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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?

  • 3
    Surely this belongs on the English Language SE instead of this site's hot network questions? – user42419 Sep 24 '15 at 11:48
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    @Lilienthal This site is still appropriate since Londo's situation is helpful in understanding the phrase. Indeed, the accepted answer quotes an analysis of the episode. – Thunderforge Sep 24 '15 at 13:15
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    @Lilienthal: I'm not sure that ELU would welcome this question. They consider "Criticism, discussion, and analysis of English literature" to be off-topic, and I believe metaphor-analysis questions have sometimes been closed there for this reason (though I can't find an example now, so I may be misremembering). – ruakh Sep 24 '15 at 13:15
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    @ruakh I checked with the ELU chat and it would be off-topic there as the phrase can be translated to any given language without losing meaning. I would argue that this question is also off-topic here since this figure of speech can be moved to any other show, book or real-life conversation without it impacting the answer. – user42419 Sep 24 '15 at 14:56
38

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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    As a loyal Babylon 5 fan, I endorse this interpretation. +1 – Praxis Sep 24 '15 at 1:23
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    @Praxis now I know how randal'thor felt ;) – Often Right Sep 24 '15 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 – Todd Wilcox Sep 24 '15 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 '15 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 '16 at 20:54
5

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.

2

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.

0

I think that this means that he's been wearing responsibility so long, he's forgotten how to live.

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

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