A group of friends lived in an old, large house in the Government of Riazan, far from civilization. They spent their days hunting, writing, and playing music, but eventually grew bored and quarreled with each other. As Christmas approached, the village came to life with brewing beer and preparations for the holiday.
The friends decided to visit and congratulate their acquaintances, starting with the priest and moving on to other local officials and peasants. They tried to fit in with the local customs, joining in dances and songs, but felt out of place and disconnected from the villagers. The narrator, a painter, was one of the three friends visiting the village.
Valerian Alexandrovitch, a symbolical verse writer, and Vaska, a music enthusiast who enjoys playing Wagner on clavicordia, were the other two friends.
One day, they attended a Christmas entertainment at the local school, where the children performed songs and tableaux. The performance was mostly unremarkable, but one song struck a chord with the friends. It told the story of a grasshopper who sang all summer and was then told to dance all winter, as it had not worked during the warmer months.
You’ve sung your song, you call that doing, You’ve sung the song, then dance the dance.
The friends felt a deep sense of unease and disconnect from the villagers, realizing that their own pursuits and interests were incomprehensible and useless to the people around them. They left the performance in silence, feeling as though the song had pronounced a judgment on their lives.
Three days later, the friends said goodbye and went their separate ways, haunted by the phrase "Then dance the dance." As they traveled, they reflected on the vast divide between themselves and the Russian people, wondering what their own contributions to society would amount to.
God alone knows the destiny of the Russian people. … Well, I suppose, if it should be necessary, we’ll dance it!
They acknowledged that if necessary, they would indeed "dance the dance," but the thought remained a troubling and persistent reminder of their disconnection from the world around them.