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New Tricks

A dancer’s unlikely rise to fame.

Author Emily Williams Cornejo Illustration Graham Roumieu

SANTIAGO, CHILE

IN A HOUSE ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF SANTIAGO, the music kicks in, and for the next three minutes Carrie and José Fuentes dance the cueca, Chile’s national dance. They circle each other, tap their feet to the beat, twirl and wave their handkerchiefs in choreographed unison. It’s hardly an unusual scene in this country, except for one thing: Carrie is a golden retriever.

Two years ago, one of José and Carrie’s elaborate dance routines—a merengue—was featured on Don Francisco Presenta, a Univision variety show. That seemed to be the extent of their fame, but then, this past September, the video suddenly went viral on the web. Fuentes woke up one day to find his inbox full of emails from media outlets all over the world, including Late Night with David Letterman (they did the show in late September).

So how do you teach a retriever to merengue? Easy, says Fuentes, a videographer with a background in education. When he brought Carrie home six years ago, he wanted to test the limits of canine intelligence. In no time, using little more than positive reinforcement, he had her turning on lights, closing doors and doing some limited dance moves, such as hopping and turning circles on her hind legs. By the time Carrie was two, Fuentes realized that while she could learn just about anything, he was running out of ideas. “I mentioned to my ex-wife that I didn’t know what else to teach Carrie,” he says. “Knowing how much I love to dance, she suggested I put all the movements Carrie already knew together into a routine.” It took them about two years to get it down cold.

And what does his ex-wife, or his children or neighbors for that matter, think about a man spending so much time teaching a dog to dance? “We gradually built up to this, so no one was really surprised by it. It’s not like she just started dancing out of the blue; people were already used to seeing her do other tricks,” he says. “It was a natural progression.”

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