The Poodle has a long history working as an entertainer. With his outgoing personality and striking good looks (when beautifully groomed), he is a dazzling performer. In a musical canine freestyle routine showcasing his naturally elegant movement, the Poodle is magical.
Most musical canine freestyle routines are choreographed for and performed at competitions. The primary competition freestyle organization in the United States is WCFO (World Canine Freestyle Organization). Ring size is typically 30’ x 60’ or 40’ x 80’ and coverage of all quadrants of the ring is mandatory. Depending on the class, routines (in the U.S.) are between 1:30 to 2:15 minutes in length. Routines are subject to guidelines and are evaluated by a panel of judges.
In addition to, or in lieu of, freestyle competitions, there are venues where Poodles and their partners can dance together strictly for entertainment purposes, and these routines can be as short as 45 seconds long. Where space is available, venues include retirement homes, school libraries, and local theaters. I often use a freestyle theme in making movies (my main focus of interest). Another venue that has a broad viewer base is the Internet.
Space is often limited in entertainment venues so the routine should be short, condensed, and as interesting as possible . . . a perfect recipe to keep the attention of the typical Poodle. Mostly flashy moves should be used with transitions that take you and your dog smoothly from one move to the next. (Long sequences of perfect heeling may appeal to trainers; however, it bores the average audience.) Keep in mind that most people don’t have long attention spans, and routines much over two minutes in length, no matter how brilliantly performed, risk losing the viewer’s interest. It’s better to leave the audience wanting more than to have them wondering when the routine will finally be over.
Routines for entertainment venues can be very short. If you take one verse, one chorus, and the end of a piece of music, your modified piece for the routine will usually end up about 45 seconds long. This length works especially well when several people are performing routines in a program, each person’s different style making a diverse line up. When just one or two people are doing a program, a quick change of costume such as a vest and hat between numbers gives a whole new look to each routine and adds more variety to the show. Short routines will not only help keep the audience’s attention, they are really fun for most Poodles to do.
Costumes make the performer look more professional and should fit the flavor of music for each routine. Some people prefer fantastical costumes; others choose costumes that give a suggestion of the music type such as a cowboy hat and vest for a western piece or a satin vest and top hat for a Broadway number. Costumes can be anything you like; however, the more conspicuous your costume, the more the audience will focus on you, thus the more impressive your dog’s dance skills need to be for him to be noticed. The dog’s costume should not inhibit his movement – perhaps a theme scarf, ruffle, or vest. One of my friends, whose black Standard Poodle is in a Miami cut, uses a glittery band around the dog's neck with matching bands at the top of the ankle puffs -- to striking effect.
Use music that your audience can identify with. Generational music is often a good choice, and music with a definite beat works best. Marches work well in almost any venue as they have a strong beat that most every generation will respond to. Show tunes and children’s music usually have catchy melodies that even adults end up humming afterwards.
Short entertainment routines are less problematic to create, practice, and perform than competition ones, and choreographing them gets easier with practice. Once you have trained your dog some basic freestyle moves, visualize these moves as you listen to a piece of music, putting them where they seem to fit naturally. Then try the moves out with your dog to see which transition will best blend one move seamlessly into the next one. Continue doing this until satisfied that your dog’s moves and yours link smoothly throughout the piece. Don’t forget an opening pose that the audience sees before the music starts and an ending pose which leaves them with the final impression, and which you will hold for a few seconds after the routine ends. These make the routine look more professional.
In addition to practicing with your dog, practicing to the music by yourself (and practicing inside your head) is very beneficial to insure that all of your own moves and transitions are so engrained that you don’t have to think about them while performing. Nothing breaks the flow more than when the human partner has to obviously redirect herself or her dog in the middle of a routine. Your moves should be second-nature as your dog depends on them as cues.
Approaches to training a routine differ. Once I have choreographed a routine and tested that it works for me and my dog, any changes I make are small adjustments only, not content. When the routine is finalized, I teach my dogs the sequences in their order of occurrence for each individual dance. This works for my dogs; however, it may not be what works best for others.
After each move has been individually trained (to the point the dog will do the move fluently several times in a row), I go through the entire routine with the dog about once a day. (A couple of times during the day, I also practice just a move with its transition and the beginning of the next move). I begin by rewarding every move and every transition until the dog learns the sequences, then I randomly reward a move here, a transition there throughout the routine. By the time I’m ready to video the routine, my dogs are conditioned to think they will be rewarded at some point or another, and are willing to keep working in anticipation.
How much actual dancing you as the human partner do in a routine is a matter of preference. Some people do very little dancing, some people do a lot of dancing. My favorite routines are those where the handler sticks to very simple body movements and allows the dog to be the primary focus of the dance.
What type moves a dog looks best doing is usually based on his energy level and body structure. Some people prefer high-energy, athletically built dogs, and their routines typically feature a lot of stunt-like moves such as jumping, rolling over, spinning, and hind-leg work. Dogs with lower energy levels and less agile bodies can do beautifully in routines with more flowing dance-like moves. Not all popular freestyle moves suit all dogs . . . the important thing is to select only moves for your routine that your dog looks good doing.
Don’t worry about trying to please everyone – no matter how well a routine is choreographed and executed, some people will love it and some won’t. Performing a routine that best suits you and your dog will enhance not only your own satisfaction with the presentation but the audience’s enjoyment of it as well.
Since beginner choreographers find it helpful to see how others use moves and transitions, I have created a short routine that has mostly basic moves. Okay, "skipping" is advanced, but you could substitute leg weaves. This routine is especially good for an older dog as there are no moves that are hard on the joints.
The routine is performed to The Entertainer and features my Standard Poodle Sydney.