We’ve all heard of the hit show “Dancing with the Stars,” but what about dancing with your dogs? That’s right, it’s a real thing.
- RESCUE MORGAN DOES EVERYTHING ON HIS BUCKET LIST, AND HE’S MORE ALIVE THAN EVER
- Burglary prevention tips after North Jersey police reports
- Biker Dies Trying To Dodge Dog. Days Later, It Visits His Mother
- Is Phoenix dog friendly? Group ranked it worst place to travel with dogs
- Alaskan Therapy Dog Team Brings Peace and Joy to Those Dealing With High-Stress Events
Every year, people and their dogs from across the globe compete in this international sport on the world’s preeminent dog dancing stage, Crufts dog show, in Birmingham, England.
“Heelwork to Music” is a competitive sport where handlers choreograph intricate dance routines with their dogs.
Performances are judged using a wide array of criteria, including musical interpretation, choreography, and the bond between handler and canine.
The competition attracts contenders from around the world, who spend months of their lives going through rigorous training and preparation all in the hopes of coming out as the top dog dancing duo.
An ABC News Studios six-part docuseries, “The Secret Life of Dancing Dogs,” streaming on Hulu on Nov. 17, follows the journey of seven current and former. competitors and their dazzling dogs exploring the hopes and challenges competitors face as they train and prepare for the 2023 Crufts show, all in the hopes of claiming the top prize.
Gina Pink & Swagger
Gina Pink has been called the “mother of all Crufts.” Since the 1990s, she has been a competitor and a judge, even volunteering up to 40 hours a week, all for her love of dogs.
“Dog Dancing for me is a real sense of achievement,” says Pink. “It’s worth all the dedication.”
Pink met Swagger, a 5-year-old Working Sheepdog who features with Pink in the 2023 competition, while working with rescue dogs.
The two made an immediate connection after she agreed to take him in from a home that wasn’t suited for him. Pink remarks that, “[Swagger] was scared of dogs, he was scared of people and verging on the edge of becoming aggressive.”
Pink says, “I just feel that I have to defend the rescue dogs. Quite often dogs fail in homes because of the people they are living with, the environment that they are living with. But people being people, are really quick to put the blame on the dog.”
After months of work that included many weeks of choreography, and with the help of his love of tennis balls, Pink said she was able to build up Swagger’s confidence to have him ready for the Crufts arena.
“I do believe that when people get up in the morning, they need a reason to get up out of bed. And dogs and dance are now that for me,” Pink said.
Christine Bérczes & Meredith
Christine Bérczes of Hungary said that she found a passion for dog dancing around the same time as her late father’s passing.
“I think my parents, they preferred more that I am working in economics…I studied it. I always was the first in the class…But, I always liked animals,” Bérczes said, remembering how her father felt about her canine career choice.
Bérczes, lives with her husband, two children, seven dogs, four rabbits, and a horse in the small village of Hollókő, Hungary.
At first, she says she was bewildered by the sport, but quickly became enamored when she started choreographing routines with her Australian Shepherd, Meredith, realizing she had the skills and smarts to become a dancing dog.
“Yeah. I think everybody first is like, Hmm, what is dog dancing? Come on, this is not real…But after just one hour practicing with Meredith, I just felt…it will be for us,” Bérczes said.
“It was electrifying,” she said of her first time performing in the Crufts arena.
For this year’s competition, she and Meredith use their special bond to choreograph a fun and inventive routine set to the theme of the hit show “Baywatch,” incorporating creative dog moves in hopes of wowing the judges.
Lorna Syrett & Nora
Lorna Syrett is one of the newcomers to the “Heelwork to Music” scene, starting her journey just three years ago.
The British accountant adopted Nora, a Border Collie, and eight months later at just 26 years old, Syrett’s health started to deteriorate after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
“When you can’t pick up like half a glass of water and you can’t put a sock on, you really start to question your quality of life at that point,” Syrett said.
Through the her recovery and rehabilitation, Nora has been Syrett’s strongest support.
