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[September 25, 2007]  EAST TROY, Wis.  (AP) -- Ricky the Dalmatian spun across the floor with his 68-year-old handler, the high-stepping Mary Ann Coutley. The two were one of 23 pairs of handlers and pets participating in a three-day dog dancing class that ended Sunday at the Army Lake Camp and Retreat Center.

The handlers paid $275 each for a room, meals and lessons on everything from costumes to music and training tactics.

They learned twists, passes, cha-cha steps and other movements, slinking across the floor with their furry friends.

While "Dancers with Woofs K9 Freestyle Dance Camp" purported to be the first in the region, enthusiasts have been dancing with dogs since the 1980s. They formed the World Canine Freestyle Organization in 1999.

In freestyle dancing, the handlers and dogs work to be artistic and creative. Many also do Heelwork-to-Music, which combines obedience and dance.

"There's Olympic-style scoring up to 10," said instructor Linda Blanchard, 59, of Pontiac, Mich. "The goal for this sport is to become an Olympic sport."

The dogs are trained to follow verbal or hand commands. In freestyle, pretty much anything goes.

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"You have to pick out music that goes with your dog," Blanchard says. "The dogs can do figure eights around your legs. They spin, and we spin. Sometimes they're on their hind legs. They can wave, do marching things, jump over things."

Coutley used to dance with a 12-year-old Dalmatian named Wynona, who died in April. She is grooming Ricky to be her new partner with daily workouts that include six miles on a treadmill.

"He's a chow hound," Coutley said, feeding 1-year-old Ricky some turkey hot dogs. "He'll work for anything."


Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com/

[Associated Press]

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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