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By Joan Tennille

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 we do.

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 in mind.

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.]

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