“Just having her to kind of bring me that spark of sunshine in the morning…That made me get outta bed,” Syrett said. “But once I got outta bed and got moving, I felt better. The doctors and the nurses did say to a degree that Nora saved my life.”
Syrett grew up watching dog competition shows like Crufts with her mom, Helen, and always yearned to participate in the event.
While she struggles with her insecurities as a new dog handler, Syrett shares, “When me and Nora are dancing together, there’s no better feeling. Like everything else, almost like, melts away and it’s just us. Poetry in motion.”
Sachiko Kuniyoshi & Alena
Sachiko Kuniyoshi, of Yokohama, Japan has been training dogs for competitions for years, dedicating her life and career to training people on how to connect with their dogs.
Her strong belief in positive reinforcement practices has allowed her and her Border Collie, Alena, to snag one of the coveted spots in the international “Heelwork to Music” competition at Crufts 2023.
“Being called a representative of Japan, is a huge weight and a lot of pressure,” Kunioshi said.
She entered the competition with the hope of sharing Alena’s dog dancing skills with the world.
“Her personality is…very clever. She probably has an IQ of around 200. She’s that kind of dog,” Kuniyoshi said.
Kunioshi goes on to say, “To be with all of these competitors from all over the world, I was proud to be in the same ring.”
Watch them take center stage in celebration of their ever growing bond.
Marianne Elise Methi & Vega
Marianne Elise Methi and her Border Collie, Vega, won the 2022 international competition and while they are not returning as competitors, their dog-dancing spirit is integral to this year’s event as they coach Lorna Syrett and Nora in the months leading up to Crufts.
“I still look up to [her] almost like a celebrity. Imagine like hanging out like with Ed Sheeran of the singing world,” Syrett said.
The Norwegian dog handler has always been surrounded by dogs, but formed a lifelong bond with them when, at 17 years old, she lost her hearing. She says that dogs provided her courage and strength to take on the world.
“For me, dogs are not a hobby. It’s a way of life,” she said.
Jennifer Fraser & Daiquiri
At a young age, Jennifer Fraser fell in love with dogs thanks to her grandmother Peggy, who ran a kennel in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Fraser always credited her grandmother for her achievements in the dog training world.
“She taught me everything she knew and she really led me down the right path…She’s the reason I am so passionate and so driven about what I love doing in my life,” Fraser said.
Fraser said she suffered trauma as a child and working with dogs helped to alleviate the pain.
“It makes me realize that life is fleeting, and you need to do what you love. And if I were to win that would just give me that — that self-confidence that I need. And that self-worth that I never had as a child,” she said.
Fraser began competing at Crufts in 2022 with her dog Daiquiri, an Australian Shepherd, coming in second place their debut year.
The pair vigorously train daily in the four months leading up to this year’s 2023 Crufts, and Fraser said she is determined to come out on top.
“If he does anything wrong in the ring, it’s going to be because I didn’t have enough time to train him,” she said.
Isa Randle & Lucky
London-based Isa Randle is a professional dancer and teacher by day, and a dog dancing trainer by night.
Randle said she felt an instant connection with Lucky, her Chihuahua, after a bad breakup.”I came out of a relationship that…I got really heartbroken from and that’s when I started looking…really seriously looking for a dog. Cause I needed a distraction away from the…the pain inside,” Randle said.
Inspired by her bond with Lucky, Randle hopes his appearances at competitions will break the stereotypes of small dogs.
“Chihuahuas have this reputation of being, you know, barky and little ankle biters…But they are real smashing little dogs,” Randle said.
However, a health issue put their dog dancing career into question.
After Lucky was diagnosed with mitral valve disease, Randle went in search of a vet that could perform the life-saving heart surgery that Lucky needed. The series chronicles the pair’s journey of Lucky’s recovery, but the question remains, will Lucky ever compete at Crufts again?
After hundreds of hours of training, each handler and dog pair are going for gold in this touching journey to Crufts 2023.