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 Musical Freestyle - Dancing with Your Dog

Musical Freestyle has evolved and branched in several directions since the article below was written in 1996. To explore this growing sport further see the muscial freestyle links page.

What is Musical Freestyle?

Musical freestyle is a relatively new sport that combines dog obedience and dance in a way that is totally unique and exciting. It blends dog obedience and dance presenting a visually exciting display of handler and canine teamwork. The handler and dog perform dance-oriented footwork in time to the music, rather than displaying the traditional walking pace of obedience. Heeling is an important component of freestyle but nonstandard movements are also expected to be displayed by the dog along with attention, enthusiasm, and a degree of difficulty over and above that which is normally seen in the obedience ring. A variety of handler upper body movements are also encouraged to lend interpretation to the music. Costuming for the handler also helps to enhance the interpretation of the music and to involve spectators in the spirit of the routine. Throughout the routine the handler may encourage the dog's performance with verbal commands, but no training aids or food of any kind are permitted in the competition ring.

Musical freestyle is not "freestyle heeling." In freestyle heeling, the focus is placed on the dog's heel position and the dog's execution of heeling patterns to music. Showcasing the dog's talent is the primary objective, with the handler's role remaining quite understated.

Musical freestyle is not heeling with music in the background. MCSI rules encourage the dog to move out of the heel position to perform a variety of movements and tricks not found in a traditional obedience performance. The handler freely uses the body, arms, and legs to interpret the music. Footwork is a mixture of dance-related steps and traditional movements at different speeds. Because of the freedom for both the canine and human partners, musical freestyle routines incorporate creativity and diversity of movement. Emphasis is placed on the teamwork between the handler and dog; neither partner is "showcased," since both are judged equally.

Musical freestyle is a competitive sport. A handler and dog team may compete in three different classes at three different levels. Classes include Individual (one handler, one dog), Brace, (two handlers, two dogs) and Team (three or more handlers, each with a dog). In 1995, a Tandem class (one handler, two dogs) is also offered in the Exhibition Only category. Participants may begin competing with a dog in any class, in either the On-leash or Off-leash Divisions, but must qualify from the Off-leash Division to enter Masters. Titles of MFD (Musical Freestyle Dog), MFX (Musical Freestyle Excellent) and MFM (Music al Freestyle Master) are awarded to dogs, based on the accumulation of qualifying scores specific to each of the different classes.


Who is MCSI?

Musical freestyle had its beginnings at the Pacific Canine Showcase in British Columbia, Canada, in 1991, when a team obedience competition was designed to incorporate an obedience routine to music. Also at the Showcase, one individual with her Golden Retriever partner presented a demonstration routine, adapted from a Kurin dressage, which combined obedience movements and heeling with music. In 1992, the Showcase included individual and team competitions for freestyle obedience. This exciting idea attracted a number of exhibitors in both team and individual classes. The many problems arising from judging a competition with almost no established rules or judging guidelines suggested that the concept of freestyle obedience needed to be developed more thoroughly if it was to become viable. Musical Canine Sports International (MCSI) was created as a response to that need.

Throughout 1992-93, a group of individuals interested in merging obedience, music, and dance choreography worked to develop musical freestyle rules and guidelines. These rules were successfully used in 1993-94 competitions. In 1994, the dream of an international organization was realized with the adoption of MCSI rules and guidelines by the Illini Obedience Association from the United States. The first MCSI competition under the auspices of the Illini/Cycle Obedience Championships is scheduled for the 1996 Classic in Eugene, Oregon. MCSI is the first and only degree-granting body in the sport of musical freestyle.

How do I get started?

Music selection is the beginning step in creating a freestyle routine. Any type of music or medley of selections can be used to create a 3-6 minute performance. Instrumental or vocal music with a strong beat is the easiest to interpret. Selecting music to complement the dog's (and handler's) abilities is highly recommended; choosing music you will want to hear even after many times of repeat playing is also suggested.

