Canine musical freestyle may not become an Olympic sport in the foreseeable future. That does not, however, preclude it from being an exhilarating spectator sport. 

Sometimes known as “dancing with dogs,” canine musical freestyle combines the skills of basic obedience training with tricks and rhythmic movements that are choreographed and set to music. Dogs and handlers become dancing teams, the dog-owner bond is strengthened, and spectators are entertained.

The Barking Ballroom, the canine musical freestyle club serving central Illinois and the only recognized freestyle club in Illinois, brought an early Valentine’s Day celebration to Morningside of Pekin assisted living community’s fitness room on Feb. 7. Seven dogs, dressed in festive costumes and Valentine’s Day themed collars, brought their five humans to the facility for the performance.

“The Barking Ballroom Dogs have been coming here for a couple of years,” said Tammy Murphy, activities director at Morningside of Pekin. “We always enjoy having them. The residents love seeing all the dogs dressed up. It really brings a lot of smiles.”

In keeping with the Valentine’s Day theme, love songs were in the air, featuring country music, 1950s and 1960s rock, and traditional favorites like “The Tennessee Waltz.” Canine performers danced with their humans, wove in and out of obstacles, and mounted steps while keeping tempo with the song selections. Following the performance, handlers led the dogs around the room to meet residents and handed out Valentine cards featuring photographs of and greetings from their talented pets.

“I love dogs, and I love seeing dogs that have been so well-trained,” said Morningside resident Jean Schaefer. “These dogs are all adorable, and I was really surprised to see their age range from 13 years old to just a few months. My favorite dog was the Yorkshire terrier, Sparkle. She was so tiny, and she knew exactly what to do.”

The Barking Ballroom was founded in 2008 and has been a member club of the International World Canine Freestyle Organization since 2010. In addition to competing for titles and awards, the club has sponsored its own WCFO competition, called Dawg Days Discotheque, every August since 2015. The club also performs at events and animal-related fundraisers throughout Tazewell, Peoria, Woodford and McClean counties.  

“Our mission is to promote activity with your dog, advance the dancing canine freestyle that is popular all over the United States and just encourage people to have fun with their dogs,” said Judi Gullickson, Barking Ballroom events coordinator. “We get together once a week for a training session, and we all train our dogs on our own time. Some of our dogs are agility dogs, and some are obedience dogs. You need a basic obedience foundation and (to) teach your dogs some tricks before you can get started in canine freestyle. Most dogs like (canine freestyle), whether they’re shy or outgoing, because they respond to the music and (they respond to) the owners relaxing and dancing. We adapt our music to suit each dog.” 

Barking Ballroom has a total of 10 two-legged members and 15 members of the four-legged variety. The club offers classes year-round for anyone interested in canine freestyle. For more information, visit the club’s Facebook page at