Canines and human companions ready to dance

NANAIMO – Local dog enthusiasts take part in annual Island Fling at Beban Park.

Yvonne Downey and her Jack Russell terrier

Yvonne Downey and her Jack Russell terrier

Local dog enthusiasts are going dancing on Sunday (June 23), but not with their human partners.

They’ll be taking part in the annual Island Fling in the Centennial Building at Beban Park and dancing with their dogs.

More than 35 teams from across B.C. will be competing, presenting carefully choreographed routines with dogs jumping, jiving, wiggling and weaving to Katy Perry, Dead or Alive, and Celtic bagpipes.

Yvonne Downey, a first time competitor, likes the creative aspect of the sport. She’s entered both her dogs, Parker, an 11-year-old Jack Russell, and Tweed, a nine-year-old border terrier.

Wearing a gypsy skirt and flower garland, Downey sends Tweed, festooned with her own flower lei, spinning circles, waving and taking a bow to the beat of an old English pub song, the Lambeth Walk.

“I’ve done obedience, rally, and agility, but freestyle lets me be less serious,” said 69-year-old Downey, twirling her skirt.

She isn’t the only one with a twinkle in her eye and a skip to her step in the handling ring; a group of Nanaimo Kennel Club classmates under the direction of instructor Carol Toms are also entering the competition in both freestyle and dressage.

Dressage is performed on leash and involves a more structured routine to music with the dog heeling in position, incorporating minimal and basic tricks.

For freestyle, the dog works off leash. The handler can be in costume and props can be incorporated into the routine. Movements and tricks are with the dog in any position but are linked by basic heelwork.

“Freestyle gives you the freedom of working with your dogs without too many rules,” Toms said.

Judging of the 1.5- to 3.5-minute dance involves both artistic and technical interpretation with three components: interpretation of music, how the choreography flows, and the quality, difficulty and variety of tricks.

“Handlers don’t have to be dancers or musically inclined,” she said, adding that they can pick a song they like and add tricks to it. The dog gets the attention, the handler has fun and the bond between dog and human gets stronger.

Downey added that the old adage, ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, doesn’t fit here. Her 11-year-old, entered in both freestyle and dressage, is re-energized learning the new tricks and movements. And Toms said it’s great for the physically disabled dog, her German shepherd, Lucas, who suffered a back injury, thrived working at learning new tricks and practising the routines.

“Dogs love to perform,” said Toms. “And in freestyle they’re never wrong. The judges don’t know your routine so it if all goes wrong, you can just pick it up and keep going.”

Performances and judging begins at 11:15 am. For more details, please visit