dog training." Regarding your freestyle participants,
plan your demo with their skill and distraction level in mind.
Make certain the performance ring is "safe" for your
dogs in terms of footing and distractions (paper or food on the
floor, balloons, horse manure--oh, yes, sometimes piles of it--kids
eating hot dogs at ringside, etc.). If your start time is drawing
near and the audience has not wandered over yet, do some sound
checks and warm-up moves to draw their attention. Give careful
consideration to the order of team performances: the first team
has to grab audience attention, the last team should probably
be your strongest to leave the best impression. Those in-between
should show some contrast to each other in terms of music, style,
dog breed, etc. Don't be afraid to be spontaneous, to ask for
or postpone applause, to be receptive to questions or comments.
Have literature available about your group and on freestyle.
Regardless of format, a freestyle demo should convey above all
the joy and bond of the dog and handler working together in harmony.
There is a place for the dog-in-training as well as the seasoned
performer, but there is no room for an unhappy, harshly corrected,
or sloppy performance (or attire). If things go wrong, "grin
and bear it!" The audience will take its cue from you; if
you truly love the sport of freestyle and your canine partner,
it should be obvious in your relationship with your dog, no matter
the relative perfection of that day's performance.