Tal isn’t much of a dancer. He’s strong and energetic but easily distracted. Learning a choreographed dance routine is tough when everything around him demands his attention.
But he gave it a try this weekend. Learning to heel and twirl with his dance partner Eva Eberts, Tal learned the basics of canine musical freestyle training — or dog dancing.
The four-year-old American water spaniel and his owner spent Sunday afternoon dancing to the first 30 seconds of "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies, practising what will become a full-song routine during a dog dancing seminar at the Paw Resort and Wellness Centre.
The class was hosted by Gail Walsh of B.C., a veteran of the dog dancing circuit.
It’s a fringe sport, to say the least, and virtually unknown in Canada, with retired women making up most of the competitors.
But there are real benefits to it. Eberts has been grappling with Tal’s high energy lack of obedience by participating in dog sports — whether it be dancing or agility classes.
"It gives you the opportunity to spend a lot of time working with your dog," Eberts said. "If you have a dog with issues, it becomes one of your saving graces."
The basis of any dance routine is the dog’s ability to sit and walk when told, simple stuff every pet should know. It’s when you start looking into some competitions in the U.S. or Britain where you see an almost obsessive attention to detail.
It took Walsh two-and-a-half years to perfect a routine in which she was a matador and her dog was a bull, complete with outfits of course.
"And it was mostly me who needed the training," she said.
There are few rules to the sport. Pick a song. And wow the judges.
"I’ve seen it done to opera, county and western, whatever, you want to pick something you enjoy because you’re going to listen to it many times," she said.
It’s practically unheard of in Canada. But there are plenty of competition circuits to jump into in the U.S. and Europe.
In fact it’s a huge phenomenon in the U.K.
"That’s why I was thrilled to come to Brandon because I thought ‘great, we’re finally getting some interest in it,’" she said.
She admits there is stigma the sport simply can’t shake and she gets her fair share of snarky comments.
"So, you dance with your dog," a colleague asked her years ago. "Does that mean the other dogs come up and want to cut in?"
She doesn’t even like to call it dog dancing, despite the name of her business — My Dancing Dog. She said the term conjures up images of golden retrievers in tutus dancing on their hind legs.
"Even though I hate the term, I have to go with it."
But strip away the costumes and preconceptions of the sport and it’s simply a dog lover playing with man’s best friend.