I first became aware of competitive dog dancing in the winter of 2002. As a 15-year-old, my adolescent brain was still developing. I like to think this lack of mental rigidity allowed me to more easily accept that such a sport existed.
Premiering in early December 2002, King of the Hill season seven episode “Dances with Dogs” was my gateway to the world of canine dressage. The plot follows Hank and Bobby Hill as they become rivals leading up to a regional dog dancing competition.
Equal parts theatrical and open minded, Bobby adopts flashy choreography, while Hank keeps things traditional. Along with the family’s aging Georgia bloodhound, Ladybird, Hank sets his routine to “Walkin’ After Midnight” by Patsy Cline. Bobby and his neighbor’s White Highland Terrier ramp things up.
In a high-speed routine set to Technotronic’s “Move This,” Bobby and Doggie revolutionize the sport of dog dancing. Despite the highly intricate series of flips and spins, they only claim 2nd place in the competition. I had no idea that I would see this series of events play out in the real world more than a decade later.
At some point during quarantine I stumbled across videos from the 2016 Federation Cynologique Internationale Dog Dance World Championship. Specifically, the performance of Italian entrants Lusy Imbergerova and canine partner Deril. Abandoning the traditional dog dancing choreography, Lusy and Deril manage to condense the life and service of a member of the military into a four-minute routine. It begins as a sort of curiosity and somehow evolves into a performance beyond anything you could have expected.
The routine commences with the sound of the morning “Reveille.” Deril pulls the blanket from Lusy to start their day. Deril marches, salutes, and keeps in step with Lusy as they reenact a day of training. But it’s not until our competitors enter the battlefield that things become truly compelling.
Lusy collapses at the sound of an explosion. The orchestral score fades out until only the sound of a few lonely flutes can be heard. Sensing his partner is wounded, Deril — who if you’ll recall is a dog — rushes to Lusy’s side and begins to conduct CPR on his fallen companion.
So, I haven’t seen too many Russian dog dancing competitions. I mention that because I’m not sure if this woman is going to die. My assumption is that competitors usually don’t stage their own deaths, but that’s just a guess. Before now I would not have assumed “simulated grenade detonations” were off the table, but we are way beyond that point now.
After repeated series of chest compressions and mouth to mouth, the music soars as Lusy regains consciousness. It’s like Hacksaw Ridge, but with dogs and it’s not directed by an (alleged) anti-Semite.
Yes. This dog dancing routine tells the story of an exploding ordnance nearly killing a soldier, only for her to be resuscitated by a German Shepherd. And they still came in 2nd place! Bobby Hill knows this feeling. The feeling of an artist unappreciated in their own time.
I can’t claim to be knowledgeable in the sport of dog dancing. I’m more just a fan of its existence. I like to learn about all the absurd ways people find to live their lives. I like to see what sort of activities people pour themselves into without an ounce of self consciousness, and the distractions we devise to keep going in our everyday lives. These often involve pets.
There are likely untold number of oddities in the realm of pet ownership. Many things that would probably make dog dancing seem mundane.
Recently a friend of mine had his new dog neutered, so naturally brought up the existence of prosthetic canine testicles that are marketed to pet owners. According to the Neuticles website, these testicular implants are intended for “helping neuter-hesitant pet owners overcome the trauma of altering and allowing their beloved pet to retain its natural look and self esteem.”
Humphrey, the Neuticles spokesdog, even has his own blog. I recommend reading it if you’d like some sort of insight into the inner workings of a madman.
But whether it’s prosthetic dog testicles or finely choreographed military ballet, I think the common thread is that people have a very personal connection with their pets, and this leads to us projecting a lot of our own insecurities and interests onto these animals we’ve trapped in our homes.
For Hank Hill, dog dancing was a way for him to ease the stress he felt over the diminishing health of his beloved bloodhound. Initially, he was ashamed of indulging in such a hobby. He’d sneak off to the edge of town or secret Ladybird away to the garage. But eventually he learned that it wasn’t about shame or even winning a competition. It was about allowing art to enter his life and serve a purpose.
It made him a better person. Which is what pets are for.