I get at least two in my inbox per day. Dog dancing is actually considered a sport, and there are competitions and levels and champs. It’s officially called Canine Freestyle. Most canine freestylers I’ve met are positive reinforcement dog trainers, and their dogs totally love the training, the exercise and the interaction. Michele Pouliot, a faculty member of my alma mater (Karen Pryor Academy) is actually a longtime animal trainer for Guide Dogs for the Blind and moonlights as a champ canine freestyler.
The connection that’s palpable in videos of people and dancing with their dogs can at times make me mist up. Yes, the tricks are cute, but the dancing itself usually isn’t that memorable. Dogs don’t have that many moves, and Fred Astaire usually picked non-shedding dance partners. (In fact, Astaire is rumored to have have grumbled about being replaced by a dog act in his Vaudeville days).
But there are exceptions! Here, I offer two from very different time periods.
The first is from 1941. Eleanor Powell was a contemporary — and sometimes a partner — to Astaire himself. in a Busby Berkeley-directed number from the Gershwin musical Lady Be Good. According to Berkeley biographer Jeffrey Spivak, the studio searched far and wide for a dog for the number but had no luck. So, Powell took on the job herself. She borrowed a Jack Russell that belonged to one of the prop men, and she trained him herself.