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Golf as a Dancer Sees It: Part One


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I NEVER consider I have succeeded with a pupil unless the pupil adds something to my own knowledge.

A pupil who teaches me nothing has no originality, since what I am trying to impart is sensation and surely no two people should feel with exact similarity.

So I encourage my pupils to talk and give their impressions of things, particularly of feels, and my experience is that if these impressions are banal neither the pupil nor I will learn anything!

On the other hand, a pupil may come along with some quite absurd or fantastic conception of what I have tried to explain-and then I know there is fertility and that it is up to me to get a crop of ideas out of it.

So I felt I had a chance to do some good work when one day a well-known dance instructress came to me to be re-taught.

Here was someone who, in addition to being intelligent, had spent her life in attaining reflex movements in their highest and most beautiful form and in learning to impart such movements to others.

Not that it does to be too optimistic in these matters. I had taught dancers before and one of the greatest of these had evolved the most completely unbalanced swing you ever set eyes on.

Also I had given golf lessons to Borotra the most lithe and supple tennis player in the world, and the best I could get out of him was an impossibly stiff and wooden swing! But not having had all my natural optimism trodden out of me, I hoped that this case might turn out better and it did.

If a pupil shows any signs of Me, after two or three lessons I ask him to give me his impressions of the golf movement.

I did so with this lady and she gave a most interesting reply. She said she visualized the movement as "a vertical pillar with a number of circles around it."

That showed enterprise and imagination, so I asked what the upright pillar represented. "Activity," she answered promptly. "But," she added, "the circles do not seem to represent passivity."

The main thing wrong with her swing when she came to me was the common fault of throwing her right hip to the right on the way back and then to the left on the way through.

I explained this and showed her how she had tried to compensate for this movement by flattening the arcs of her hands and club so as to still come down inside.

"You tell me," she said, "that the pivot has two vital functions, to guide the club head and to generate power. Now I am very interested in the respective spheres of activity and passivity in movement. It is clear that the generating of power is active, but am I to assume that the guiding of the club head is passive?"

"You are," said I.

"So!" she said. "But may we first make sure we mean the same things by the use of the words 'active' and "passive?"

"An excellent precaution/' said I, and being always one to learn, I added, "I suggest you lead off and tell me your impressions."

She thought a little and then said, "Well, I am passive when I abstain altogether from acting when I might act."

"You have quoted my dictionary," I remarked.

"Probably," she said. "Indeed, certainly, if we have the same dictionary, as I live in and out of mine-we teachers have to! But if I have understood your analysis of the swing, you mean that that part of it which does not actively resist is purely passive?"

"Quite right," say I. "It should be. The shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands are all passive parts in the golf swing; the feet, calves, and buttocks are active parts."

"What about the hips? Are they active?"

"They are, but not prominently."

"In a subdued manner," she suggested.

"Yes that is right."

"Then," she said, "activity ends at the hips and passivity begins at the waist. That is good, for, since we have no bones in the waist except for the vertebrae, there is nothing to prevent it being a perfectly passive muscular spiral about which we can turn. Can I think of my waist as being made of strong elastic?"

"What makes you suggest elastic?" I asked. "Most people say steel."

"Well, steel in the body would feel like stays and restrict our twist, while elastic allows twist to take place and yet suggests great reactive strength. You tell me that the waist must be flexible not rigid, yet must impose its strength upon the passive part of the swing. I deduce from that, that the good golfer must be strong around the waist line."

"I will not dispute it," said I, "though some good golfers who are touchy about their figures may!"

"Now you tell me," she said, "that your shoulders, arms, and wrists are passive. How far do you go with this idea of passivity? Do you mean that you hit the ball passively?"

"I do," said I. And then, as I saw her eyebrows raised and a protest coming I hastened to add, "The greatest trial of all golfers is to retard the club head through the ball. And why is this difficult? Simply because they become active with their hands. Personally I almost never strike the ball too soon because I am, by instinct and training, a passive golfer.

"That," I added, "is why I am a good golfer. Golf is a passive game; its dominating sensation is passivity. That accounts for the curious fact that the worse I feel, the better I play! When I am fine and fit, I am active and apt to be a bad golfer, but after a night out I am a bit subdued-and usually very, very good."

"Do you mean that seriously?" she asked.

"Of course I do. And it's not a freak idea, it is a profound golfing truth. Think of all the golfing maxims which have come down the years to us. 'Slow back/ 'Don't press/ 'Follow through/ 'Take it easy/ 'Let your club head do the work'-not one of them enjoining activity. I repeat, golf is a passive game."

"Is it difficult to get excitable people to be passive?" she asked, going off at a tangent.

"It is/' said I. "But it is worth it, because many times when I have cured a nervous pupil's golf nerves, it has helped their general nervous condition enormously. In fact, a good golf lesson is better for the nerves than bromide or a month in the country!

"But let's come back to your lesson," I suggested. "What part of the swing do you find it most difficult to keep passive?"

"I think the shoulders," she answered. "I either want to resist or to help with them, and I can't quite make out which it is. I know they feel they want to stiffen, while you tell me they should keep loose. For a long time I have been able to keep my hands passive; it was only recently that I found I was resisting with my shoulders, and, since I discovered that, I have been able to bring the club head down inside."

"Yes. You see, when you loosened your shoulders, you were able to use the elasticity of your waist, which you could not do with your shoulders held stiff. When our right shoulder pushes forward on the return swing, it is because our waist has stiffened up in conjunction with our shoulders. Relax our shoulders and we can immediately use our waist twist again."

"Golf as a Dancer Sees It" will be continued soon...

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