Spanish photographer Bego Antón wanted to explore the many ways humans relate to animals. She wanted to know why, for example, we make cats our pets but put chicken on the dinner table. In doing so, she hoped to explore our implicit biases toward certain animals and breeds. Instead, her research took her on an unexpected journey, and she ended up documenting the colorful lives of people who dance with their dogs.
They call it “musical canine freestyle,” and it’s a new sport that’s growing in popularity among dog enthusiasts. The human and dog dance in coordinated costumes to a choreographed routine. Each level within the sport gets more complicated, requiring better synchronization between dog and human.
It all started when Antón was doing research for a photography fellowship. “Suddenly I ended up on YouTube, watching a video with Carolyn Scott and [her dog] Rookie dancing to a Grease song. I was fascinated, so I decided to investigate a bit more,” she says.
“The incredible thing with freestyle is that you can show your personality,” Antón says. “You pick a song that you like, and you choose your costume, taking that song and the lyrics into account. And with the costumes, you are also saying something about yourself.
“There are different levels of freestyle. [Participants] are not competing against each other—it’s more like a beauty competition. Yes, they are competing against each other, but they are happy for each other when the other one wins. What motivates you is that you practice with your dog to get to the next level. They never win money—it’s all trophies, medals, or certificates.”
But Antón says that it wasn’t the performances or the sport that drew her to the subject. “I didn’t have much interest in the competition itself. I was more interested in the personal part. That’s why I went and visited them at home,” she says.
Antón—who has never lived with a dog—was immediately surprised by the warmth of the people and dogs she met, even staying overnight with some of her subjects.
“I spent a lot of time with each of the women. Within minutes or hours of meeting me, they were talking to me as if they had known me for years. It was very special.
“I was also very surprised that all of the dogs were very loving. They would try to hug you and lick you all the time. The first woman I stayed with—her dog, Rex, was really big. Suddenly he jumped on me and was hugging me. That was my first contact with him. It was love at first sight.”
Antón has received various reactions to her project, including bewilderment or surprise by this unusual subculture.
“I’m often asked if I think these women are crazy,” she says. “My answer is absolutely no. What I think is that it’s a very uncommon thing to do. We are not used to it, and we find it weird because we are treating the dog as if it were a human.
“But after spending a lot of time with [the owners], what I can say is that the dogs end up ‘animalizing’ them—in the sense that it’s a sport where human and animal are at the same level. It can’t happen without the animal, the same way it can’t happen without the human, so there is a lot of respect. I find that there is love behind it, absolutely love.”
When I asked Antón what her favorite part of the project was, she said, “One thing that’s very important to me is the idea of the ‘pink bubble.’ The pink bubble is the moment when the human and the dog are dancing together and the rest of the world seems to disappear.
“In my imagination, I see them floating up into the sky and coming back down. I’ve seen this [intensity] with my own eyes, and it’s amazing. I even had tears in my eyes.”
Wanting to emphasize the equality between dog and human in canine freestyle, Antón says that when she introduces the topic, she says, “I’m telling a story about people who dance with their dogs, or rather, dogs who dance with their humans.”
View more of Antón’s project, including GIFs of the dogs and their humans dancing, on her website.