Krokodil on Stilyaga

D. Beliaev, Stilyaga. March 10, 1949


A ham-handed satire from the humor magazine «Crocodile», in the series “Obsolete Types.”

Original Source: Krokodil, 10 March 1949, p. 10.

Last summer, an agronomist friend and I were wandering across a field of rye.

Suddenly I noticed an ear of rye that stuck out sharply from the masses of grain. It was taller and swayed proudly above them.

“Look,” I said to the agronomist, “what a strong and beautiful ear. Maybe it’s a special variety?”

The agronomist pitilessly tore off the ear and handed it to me: “Feel it: this beautiful ear won’t yield a single grain. It’s a parasite-ear, it sucks moisture and everything else from nature, but doesn’t give grain. The common folk call it a head. There are also flowers like that in nature degenerate mutants. They often look very pretty, but they’re empty and barren inside. Just like the ear of rye…”

“A stilyaga-ear,” I exclaimed.

It was the agronomist’s turn to be surprised: “What was that?”

“Stilyaga,” I repeated and told the agronomist the following story.

A literary evening was going on in the student club. After business had been taken care of and the dance was beginning, a young man appeared in the doorway. He looked incredibly absurd: the back of his jacket was bright orange, while the sleeves and lapels were green; I hadn’t seen such broad canary-green trousers since the days of the renowned bell-bottoms’; his boots were a clever combination of black varnish and red suede.

The young man leaned against the doorway and with some uniquely casual motion put his right foot on the left, revealing his socks, which looked like they were stitched together from an American flag–that’s how bright they were.

He stood and surveyed the room with a scornful squint. Then the young man walked over in our direction. When he reached us, we were enveloped by such a strong smell of perfume that I involuntarily thought: “He must be a walking signboard for Tezhe.”

“Aha, stilyaga, you’ve graced us with your presence! And why did you miss the report?” asked one of my companions.

“Give me five!” answered the youth. “I was consciously late: I was scared the yawning and boredom would bust my jaws… Have you seen Mumochka?”

“No, she hasn’t appeared yet.”

“That’s a shame, there’s no one to dance with.”

He sat down. But how he sat down! He turned the back of the chair forward, wrapped his legs around it, stuck his boots between the legs and in some improbable manner turned his heels out with the clear intent of showing off his socks. His lips, eyebrows and thin mustache were made up, and the most fashionable lady in Paris would have envied his “permanent” hair-do and manicure.

“How’ya doing, stilyaga. Spending all your time in the ballet studio?”

“The ballet’s a thing of the past. I cast off. I’m stuck on the circus now.”

“The circus? And what will Princess Maria Alekseevna say?”

“Princess? Maria Alekseevna? And what sort of bird is that?” asked the young man in stupefaction.

Everyone laughed.

“Oh, stilyaga, stilyaga! You don’t even know Griboedov.”

About that time a girl appeared in the room who looked like she had fluttered straight off the cover of a fashion magazine. The young man howled out for everyone to hear: “Muma! Mumochka! Here, kitty, kitty!”

He crooked a finger at her. Not at all offended by his conduct, she fluttered over to him.

“Shall we stomp one out, Muma?”

“With pleasure, stilyaga!”

They went to dance …

“What a strange young man,” I turned to my neighbor, a student. “And a strange last name: Stilyaga. This is the first time I’ve heard it.”

My neighbor laughed.

“That’s not a last name. That’s what such types call themselves, in their own birdie-words. As you can see, they’ve worked out their own style of clothing, speech and manners. The most important part of their style is not to resemble normal people. And as you see, their efforts take them to absurd extremes. The stilyaga knows the fashions all over the world, but he doesn’t know Griboedov, as you’ve discovered yourself. He’s studied all the fox trots, tangos, rumbas, lindy hops in detail, but he confuses Michurin with Mendeleev, and astronomy with gastronomy. He’s memorized all the arias from Sylvia and Maritza, but doesn’t know who wrote the operas Ivan Susanin and Prince Igor. Stilyaga aren’t alive as we understand the word, but they flutter above life’s surface, so to speak … Take a look for yourself.”

I had long ago noticed that, whatever ordinary dance music–a waltz or krakowiak–was playing, the stilyaga and Mumochka were doing some sort of horribly complicated and absurd movements, something in between a can-can and the dance of the savages from the Land of Fire. Their ecstatic exertions had them twisting around in the very center of the circle.

The band fell silent. Stilyaga and Mumochka came over. The scent of perfume was mixed by the bitter smell of sweat.

“Tell me, young man, what is the dance you’re dancing called?”

“Oh, Mumochka and I worked on that dance for half a year,” the youth explained with self-satisfaction. It chicly harmonizes body rhythm with eye expression. Take note that we–me and Muma–were the first to pay attention to the fact that not only foot movement, but facial expression is the most important part of dancing. Our dance consists of 177 vertical leaps and 192 horizontal pirouettes. Each leap and pirouette is accompanied by a distinct smile unique to that leap or pirouette. Our dance is called the “stilyaga de dri.” Do you like it?”

“And how,” I answered in the same tone. “Even Terpsichore will faint from ecstasy when she sees your 177 leaps and 192 pirouettes.”

“Terpsichore? Is that what you said? What a chic name! Who is she?”

“Terpsichore is my wife.”

“Does she dance?”

“It stands to reason. And how! In St. Vitus’ Dance she used 334 leaps and 479 pirouettes.”

“St. Vitus’ Dance? Wow! Even I never heard of that dance.”

“You’re kidding. But it’s the most popular dance in the court of the French king, Heinrich Heine.”

“But I heard somewhere that France doesn’t have a king,” Mumochka timidly objected.

“Muma, clam up!” remarked the stilyaga with an air of superiority. “Don’t manifest your bad upbringing. Everyone knows that Heinrich Heine isn’t only a king, he’s a French poet.”

The group’s Homeric laughter drowned out his words. The stilyaga thought it was meant for Mumochka and laughed loudest of all. Muma was embarrassed, blushed and got angry.

“Mumochka, don’t get all puffed up. Wipe that frown off and let’s go stomp out a stilyaga de dri.”

Muma smiled, and they resumed their twisting…

“Now do you know what a stilyaga is?” the student asked. “As you see, it’s a fairly rare type, in this case the only one in the room. But would you believe there are guys and girls who envy the stilyagas and mumochkas?”

“Envy? That abomination?” exclaimed one of the girls with indignation. “Personally, I’d like to spit.”

I also wanted to spit, and walked over to the smoking room.

Source: James von Geldern and Richard Stites, eds., Mass Culture in Soviet Russia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), pp. 450-453.


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