Many people believe you have to be a dancer or have formal dance training to compete in musical freestyle. While some movement experience and a sense of rhythm is helpful, being a dancer is not necessary. When performing, the handler must interpret the music and show some variation in speed and footwork when moving in time with the music. Observing dance performances of any type can give you ideas for routines. Using local resources such as dance school teachers or ethnic dance groups in conjunction with your obedience coach can be helpful when developing and executing a new freestyle routine.

Nor does your dog have to be a top-ten in obedience to participate in musical freestyle. If she is reasonably accomplished in heeling and has mastered novice level exercises, she is ready for a routine in the On-leash Division. The addition of nonstandard movements such as backing or heeling on the right enhances the degree of difficulty of the routine, leading to a higher score. In the Off-leash and Masters Divisions, the dog must be capable of working off-leash as well as be able to accurately perform a variety of nonstandard movements such as weaving, twisting, or circling.

How are routines judged?

Musical freestyle routines are judged for their technical execution and artistic impression. In judging technical execution, the judges consider a number of details of the performance, including:

The judging of artistic impression focuses on:

The judges also consider the handler's attire or costume and whether it is appropriate to the routine. One, two, or three judges review the routine; if there are two or more judges, each judge individually scores the routine, then the scores are averaged to give the final score. A qualifying score of 60% in the Off-leash and Masters Divisions and 55% in the On-leash Division is required for the accumulation of points towards titles. MCSI's objective is to provide a venue for a different kind of dog sport, one which spectators can observe and enjoy with little knowledge of the technical elements, and one in which any handler with a reasonably well trained dog and a sense of rhythm can participate.

Where can I find out more?

The best way to learn about musical freestyle is to attend a competition or demonstration. Watching accomplished freestylers in action will leave you excited, inspired, and awed by their creative and fun routines. If you see a competition or demonstration and you want to learn more, or if you can't get to an event but are curious about the sport, you should consider joining MCSI.

Membership in MCSI gives you 6 newsletters a year and information abut upcoming works hops, judges' clinics, and competitions. Both the Rule Book and a Guidelines and Scoring Manual are part of the initial membership package. As a member, you will be eligible to propose and vote on new rules and/or rule changes at the annual rules forum. You will also be eligible for a reduced fee at MCSI competitions. With the assistance of MCSI's 1995 sponsor, H.J. Heinz and Cycle canine nutrition products, we are looking forward to an exciting future for this new sport. Why don't you join us? For further information, contact:

Sharon Tutt, Treasurer/Membership Chair
16665 Parkview Place
Surrey, B.C.
Canada V4N 1Y8
Phone: (604) 581-3641

MCSI is sponsored by Heinz Pet Products, makers of "Cycle" Canine Nutrition Products.

Members of MCSI sometimes hold seminars introducing the sport of freestyle and teaching the basics. For a list of upcoming seminars, e-mail

If you would like more info about musical freestyle, e-mail: (Val Culpin) or the contributor of this article
For snail-mail info, contact:
Bonnie Backosti
Box 145
Mount Lehman, BC, Canada, V4X 2P7

My name is Val Culpin and I am the person who originally dreamed up Musical Freestyle as the events coordinator of the Pacific Canine Showcase here in BC Now, I am the events coordinator for MCSI, and as such I am in charge of the first U.S. competition to be held in Eugene on November 15th, 1996 in conjunction with the Cycle Classic. I thought perhaps you might like to include my e-mail address at the end of the page for those who might wish more info on the competition. I am also in constant contact with our President, Bonnie Backosti, so can pass messages on to her readily. Thanks!

Val Culpin
Events Coordinator

Check The World Canine Freestyle Organization for more information on the history of this sport.

See more information on various forms of Freestyle.     

Dogwise store with Canine Freestyle Books and Videos
Canine Freestyle DVD        
Canine Freestyle DVD        



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