Nemo Saltat Sobrius

This could have been my blog’s name. But the username was taken, and it’s quite a mouthful, anyway. The phrase is a short version of a quote by Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman smart-ass philosopher, politician and lawyer, which goes like this:

Nemo enim fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit.

And roughly translates to:

Nobody dances sober, unless he is insane.

Why, thank you, Cicero.

The amazing Asher from Danseur Ignoble mentioned in a comment on my last post just how important it is to not be afraid to dance even though you know you might screw up. This is perfectly applicable to all other areas of life, I think. And while I’m often terribly afraid of embarrassing myself in social situations, the same reservation somehow doesn’t apply to dancing – and never has.

Which brings us to the name I actually chose for the blog.

When I was finishing kindergarden, my music teacher quietly took my mother aside. «Your daughter has really poor coordination», she said. Think about it: if your poor coordination is immediately evident in a large group of six-year-olds doing the chicken dance, it must be very poor indeed.

Other things were said during that conversation, about being in time with the music, waving with the same hand and at the same time as the other children and possibly even about being able to find a husband in the future. My mother never mentioned the latter, but this was Ukraine in the nineties. I heard that one a lot from well-meaning old ladies, well-meaning dentists and well-meaning pretty much everyone, all of whom I ignored.

C’mon lady, if that dress won’t get me a husband, nothing will. (I’m second from left. Also the tallest. And the one who’s waving with the wrong hand, obviously.)

And that is how I got sent to dance classes. I wanted to paint (which I was also bad at), but my developing myopia and even more strongly developing bibliophilia made my mother push for a physical activity. I don’t remember offering too much resistance.

My dance classes took place five times a week at a local art school, designed to provide a space for kids to learn music, dancing and painting after school. It was clad in hideous brown tile and situated just across the road from my grandparents’ apartment block, where I spent lots of time dutifully avoiding doing my homework while my mother was at work. The course was called «Variety Dance» and we learned and performed funny little choreographies in cute costumes. In one we pretended to be kittens, in another Barbie dolls, a third was a Ukrainian folk dance that suddenly turned into rock ‘n’ roll.

My teacher looked at my height and my extreme ungainliness and put me in the back of the class. I was kindly asked to not participate in any performances for the first year.

I realise it sounds like I was forced into dancing, tortured by the teacher, laughed at by my classmates and dealt a devastating blow to my self-esteem. That is not what happened.

What happened was that I danced a hole into my grandmother’s carpet. It was a beautiful, large persian carpet she had brought from Hungary. About a third of it became very bald over the next few years. She still occasionally reproaches me about it.

The carpet resided in the living room. So did the stereo. There was an open space on the carpet right in front of the stereo. I’m sure you can see the connection there. Not all of what I did was dancing. I distinctly remember fencing with my mother’s knitting needles, that were kept under the stereo. My mother also distinctly remembers her subsequently crooked knitting needles.

I went to the dance classes for about five years in total. I loved my teacher dearly but I remember precious little about her, except her name, her super-curly hair and her long fluffy white sweaters. Before long, all the practice on the carpet paid off and I was dancing in performances with all the other kids. We danced in retirement homes, at competitions and even on TV once. I had an electric blue lycra leotard for class and lots of cool costumes for performances, some of which my mother and grandmother sewed themselves.

That posture is awful and what even is that hand doing? Posing like a true dork.

The regular dance class was held on the art school’s own theatrical stage, which I always found supercool. Eventually, our teacher started us on ballet. There was a grand piano in the ballet studio, although I can’t remember whether someone actually played it during lessons. I even had pointe shoes and classes on theory and history of dance.

During all this time, I danced whenever I got a chance. I danced at home, on my grandmother’s carpet, at outdoor discos and at every school dance. The only time I ever remember feeling bad about dancing was when I caught my aunt and her friend, teenagers at the time, poking fun at my moves at a summer disco.

Years later, when I was twelve, my mom took my aunt and me on vacation in a fancy hotel in Turkey. We had tons of fun, ate tons of food and went to the hotel disco every night. There was a stage in the disco area. After the animation (which included some amazing dancers, by the way) left for the night, the stage was left lit, but completely empty. Until I arrived.

A year later we moved to Switzerland and there were no more dance classes. I learned to ride a bicylce and to snowboard and then I got really deep into karate. I still danced whenever opportunity presented itself.

