Put on your dancing shoes and grab your dog: Musical canine freestyle is gaining popularity

Every Sunday afternoon, Janet Bain and her dance partner take the floor at Karyn Garvin's training center on 29th Street.

The dance floor is spacious, and chairs are set up along the side for spectators. A portable CD player supplies music, and air conditioning keeps the place cool. It's just another dance practice—except that Janet's dance partner is a dog named Dreygo.

Dreygo is a 90-plus-pound Doberman pinscher. With dark-brown coloring and long legs, his power and agility are evident as Janet guides him through their routine. He follows her verbal instructions and moves in tune with the music, Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together." As Tennille sings, "Just stop ... 'cause I really love you," Dreygo halts—in perfect timing with the song.

Janet and Dreygo are members of the Tucson Musical Canine Freestyle Club, whose mission is to "celebrate the unique bond between humans and their canine partners through the utilization of music and dance." Musical canine freestyle is choreographed obedience moves put to music.

The Tucson Musical Canine Freestyle Club is one of the oldest such clubs in the country and has about a dozen members. According to the World Canine Freestyle Organization, musical canine freestyle started in Canada and Europe in the late '80s, and in the United States in the early '90s. The sport is growing, and competitions take place worldwide.

Canine advocates need not be concerned. "Our joy is highlighting our dogs and not making them into some humanlike stand-in," says member Kim Duffek. This means no movements on hind legs.

Adds Janet with a laugh, "They don't have to dance backward and forward on high heels." Costumes are kept simple, such as a dog wearing a tie.

Commands are similar to those used in obedience training, like "Come," "Sit" and "Heel," but others indicate dance moves, such as "Turn," "Twirl," "Weave" and "Circle." Club treasurer Constance Meade says that some trainers come up with their own commands. For example, instead of using the word "Bow," which sounds similar to the word "down," Constance uses the word "Curtsy." She says routines run between two and three minutes.

Neither dog nor human need to meet specific requirements. "Anybody can do it, and any dog can do it, at any age, if you are careful about expectations," Janet says. "It requires time, patience and kindness." She says people dance with large dogs, like her Dreygo, and also dogs as small as Chihuahuas.

All three women say they have a lot of fun dancing with their dogs. But the dogs also enjoy the activity. This was very clear as I watched Constance and her dog, Jester, a border collie. As Michael Flatley's "Dance Over the Rainbow" played, Jester moved alongside Constance, going backward and forward, in circles and even between her legs. This was a happy dog, and his tail wagged the entire time he was on the dance floor.

Kim says her dog, Henry, a standard poodle, likes certain songs more than others. She recalls a time when Henry was in a "dead sleep" and got up when he heard Linda Ronstadt's version of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" playing. Constance agrees and says that you can tell when a dog doesn't like a song or a particular dance move. "They will shake, sniff the floor, wander away—that kind of thing. If you try out a different piece of music, all of sudden, there's a very distinct (change) in behavior."

The human reaction to musical canine freestyle has also changed over the years. When Janet saw a dog dancing for the first time in 1989, she told others about it, and everyone laughed, she recalls. These days, the women say fewer people chuckle or stare at them blankly when they speak of the sport.

Club members are passionate about sharing the sport with others. They teach classes, attend competitions and perform lots of community service. They also visit retirement communities, schools and animal-rescue events to demonstrate musical canine freestyle.

Usually, at least some in the audience have never seen a dog dancing. "Some people sit in the back, because they are fearful of dogs. But by the end, they reach out and touch a dog," Janet says.

With some simple commands, gentle moves and a little music, look what dancing with a dog can do.