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A Dancing Cadet Who Won Their Respect


An excerpt from Marshal V.I. Chuikov’s memoirs titled “Youth Tempered in Combat” appeared in the November 1968 issue of Soviet Literature Monthly journal. This work, published after he wrote about his experiences in the Great Patriotic War, focused on his early years in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War. As a young cadet aged 18 years, he was called from the 1st Moscow Military Instructor Course into an active unit. Chuikov was eager to take on a leadership position, but a certain Commander Sivers gave him and his cohorts some solid advice:


“'It’s not so easy to change people’s attitudes,’ he said. ‘That is why for the present I can make no specific appointments. I suggest that you begin as assistants or deputies of the commanders. Get to know the men better and show your worth in combat. Then we’ll see…’


We agree, of course, and I was appointed assistant company commander in one of the regiments. When I arrived at my company, which was defending the village Novy Rodnichok, I immediately felt that the Red Army men regarded me with distrust. I was younger than they and, besides, they saw in me someone who resembled a former officer. […]


I was impatient to meet [the Whites] in combat, especially as I sought the opportunity to demonstrate to the men that I wore my instructor’s badge with full right. I would rise before dawn and, with the company commander’s permission, take several men, with whom I checked all the outposts, pickets and listening posts. At times we went far out, but still we never encountered the Whites. There was no way of showing my worth and the Red Army men looked at me slyly through narrowed eyes as much as to say, ‘Well, cadet, how goes it?’


Once they made me attend a wedding: one of the men was marrying, and the party was held in the local school. The commanders were among the guests, an accordion was playing, and the guests sang and danced. ‘Well, Muscovite, let's have a dance!’ one of the men challenged me.


‘Don't mind if I do,’ I said. ‘Let's see who outdances the other.’


‘Oh, so that's the kind you are!’ men called out from all sides. ‘Come on, into the circle! Let's see your worth!’ I thought of Petrograd worker Vanya Zimin, who had taught me the opening steps and turns. ‘Yablochko,’ I told the accordion player.


A dandified machine-gunner entered the circle and proceeded to pound the floor tirelessly with the soles of his boots. He performed several cute steps and stopped. I swept around the circle as Vanya Zimin had taught me, turned, made several tap steps and then.... Ah, that sailor's ‘floor-waxing’ which I had practiced until my very heels broke out into sweat! Vanya himself would hardly have done better. I felt I got into the swing of the dance, and it carried me on and on. The men leaped to their feet and encouraged me with smiles and clapping; then they lifted me bodily and began tossing me to the ceiling.


‘Good for him! He's our guy, the cadet is!’ It was from that moment, it seems to me, that a change took place in the men's attitude toward me, the change I had been hoping for so anxiously. But this was, of course, only the beginning: the soldiers would recognize me as a commander not by dancing, but by behavior in battle” (113-114).


***Just in case you are interested in seeing it, here is a professional demonstrating the "Yablochka" dance.***


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