South Langley resident Annette Granbois was looking to teach her dog some new tricks when she discovered the sport of canine freestyle, also known as doggy dancing.
“I went and saw it, and I was hooked,” Granbois related.
That was 15 years, and many dance routines and costumes, ago.
At a weekend demonstration event in Langley City on Saturday August 10th, Granbois and her dance partner Jake, an enthusiastic 11-year-old border collie, performed a routine set to Michael Bublé’s version of “Come Fly With Me.”
It was a combination of smooth moves and close-in work that ended with Jake hopping on a rolling suitcase while Granbois towed him offstage.
Granbois wore her flight attendant’s uniform from her days with Air Canada.
For the recently-retired Granbois, 69, it called up memories of nearly five decades of flying, and how it was hard to leave her family and her dogs.
It isn’t the only routine with a personal connection for Granbois.
A few years, she built a performance around her experience during a drawn-out labour dispute at Pacific Western Airlines, with music and imagery from the movie, “Norma Ray,” including blue jeans and a t shirt with pro-union slogans.
Granbois can also been seen in the 2015 documentary Unleashed! A Dog Dancing Story which follows an attempt by Underwood to mount “a ‘Cirque du Soleil’ inspired dog dancing and indoor kite flying theatrical performance,” according to the internet movie database website.
She is currently working with Underwood to develop a new dance route with Jake based on “Les Miz” which she described as “heavy-duty drama.”
Because Jake remains his happy self through all routines, she noted, she will have to provide the drama.
Developing a routine with a dog as your dance partner is not as easy as it may look, Granbois cautioned.
For one thing, dogs don’t count steps, so the routine must be flexible to cover up missteps on the fly.
Humans have a different set of challenges.
“I’m not a dancer,” she admitted.
“It’s challenging and frustrating [at times].”
Before she started performing, Granbois spent a couple of years practicing.
For Jack, training is all about rewards, and the cheese treats he enjoys.
“He doesn’t do it purely because he loves me,” Granbois said, laughing.
Routines are designed around the border collie’s temperament.
“Instead of herding sheep, we’ve directed [his instincts] into working with us.”
After years of practicing in the garage of her south Langley home, the mother of two and grandmother of three recently opened a performance space on the four-and-a-half acre property where she and her husband raised their family.
At 3,000 square feet, it’s big enough to accommodate a smaller competition like the “Fall Tail Spin” scheduled for Oct. 5 at “the barn,” as the space is known.
READ MORE: Photo: May I have this dance?
Canine Freestyle is a B.C. invention.
According to the Wikipedia entry, the first official musical freestyle group, Musical Canine Sports International, was founded in B.C. in 1991.
It notes that in the intervening years, different styles have emerged, with American groups promoting more trick-based routines and costumes while English groups focused more on “heel work” and on the dog, and less on costumes and design.
A history posted on the Paws 2 Dance club website describes how, in the spring of 1999, Ray Underwood began offering musical freestyle lessons in his obedience studio, Underwoods Dog Obedience, in Langley.
The club held its first competition in 2000 under the umbrella of the World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO).
Membership in Paws 2 Dance has since grown to include members in the Lower Mainland, interior BC, Vancouver Island, Washington State and Oregon.
In 2009, the Club incorporated as a registered non-profit society.
Paws 2 Dance has done fundraising demonstrations at organizations such as the SPCA, WAG and Critter Care Wildlife Rescue .
It has also performed at Lower Mainland Dog Fancier’s Association annual international dog show held at the TradeX in Abbotsford as well as the Cloverdale Rodeo and other fairs both in BC and Washington state.
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