The official name is Canine Musical Freestyle, but “dog dancing” evokes a more informal image of fun and laughter. Imagine humans and their canine pets in a dance routine to music, with a few tricks thrown in, and one can’t help but smile.
Ruff Revue, a local group of dog dancers, has been entertaining Spokane-area audiences for a decade. Most of their shows are for private audiences at retirement centers, hospitals and group homes, but they also perform at a few public community and fundraising events.
Diana Roberts and Murungu, her yellow Lab/Great Dane/husky mix, have been dancing with the Ruff Revue since 2006. Murungu loves meeting people as much as he loves to dance.
“We’re doing this for the community as a public service,” Roberts said. “Part of the performance is for people to get a dog fix – because a lot of them have had dogs in the past, and they can’t necessarily have dogs where they are now.”
Originated in 1989, dog dancing quickly became a globally popular sport. Teri Beeman, instructor at Diamonds in the Ruff (training for dogs and owners), co-founded Ruff Revue in 2001 after attending a canine musical freestyle seminar in Oregon. She was immediately hooked and began offering dog dance classes.
“It’s great for anyone who loves music and dogs but is tired of obedience and wants something more to do with their pets,” Beeman said. “Dogs can’t show their free spirit in obedience, but in music and dancing they can.”
Training is based on the reward system. If the dog responds correctly, then it gets a treat. This may sound like a path toward pet obesity, but the treats are small, and they don’t get fed the full amount at meals. And the exercise keeps the dogs young and limber.
The Ruff Revue performances reflect the holiday or season with music. Dogs may wear a special collar embellished with sparkles, or pretty scarves. The humans wear team T-shirts in public shows, and in competitions they may wear fancy costumes.
The dogs are well behaved, though often the space for private shows is the size of an average living room, and that’s with up to 10 dogs. They rarely fight and work well off leash. And the canines definitely have a sense of timing and rhythm.
“Sometimes if I’m playing music at home, and I’m working at the computer, and a song comes up that we’ve danced to, Murungu will come up to me as if to say ‘Aren’t we going to dance? This is one of our songs,’ ” Roberts said.
The dogs are many ages, sizes and breeds. Some are specially trained, such as for search and rescue. Others have been rescued from shelters. At times the group will dance all together, and at other times human-dog pairs will dance on their own.
One of the biggest challenges is getting the dog to do two minutes of dancing without any treats during competitions. And keeping the canine’s attention for any length of time can be a struggle: There are many distractions; spectators want to reach in and pet them.
It helps if there is a “meet and greet” both before and after the performance. Then the dogs will interact with the spectators, trotting over and offering their heads to be petted.
“We believe what we are doing is fostering the human/animal bond,” Roberts said.
Petfest, Valley Fest, and the Inland Northwest Blood Center’s annual “Dog Days of Summer” August blood drive are a few regular events featuring the Ruff Revue. The shows are all free, although they will accept donations for shelters.