With BGT's magical mutt predicted to earn 10 million… Could YOUR pooch learn to dance like Pudsey
08:27 GMT, 15 May 2012
Big future: Reporter Alice-Azania Jarvis and dog Jake have taken part in a dog dancing training class following the success of Pudsey on Britain's Got Talent
A balmy evening in South-West London, and I’m trying to convince a handsome chap called Jake to cha-cha-cha.
I’m hoping that as a couple we have the potential to dance in perfect harmony, and to encourage him I’ve brought along his favourite food (cocktail sausages) and put on his favourite CD (Strictly Dance Classics).
But as I shuffle round the dance floor it’s clear pretty quickly that he isn’t keen. The chemistry just isn’t there.
But then perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised: Jake is a dog — a borrowed Blue Merle border collie to be precise — and I am here with my reluctant dance partner in the hope that a little of the stardust of what you might call the Pudsey Effect will rub off on us.
Just in case you’ve been living on Mars for the past couple of months, let me explain that Pudsey is the irrepressible border collie-bichon frise-Chinese crested cross who, along with his 17-year-old owner Ashleigh Butler, has become a national sensation after delighting both audiences and the judges on Britain’s Got Talent.
After winning the final in some style on Saturday night, they’re now predicted to make 10 million through public appearances and endorsements.
Such has been the response to their unashamedly feelgood act that there is already something of a boom in the number of people hoping to discover a hitherto latent talent in their own mutts.
So just how easy is it to jive together, or encourage an animal to jump through a ‘hoop’ formed by your arms, just like the fabulous Pudsey
There are several DVDs devoted to the subject, and classes can be found just about everywhere from Cornwall to County Durham. So I decided to pay a visit to one in Twickenham run by Kathleen Stubbings, who’s been ‘doggie dancing’ for the best part of a decade. Six years ago, she founded an academy to share her talents.
Winners: Ashleigh Buter and her dog Pudsey won this year's Britain's Got Talent
Impressive: Ashleigh and Pudsey wowed the viewers and the judges with their routine to the Mission: Impossible theme. But could your dog perform the same moves
With me in the class are six other dog-lovers — including 15-year-old Lucy Hankey (who has come with her border collie Sam) and 66-year-old retired occupational therapist Chris Young (with Tod, another border collie).
Kathleen, who sports rather risque jazzy pink lipstick and spiky blonde hair, is clearly used to keeping order among humans and canines.
‘Quiet!’ she yaps to a barking beagle, turning to its owner with a firm: ‘Shhh!’
Doggie dancing — or ‘Heelwork to Music’ to use its official title — has its own organisational body (yes really), the Paws ’n’ Music Association. And you thought it was just a teenager having some fun on a reality show.
In 2008 it was even introduced at Crufts — to howls of disapproval from the competition’s more, shall we say, traditional participants.
Indeed, Britain boasts the world champion. In 2010, Kath Hardman and her seven-year-old border collie Amber stole the show at the inaugural Heelwork to Music World Championships in Denmark. They danced to the Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand duet No More Tears. That’s right, Pudsey’s not even the best doggie dancer in Britain!
Example: Kath Hardman gives a heel work to music display with dog Ginnie at Crufts, Birmingham in 2007, before Alice attempts a similar trick during the training class
(You can almost hear Simon Cowell’s brain ticking over with plans for a nationwide tour boasting a whole cast of Pudsey-a-likes.)
‘Dancing with a dog is fantastic fun,’ says Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko. ‘And Britain’s Got Talent raises its profile even more.’
It took root as a serious discipline in 1990 when a two-time Crufts obedience champion named Mary Ray introduced music to her heelwork (a kind of obedience training where the dog performs different moves following its owner’s, ahem, lead).
Hi there! Dancing dog Missey appears to wave to the photographer at the training class
To Berlin’s 1980s classic Take My Breath Away, she and her Tervueren sheep dog, Roxy, performed the country’s first human-canine dance routine at a demonstration in Bedford.
It was swiftly followed by another, this time to Survivor’s anthem Eye Of The Tiger with her collie, Red Hot Toddy.
In America, predictably, some dog owners took the idea one step further. They introduced flashy costumes and acrobatic canine leaps, and called their version ‘freestyle’.
Combine the two approaches, and you have the fun, frivolous but deeply impressive dance routines put on by Ashleigh and Pudsey on Britain’s Got Talent.
Something tells me I have a long way to go before Jake and I can master anything like those, however. And spangly costumes are definitely out of the question.
The good news is that I’ve managed to get Jake to stand on his hind legs. The secret: a small sausage held in between your thumb and finger and he’s a lot keener to strain up to reach it. Ashleigh prefers a bit of ham sandwich to keep Pudsey keen.
But despite a positive start, I know we’ve got some way to go to reach Kathleen’s target of at least half a dozen tricks in a routine.
To compete — even at local level — in official heelwork to music competitions, beginners need to fill two-and-a-half minutes of music with choreographed moves.
