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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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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 look!)

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."

It's 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. (Any comments?)

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.

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