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On Babylon 5, episode 7 ("War Prayer"), Londo Mollari says, "My shoes are too tight, and I've forgotten how to dance."

The scene:

LONDO: ...My shoes are too tight.

VIR: ...Excuse me?

LONDO: Something my father said. He was... Old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting, alone in the dark, crying. So I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "My shoes are too tight. But it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance." I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance.

Pause

VIR: ...I don't understand.

LONDO: Smiling wistfully Nor should you.

What is the meaning of that quote?

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  • Note also the statement he made at the end of his life where if he wished he could just walk on a beach with a young lady. Sep 13, 2022 at 23:30

5 Answers 5

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Disclaimer: I've never seen Babylon 5 (although I plan to), but I'll give this a go!

It basically means "don't get caught up in the constraints of life"

I came across this article which I would encourage you to read. In this article, they basically say that the phrase "My shoes are too tight, but it doesn't matter, because I have forgotten how to dance" is supposed to mean something along the lines of life involving a great many constraints (the shoes being too tight). Then the part about forgetting how to dance refers to not actually forgetting how to dance, but rather forgetting how to enjoy oneself because one has become accustomed to the constraints that life places on one.

The aforementioned article makes a good point about this (emphasis mine):

This episode deals with the call of duty and traditions in the Centuarian society. Marriages are arranged and are often used as means for merger of noble houses to make themselves more powerful. There is no room for love or free will. The ambassador realised too late for him that "My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance." ... Life has a tendency to tie us down and force us to conform to expectations and the norms of society. Hopefully it has not bound us so tightly that we are presently "living lives of quiet desperation." May we live life of moderation and not forget how to dance. May we not be so tied down by our obligations that we forget how to live, or have a life.

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  • 11
    As a loyal Babylon 5 fan, I endorse this interpretation. +1
    – Praxis
    Sep 24, 2015 at 1:23
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    @Praxis now I know how randal'thor felt ;) Sep 24, 2015 at 1:23
  • To me it felt more specifically about romance and love life. As in, "I don't have time to date right now, but it's ok because I wouldn't know what to do on a date anymore anyway." +1 Sep 24, 2015 at 11:40
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    @ToddWilcox : It was certainly used in that specific context in the episode in question, but I think it was intended to have the broader implications mentioned by N_Soong in his answer. It's more or less the beginning of a running commentary throughout the series on Centauri society. In Season 5, Londo realizes when speaking to G'Kar that, by growing up in and around the Royal Court, he was thrust into adulthood with burdens of duty and tradition and was never permitted to have a childhood.
    – Praxis
    Sep 24, 2015 at 18:29
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    The full paragraph is reasonable, but I think the big bold text is way off. It doesn't mean "don't" get caught up, so much as it means that the speaker has been caught up. Londo and the universe have been conspiring together to box him into a role for his whole life, and he finally noticed. He wants to have fun, but his choices up to this point have made it so that he couldn't even if he had time, because he's forgotten how.
    – DCShannon
    Nov 21, 2016 at 20:54
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He's spent his life doing anything except for what he wanted to do. And by the time he finally put on his dancing shoes, he realized that he had waited so long to have a life that he never got to have one, and the dreams of his life were unattainable.

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I think this is more about choice and regret about missed opportunities.

'My shoes are too tight' For me this is more about the limitations someone has placed on themselves and there actions, being there shoes 'MY' and not shoes from someone else. Shoes are a more personal unique to self when worn and not generally casually shared around unless for a predetermined role filled by various individuals, and shoes can be changed for specific changes like going bowling, glass slipper, dancing shoes, heavy work shoes etc, etc. There is not one type of shoe they can be varied and changeable to be more/less suitable to the context. By wearing tight shoes you are not doing other things but a rigid inflexible set of actions that although painful 'Tight shoes' those are the shoes you have chosen to wear.

'Forgotten how to dance.' Is having given up on joy and trying to be happy, that although painful, continuing to wear the tight shoes and not seek to change them for something allowing you to dance. Dance being a freedom of action and self expression, most people have there own style of dance, for a more happy outcome.

Also the context this is presented in is one of sadness and regret. The father crying and Londo sounding wistful and lamenting on the loss of what would have made them happy. Londo being personally reflective as he relays the story and he has gone the same circle as his father.

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Vir was Londo's young assistant. The conversation came up because Vir's friends wanted to marry out of love instead of societal obligation.

Londo realized, in that moment, that societal obligation had constricted his heart. That is what it means. His shoes were too tight.

Dancing is a metaphor for joy. Londo had become so bound by the constraints of his office and title that he had forgotten how to feel joy. It was a moment of clarity that showed how Londo would come to react in the later episodes and why. Obligation outweighed personal feelings for Londo, and he lamented everything he'd given up for his duty to his people and their customs.

That's why Londo responded to "I don't understand" with: "Nor should you." He knew he was restricted by the culture of power, but he couldn't break away. He'd gone down the same road his father had, and seeing Vir as almost akin to a son, he didn't want that for him. It was a moment of self awareness that meant a lot to the show, considering what Londo later did out of obligation to his government. He gave up his soul. And he knew he was doing it.

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. This is an interesting theory, but if Londo truly did not want Vir to make the same types of choices as he did, wouldn't it be important to make sure that Vir understood the point he was making?
    – DavidW
    Sep 13, 2022 at 20:14
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    @DavidW I as a self declared B5 expert this is a basically correct answer and not radically different than the others. But to your point in-universe Vir is going to have to navigate upper crust protocols of his society regardless of whether he gets it or not. And its not something one can understand until its too late - its like trying to tell kids to appreciate their parents because they wont be around someday. Sep 13, 2022 at 23:21
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I think that this means that he's been wearing responsibility so long, he's forgotten how to live.

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  • Your answer could benefit from support (quotes, etc) from the series. Jun 25, 2017 at 7:17

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