In the same way it has never occurred to you that your cat can run the vacuum, it probably has never occurred to you that your dog can dance — dance with you, in fact.
And yet here, in the gleaming expanse of Uptown Hounds near South Broadway, is a goldish 3-year-old border collie named Hayley running through moves to music, weaving through her owner's legs on cue, spinning, strutting on her hind legs and finishing on her back, belly bared and with one leg poking dramatically through the air, a border collie ready for a Liza Minnelli-style Cabaret turn.
Deb Abigt owns Hayley as well as fellow border collie Chase, the two dogs dancing today. She also owns a poodle and long-haired Chihuahua that haven't made this Saturday's trip to demonstrate canine dance. Abigt says dog-dance is a great sport for dogs that engage in other sports such as agility and is particularly suited to "smart, athletic dogs" of all sizes. What little dogs lack in visual appeal for spectators, she reasons, they make up for in panache: "Small dogs already have a 'wow factor' going on."
Age and infirmity are not limiting factors, she says: She once saw a routine with a dog with a rear wheel cart. Anna Schloff, the Michigan resident who is president of the World Canine Freestyle Organization, says the group has more than 1,000 members and offers categories in competition for both dogs and owners who are handicapped or elderly.
The growth of dog dancing — more e_SDHpcommonly called canine freestyle — is, Schloff says, a response to overdisciplined dog routines. Some people just want to have fun with their pets. Take Schloff, who recently did a routine for a Pennsylvania grooming exposition with her yellow lab, Danny. The two danced to Soul Man."
Abigt says that dogs, like people, have dominant sides, and although there's an intensity to teaching your dog to boogie, you can do it in a small space. Abigt does much of her dogs' training in her basement.
On the Web, in the great video tent that is YouTube, you'll find more "canine freestyle" videos, including a routine to Billy Ray Cyrus' Achy Breaky Heart that comes close to hugging-lion video genius. (The video is so catchy, in fact, that you might never again be able to hear Achy Breaky Heart without thinking of a shaggy animal busting a move.)
Abigt, who telecommutes for a computer firm, recently moved to Richmond from Texas. She is offering a workshop on canine freestyle dance, which she says is a fine and companionable way to keep dogs and their humans in shape and forge a deeper bond between them. Abigt is starting with a workshop and hopes to offer a weekly class.
"What you want to do is find music that matches the dog's rhythm," she says.
That includes how the dog's coat flows when working with a particular song, and whether the dog seems happy. Costumes are allowed in canine freestyle competitions, and Abigt will sometimes wear a costume item such as a hat to get her dogs used to her in alternate garb. Routines are usually 11/2 to 2 minutes. Music varies: Today the music Abigt is using includes a jazz tune with an Oriental feel and some relentlessly upbeat oompah polka.
Abigt recalls using Rockin' Robin in competition, as well as a Gloria Estefan tune, Dr. Beat, for which she wore medical scrubs as her costume. The lyrics include the observation that "If you got trouble, can't stop your feet/ Pay a little visit to Dr. Beat." This is pretty much the enthusiasm level at which a border collie runs its life.
Abigt says even in dog dancing, with costumes and choreography and competition, there exists the possibility of taking it over the top:
"You want to keep it tasteful. You don't want to take attention away from the dog."