At the more advanced level at which Ashleigh and Pudsey regularly compete, you need to fill five.
And there are no sausages — or ham sandwiches — allowed during a contest.
Our instructor Kathleen starts us off slowly, gradually introducing one move after the next. And to help us see how we are shaping up, there’s even a ballet-studio-style mirror running along one side of the hall.
So what are we attempting Well, there’s the twist, where the dog spins around as if chasing its tail. And there’s the head-nod, where it bobs its head in time to the beat.
But the most fun is the weave, where you use your hand to lure the animal around you, first one way, then the next.
Popular: Alice was joined by six others and their pooches for the class
Then, with a quick flick of the wrist, you indicate that the dog should go through your legs and out the other side. Midway through, you press your legs gently together to trap the dog between them, and then you both turn in tandem. And hey presto! You’re doing the weave.
One person who’s not having any trouble with all this is young Lucy.
With her long, blonde hair and model looks, she appears more suited to the catwalk than doggie-dancing. But then she’s no ingenue — having twice won Crufts, though not with her collie Sam.
Lucy is especially thrilled by Ashleigh’s new-found fame. The two are friends, even competing against one another from time to time.
‘She’s a couple of years older than me,’ says Lucy. ‘So usually she comes first and I come second.’
‘It’s great to see the kids getting into it,’ agrees trainer Kathleen. ‘Ashleigh really is a leading light.’
Ideas: Simon Cowell's brain might be ticking over with plans for a nationwide tour boasting a whole cast of Pudsey-a-likes
It does all beg one question, though. Why, on a lovely spring evening when they could be doing any number of more normal activities, are these people so keen to get their dogs to dance After all, it’s hardly the most natural thing in the world. Looking in the mirror, I realise just how silly I appear.
Well, for one thing, it’s good general training for the dog.
Teach a dog to dance, says Kathleen, and house-training becomes a piece of cake. ‘It’s the best discipline there is — it focuses the dog’s mind.’
It’s good exercise, too — for the dogs at least: Lucy reckons that 20 minutes of dancing is the equivalent of at least an hour’s walkies.
But it’s also very good for us humans. So good, in fact, that the Kennel Club recently launched a keep-fit programme based around the concept.
Get Fit With Fido is such a success that weight-loss guru Rosemary Conley has endorsed it. ‘I know people who have lost over a stone exercising with their dog like that,’ enthuses the Kennel Club’s secretary Caroline.
Most of all, it’s fun. Faintly ridiculous, yes, and rather eccentric — but utter fun. Even for those of us — well, me — who can barely get our dogs to sit when we tell them, the experience is rather uplifting.
Sue Hudson has been dancing with her collie Sapphire for only a few months, but already she proudly lists the moves they’ve mastered: the paw-lift, when the dog raises a paw to meet your upraised hand, the bow, when it touches its nose to the floor, and the pivot, where the dog turns on top of a stool.
Chris Young, meanwhile, is here for only her second lesson with a collie named Tod. ‘You can’t worry about what you look like, it’s just about having fun,’ says Chris.
Of course when the experts perform, it’s a different story. So precise and skilful are they that the dancing is almost a science. Choreographing a successful routine combines flair, accuracy and a even a bit of biological knowledge.
Kathleen says: ‘It’s crucial to take into account factors such as your dog’s age, breed, and build.’
Standing on his own two feet: Pudsey illustrates one of his many tricks that helped him win the talent contest and possibly land 10m
One reason Ashleigh and Pudsey’s cha-cha is so impressive is because of six-year-old Pudsey’s remarkably straight back when he stands up on his hind legs.
‘It means he can stand tall, and match Ashleigh’s posture.’
But if Pudsey were a bit older, he wouldn’t have the strength for the move. Too young, and he’d risk damaging his development.
Kathleen explains: ‘Dogs’ bones don’t stop growing until around 12 months, so forcing them to stand upright before then could be harmful.’
At Crufts, the stringent age restrictions take such factors into account. Dogs must be over 12 or 18 months, depending on their category.
When doggie dancing (sorry, heelwork to music) was introduced at Crufts, critics feared such antics would undermine the event’s credibility. Indeed, the British and Irish Dog Breeds Preservation Trust snootily wrote off the new category as ‘all teeth and hair’ — rather like Simon Cowell, in fact.
This unlikely feud in the doggie world lingers on, with Kathleen saying she’s ‘sick’ of people trying to present the ‘sport’ in a negative light. Were she and her doggie dancing colleagues not so evidently hurt, it would all be rather comical.
But then I suspect they will get their revenge next year when — thanks to Pudsey — Crufts is overrun by hundreds of wannabe doggie dancers. That’ll annoy the snobs.
So how did I fare with Jake Let’s just say that after an hour of effort and cajoling, it wasn’t Jake that was chasing his tail. We’re certainly not ready to take on Ashleigh and Pudsey . . . but who knows what a little more practice (and a lot more sausages) can achieve