Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In step with her passion

BROOKSVILLE — For 12 years, Diane Chiucchi pranced, kicked and spun with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

For the past 15 years, Chiucchi has showcased equally spirited and sprightful canines through American Kennel Club shows — currently at the Florida Classic Clusters, which runs through the weekend at Florida Classic Park east of Brooksville.

The two callings share a history. When Chiucchi, 66, danced with the Rockettes in the late 1950s and early '60s, one production included a segment with Afghan hounds.

"I spent a lot of time with the dogs," Chiucchi recalled.

She promised herself that one day she would own one.

"Afghans require a lot of grooming," Chiucchi pointed out, as did the Rockettes. Afghans are big dogs, judged "standard size," with long, flowing silky coats of hair. Even their ears are so long-feathered that dogs aimed for the show ring often have their ears tied back with scarves so the hair doesn't get wet or full of crumbs when eating.

But grooming was time-consuming. And Chiucchi had launched a dance school in upstate New York after her career with the Rockettes. She didn't have the time that the show ring necessitates for intensively groomed dogs.

Even though she had shown an Afghan at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club show in New York in the 1980s, Chiucchi switched to whippets.

At ringside last week at Florida Classic Park, she lifted the smooth head of 17-month-old whippet Kit Kat.

"You just have to trim whiskers, clean their ears, trim their front if you want," Chiucchi said.

The breed is naturally sleek-coated.

Kit Kat, a mainly white brindle, perked her ears at hearing her name, jumping to Chiucchi's chest with exuberance. Although this wasn't Kit Kat's inaugural appearance in the show ring, the whippet, registered as Sporting Field Rita Skeeter, remained excited, popping up to the knees of passing admirers, offering kisses on the lips.

"They're very active. But at night, they're couch potatoes," Chiucchi said of the breed. "She really snuggles up to me. They're good foot warmers."

Kit Kat crawls under the covers between Diane and her husband, co-owner Ralph.

The Chiucchis own 13 dogs, including a French bulldog, but only three dogs are accorded daylong accommodations in the house. The others are cared for at the couple's kennel.

Already with nine whippets, "I think I'm going to increase my numbers," Chiucchi said.

She labels herself "an occasional breeder." She's joined just two litters and sold the offspring to pet owners, where she has determined they'll be loved rather than paraded for ribbons.

In the first round of judging of whippets last week, Kit Kat ranked fourth in her age class. Chiucchi said the judge probably ascertained Kit Kat was too tall, already having reached the limited height of 18 inches of a mature female.

Still, Kit Kat couldn't contain herself. She leaped in friendliness toward judge Anna Katona of Reno, Nev., even licking the judge's ear.

In judging circles, that's a no-no.

Chiucchi lauded Kit Kat's "beautiful shoulders, nice angle to ribs, nice curves. I think she's well balanced."

Kit Kat will be among the competitors Friday and Saturday as contests for all breeds continue through Sunday.

In the meantime, Chiucchi continues with her other love.

The 12-year resident of Hernando County trains young dancers at her Brooksville Academy of Arts.

Beth Gray can be reached at [email protected]

>>if you go

Florida Classic Clusters

What: The Florida Classic Clusters dog show, featuring American Kennel Club all-breed dog shows, conformation, junior showmanship, obedience trials, rally trials and free show tours. Participants include Clearwater Kennel Club, Inverness Kennel Club, Manatee Kennel Club, Pasco Kennel Club and the Tampa Bay Kennel Club.

When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Sunday

Where: Florida Classic Park, 5360 Lockhart Road, east of Brooksville (about a mile from Interstate 75 and State Road 50).

Cost: Parking is $5; admission is free. Organizers suggest that spectators bring lawn chairs

Information: (813) 480-3975; floridaclassic has complete schedule of shows

In step with her passion 01/18/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 7:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. What we've learned from the Bucs' and Bills' playoff droughts


    Is it possible for the Buccaneers and Bills to be any farther off the NFL's radar? You get the feeling schedule-makers didn't think twice about putting this one down for 1 p.m. Sunday — the let's-hope-no-one-notices time slot.

    [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Motorcycle driver killed after hitting turning car on Keene Road in Largo


    A motorcycle driver was killed Friday evening when he struck a turning car, Largo police said.

  3. Drive-by shooting near Robles Park injures four people standing outside in crowd


    TAMPA — Four people standing in a crowd were hit by bullets during a drive-by shooting near Robles Park in Tampa late Friday, Tampa police said.

  4. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series


    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.