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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

Front and Finish Articles

Issue One - Teaching Side Steps
Judges' Comments
Commands: Getting Personal
New Steps for Old Bones
How to Plan a Demo
Presentation Elements

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Joan Tennille, retired professional choreographer and professor of (human) dance and cofounder of CFF, has often stated in her classes on canine freestyle that a good freestyle presentation consists of the following four elements: design, dynamics, rhythm, and motivation. Let’s take a look at what these four elements mean, and why each is important to the success of a freestyle performance.

The design of a routine is its actual "floor plan" involving space and direction. In other words, what you do where and when within the performance space. In all four levels of CFF competition, the team is expected to make full use of the ring space. This does not mean the competitor has to make an equal number of passes through every inch of the ring, but it does mean that he/she should appear in all major areas of the ring at least once. It is not as important to BE in every area, but that the design of the choreography LOOKS well-balanced and flowing throughout the ring. If a spectator thinks that the team performed predominantly in one area of the ring (frequently this is the center), it probably did.

Where certain moves take place is important to the goal of CFF freestyle: to showcase the dog in an artistic manner. When planning and executing moves, discern the dog’s ability to perform them and place them accordingly within the six weak and seven strong areas on any stage. Assuming a stage with an audience in front, the strongest (most visible) area of the performance stage is dead center. To the right and left sides of dead center are weaker areas. The next strongest areas of a stage are the two back corners. Less strong, surprisingly enough, are the right and left corners at the front of the stage. This may sound wrong but we automatically assume that the closer an object is, the more accurately we can see its movement. Not necessarily so. If you place two people in the back corners of a stage and have them move, unless your vision is faulty at distances, you will see them and their actions better than if they are just before you.

Perspective, context and depth give added "insight" to choreography performed in the back corners as opposed to that performed nearly in front, where a more flat "affect" is the result. For that reason, a move performed at the center back area of a stage is more effective than if it is performed in center front. The spaces between the center and corner positions of both front and back areas of the stage are weaker still. These weak and strong areas should be considered when choreographing your routine. Movements at which your dog is particularly proficient should occur in the strongest areas of the performance space, whereas those movements that may be required but at which your dog does not excel should be "hidden" (relatively speaking—the judges do have to actually see them) in the weaker areas. You must keep in mind also that movement loses impact as it retreats upstage (except dead center). The more obvious paths of movement are the diagonals and down the center, with the sides of the space being weak.

The dynamics of a routine are the drive and energy expressed—which is particularly evident in the interactive attention between handler and dog. In past columns, I have described in much detail what I mean by drive and interactive attention so will not repeat myself at any great length here. Suffice it to say that I define "drive" as an attitude of organic origin, a resonating state of being and energy, while interactive attention is the continual communication back and forth between both handler and dog. It is NOT attention demanded more of one team member than the other but an equal sharing of a close bond and responsiveness, each to the other. No matter how interesting or intricate the design of the choreography, if the routine appears as if the two members are simply "doing their own things" without much input from the other, interactive attention is lacking and the dynamic becomes lessened.

Rhythm is the third element of a presentation. How you use your music in your routine constitutes the rhythm of a routine, so your actual choice of music is very important. When selecting music for a CFF presentation, you must match the music’s beat to the rhythm of the dog’s movement at a trot. You should also select music with enough contrast in it to vary the rhythms and movement of the dog and choreography. Ways to vary rhythmic interest are to double- or half-time your dog’s movement to the beat of the music as well as to create "linear" or "circular" moves which reflect the linear or circular, flowing moods of the music.

Motivation in a presentation is what you want to present to your audience. It is the theme of your work, your "raison d’etre" (reason for being). In my opinion, and I believe CFF’s founders would agree with me, simply stringing together a long—and even impressive—series of "tricks" (i.e. moves with no motivation other than that the dog can do them) does not a successful performance make. Unmotivated tricks are flashy mechanics; without proper motivation they are simply a display of technical expertise at best, and certainly technical ineptitude at worst. Movement phrases chosen and choreographed for the purpose of positively showcasing the dog’s finer qualities (such as grace or attentiveness or flexibility) and his relationship to the handler and music do portray a sense of motivation. Motivation to me is emotional involvement in the choreographing of a particular dog’s movement to music.

These four elements—design, dynamics, rhythm, and motivation—are all inherent in a successful CFF performance. No one of them can make up for the absence of another, as they all relate to each other. Used creatively and subtly together, the end result is often an inspiring performance which makes full use of the ring space with natural, flowing transitions from one area to another, one movement phrase to another; and which informs the audience of the purpose behind putting this wonderful dog with music well-matched to his rhythms and personality.

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