The Dance of Golf

Golf Like Nobody is Watching

As I ruminated on what to write about for this latest column, my daughter was in the midst of participating in her final string of dance competitions. While watching her and her teammates perform a variety of styles − from jazz to contemporary, ballet to lyrical − it struck me how similar dance is to golf. I’m not talking about those goofy celebratory dances which some pros, or maybe your playing partner, do after draining a long putt for an eagle or a birdie. No, I’m talking about recreational dance.

The golf swing, when performed well, is like a well-choreographed dance step. The best swings are smooth and feature an even tempo throughout. Think of each of your golf swings like a dance step that goes, “one-and-cha-cha-cha.” The backswing and weight-shift backwards are during the “one-and” while the weight-shift forward, trunk turn and arms-and-club-hitting-the-ball are in the rapid “cha-cha-cha” move. Throughout this movement, maintaining your balance and evenly distributing your weight between both of your feet is paramount.

Well-timed footwork and co-ordination of all body parts are a couple of the keys to dancing gracefully. And, no surprise, these same movements are also important to good golfing. Think of the following phrase, “that guy’s got two left feet,” which I’m sure that people whisper to each other any time they see me cut a rug. This idiom describes a clumsy person who is not a very good dancer. The reality is this: anyone dubbed a klutz for their lack of grace and co-ordination on the dance floor usually just needs a little boost of confidence and some tutelage.

Over the past seven years, I’ve watched my daughter improve her dance skills, make many friends and develop discipline along the way − thanks to amazing teachers. By following her passion and committing to practising hours upon hours each week, unlike dad she does not have two left feet, but dances beautifully. While it’s bittersweet to watch this chapter of her life come to a close, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness her compete this year − following more than 728 days of cancelled performances due to the pandemic. Seeing the joy on her face after completing a successful dance is a picture forever stamped on my mind.

I digress. Nostalgia crept in and tears formed in the corners of my eyes as I was recording these dance memories, knowing that I’ll never watch her perform some of these numbers again. That is the nature of art. Just like your golf swing, this artistic performance is ephemeral in the same way as Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” or Degas’ “Blue Dancers” became finished works, never to be replicated by these masters after the last drop of paint left their brushes and dried on the canvas.

Back to the similarities between golf and dance. Both disciplines require focus and a clear open mind not just to master, but also to simply learn the basics. I experienced this first-hand over the past month. This guy with two left feet, whose previous claim to fame when it came to dancing was performing the Russian dance to the Boney M song “Rasputin” after one too many drinks at my friends’ weddings, actually focused on learning a three-minute choreographed dance. In the process, I gained a newfound respect and appreciation for how challenging this activity is to pick up.

You see, since it was my daughter’s graduation year, I had no choice but to sign up for the annual end-of-year tradition known as “The Dad’s Dance.” I’ll never forget that first rehearsal. Standing awkwardly in the studio, listening to our instructor – Mr. Mike – I joined 15 fellow dance dads on this journey. That Friday evening, I felt as if I were back in high school at one of my varsity basketball practices − trying to follow the coach as he taught our team a new offence or inbounds play. If you did not get the play after the first couple of run-throughs, you were forever behind. I was a “Dad’s dance” rookie. Keeping up was hard. Immediately, I looked at the ‘veterans’ in the room and wondered what the hell I was doing there? This trepidation did not last long. After the first couple of rehearsals, I realized that the raison d’être behind this tradition is having fun and making our daughters (and our wives) laugh at our expense. That’s when I loosened up. And do you know what? I started to remember the moves. The less I thought about what I was doing, the better my movements became. Maybe this two-footed klutz could dance after all!

You can apply this same approach to golf. The swing is such a complex movement that we often try to self-analyze all of the minutiae of our swings and wonder where we might have gone wrong, when the shot which we visualized does not materialize in the way we planned. Let go and let golf. Think of Chevy Chase’s character (Ty Webb) from the classic 1980 slapstick comedy Caddyshack who practised Zen Buddhism, telling his young disciple to “Be the ball.”

Dance − and Golf – Like Nobody is Watching

Dance like nobody is watching. At first, I found it hard to follow this famed aphorism penned by American writer Mark Twain. But once I relaxed and realized that the Dad’s Dance was about fun and getting to know the other dads, my dancing and my footwork both improved. So, silence that inner voice as you step to the tee − or hit the dance floor − and you will discover that your confidence grows.

Before I type the last words on my laptop, let me offer a few final similarities between golf and dance. Both pursuits require dedication, perseverance and athleticism. Did you know that the main muscles used in golf are the same ones which you use in ballet − glutes, chest, back, forearm and core? Both sports also cause a roller-coaster of emotions from anger to joy and sadness to confusion − when you can’t figure out what went wrong. Those are the moments at which a little Zen, now and then, comes in handy. Trust your swing and golf like nobody is watching. Let me know how it goes. And, while you’re at it, why not take a few dance lessons with your partner. It will not only be good for your relationship, it just might improve your golf game. Here’s to a season of getting on the dance floor (golf slang for the putting green, for those not in the know) in regulation more often.

by David McPherson