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    FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2007
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    MaryAnn Fuhrman and her dog Candy perform their doggie dancing showcase at the National Western Stock show.
    AP photo by Bill Ross
    MaryAnn Fuhrman and her dog Candy perform their doggie dancing showcase at the National Western Stock show.

    Doggie dancing
    Where humans and dogs do-si-do for fame and glory - and wear fun costumes

    By Kim Nguyen
    Associated Press Writer

    DENVER — Candy normally keeps to herself and doesn't speak up. She stays close to those she knows best and does as she's told. But when she dons her red handkerchief and hits the dance stage, she sheds her reserve.

    Mandy, left, performs her doggie dancing routine with her owner Donna Taylor at the National Western Stock show.
    AP photo by Bill Ross
    Mandy, left, performs her doggie dancing routine with her owner Donna Taylor at the National Western Stock show.
    To Brooks and Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie," she frolics, twirls and, as the country song instructs, does the "heel, toe, do-si-do."

    Then she lands a slobbery lick on the face of her partner, owner MaryAnn Fuhrman.

    Fuhrman and Candy, a 2-year-old white and fluffy Samoyed, are doing what's known as canine freestyle. In the growing sport, human and dog become a dancing duo, dress in over-the-top costumes and show off their fancy footwork using all six of their legs to songs of all genres, from country to disco to classical masterpieces.

    The sport has invaded canine culture in America, including doggie day cares, kennels and boarding facilities. You can see it on YouTube.com and at places such as the National Western Stock Show, where Candy and roughly a dozen women and their dogs performed in front of about 100 cowboy hat-and-boot wearing spectators in January.

    Dog owners and their pets don't cut the carpet just for exercise. Many try to perfect their routines to win competitions around the nation and worldwide. Colorado will be the site for two competitions this year being held by the World Canine Freestyle Organization, including the group's international titling contests that will take place in July.

    The competitions are memorable, to say the least.

    At the stock show, one woman and her dog dressed in coordinating Denver Broncos gear (the woman in face paint as well), doing their dance as a tribute to fallen football player Darrent Williams. Another woman dressed in red pranced around her toy poodle while Michael Bolton's "Go the Distance" blared from the speakers. During the routine, the woman did splits while her tiny dog jumped over her legs and circled around her.

    And at the end of the performances, the women changed into black, red, white, and blue sequined suits, each grabbed an American flag, and did a choreographed dance to Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" and George M. Cohan's "You're a Grand Old Flag," complete with a giant dog and human spinning pinwheel formation and chorus line of the owners kicking up their legs.

    "It's just pure fun. That is the crux of the thing. It's not a stress thing like a showing is," said Fuhrman, 62, of Lakewood, Colo., with Candy wagging her tail and standing by her side. "The dogs enjoy it as much as we (humans) do."

    Fuhrman, like lots of canine freestyle dancers, first heard of the sport when she was putting her pets through obedience training. It's there, many say, where doggie dancing got its beginnings in the late 1980s in Canada and Europe, when some people set their competitive obedience routines to music.

    "Many people take credit for starting it, but no one has ever actually been called out," said Jessy Gabriel, vice president of dog training at the Triple Crown Dog Academy in Austin, Texas, which specializes in dog obedience, training and agility.

    Doggie dancing clubs have sprouted around the nation, including the Mile High Musical Tails in Colorado, which has grown from five to 22 members since October 2002, said founder and president, Sue Cianfarani.

    Big international scene

    While canine freestyle's popularity is rising in the United States, the international scene is already big. It's especially popular in Australia, Holland, Japan and South Africa, said Patie Ventre, the founder of New-York based World Canine Freestyle Organization, which boasts 1,000 members worldwide, and around 5,000 competitors in the events it hosts annually.

    She estimates around 15,000 people dance in clubs worldwide, which serve as gathering points for dog owners and the pets and a place where they can polish their dance moves.

    With the sport generally dominated by older women, the World Canine Freestyle Organization is hoping youth will continue the future of the sport. Ventre said it has been reaching out to 4-H clubs around the America and has set up scholarships to send juniors to competitions around the world.

    Skeptics often decide to give it a go after seeing a live performance, when they better understand how owners use verbal commands, eye contact, and doggie treats to seduce their charges into twirling, walking through their owners' legs and doing low-height jumps.

    On the Net

  • World Canine Freestyle Organization, www.worldcaninefreestyle.org

  • Triple Crown Dog Academy, www.triplecrowndogs.com

  • Mile High Musical Tails, www.milehighmusicaltails.com

  • Canine Freestyle GB, www.caninefreestylegb.com

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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