Dancing on a totally empty stage with lots of people below did not phase me (age 12). Dancing in the rain with a friend at a random latin music concert we stumbled upon did not phase me (age 14). Dancing at sayonara parties after karate championships did not phase me (age 16-18). A friend from karate recently added me on Facebook and one of the first things she said was: «I remember you dancing all night long at those parties!» I don’t know if she considers those memories pleasant, but I certainly enjoyed myself

I also – voluntarily – never drank a drop of alcohol until I was eighteen. I drink little to this day, not because of some moral highroad, but because I really hate the sensation of becoming drunk. I’m also not much of a party goer, so the next time I danced was at my graduation when I was 25. My significant other, who has never seen me do such an extraordinary thing before, said it was sexy and he liked it. (I about 85% believe him, not because he’s a liar, but because he knows my self-esteem issues.)

A year or so later – last November – a friend invited us to a party where she was dee-jaying. There were dance performances and it was cool. I signed up for my jazz class a few days later and the rest is history.

According to Cicero, I am quite insane indeed, but I prefer dorky. What else do you call a person who unselfconsciously dances in public without being a professional performer? Besides, «Insane Dancing» is not a pun on a certain eighties movie. And I have dorkiness aplenty in other areas of my life.

A dorky thing I did today was to actually look up the original context for this funny Latin quote I found. Nemo saltat sobrius is from Cicero’s 63 BC speech pro Murena, in which he successfully defended a consul who had been accused of bribery – and called a dancer by one of his accusers. Apparently, this was not a nice thing to say in ancient Rome. Cicero explains why (English translation stolen from here):

Cato calls Lucius Murena a dancer. If this be imputed to him truly, it is the reproach of a violent accuser; but if falsely, it is the abuse of a scurrilous railer. Wherefore, as you are a person of such influence, you ought not, O Marcus Cato, to pick up abusive expressions out of the streets, or out of some quarrel of buffoons; you ought not rashly to call a consul of the Roman people a dancer; but to consider with what other vices besides that man must be tainted to whom that can with truth be imputed. For no man, one may almost say, ever dances when sober, unless perhaps he be a madman, nor in solitude, nor in a moderate and sober party; dancing is the last companion of prolonged feasting, of luxurious situation, and of many refinements. You charge me with that which must necessarily be the last of all vices, you say nothing of those things without which this vice absolutely cannot exist: no shameless feasting, no improper love, no carousing, no lust no extravagance is alleged; and when those things which have the name of pleasure, and which are vicious, are not found, do you think that you will find the shadow of luxury in that man in whom you cannot find the luxury itself?

Abusive expressions off the streets. Nice, right? He should’ve tried dancing sometime.

I am terribly sorry for this.

And now, who wants to participate in some shameless feasting and improper love before dance class?

2 thoughts on “Nemo Saltat Sobrius

  1. First, thank you for the mention! I am way flattered! ^—^

    Second, I love this whole post. Your writing is funny, engaging, and eminently readable.

    Lastly, I’m on the fence. Improper love before class could be good for the turnout, but my experience has been that pre-class feasting ends badly (probably even more so if there are lots of turns :D).

    Keep writing! I am enjoying the heck out of your blog!

    (Oh — and the hand in that one photo … Could you be snapping your fingers? I ask because they look very much like mine in one of my trapeze pix from a rehearsal of “Duelo Trapecio,” and I kept thinking, “What on earth is up with my hands?” until I realized the photographer had shot it exactly at the moment in the choreography when I snap my fingers because castinets on a trapeze sounds like a recipe foe disaster 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh my, now I’m flattered! :3 Thank you very much! I also really love your blog and your writing style (and the punny title! :D) and I think it’s reeeeally awesome that you’re not condescending to beginners despite being way awesome.
    For fairness’ sake I have to add that I studied journalism and write professionally (but in German and about houses xD).
    You’re totally right about the fingers! I remember there was a part that involved snapping and I was annoyed because I could never make a sound. Or I think I remember that.
    Yeah, I think we’ll have to keep the feasting to the post-class period. “Scrubbing studio floor” is nowhere near the top of my bucket list.
    But imagine what ancient Roman dancing looked like if they only did it after improper love and feasting – and completely wasted, too!

    Liked by 1 person

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