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Literature: Ballet Shoes

Ballet Shoes is a children's novel by Noel Streatfeild (not a typo). It is about three Happily Adopted girls living in 1930's England. Together they are being trained in dance, with varying degrees of success. It was made into a movie twice, in 1975 and 2007; the second adaptation starred Emma Watson as the eldest sister Pauline.

The three girls are adopted as infants by a man they call Gum, short for Great Uncle Matthew. They are then left to be raised by Sylvia, their guardian, and Nana, their nursemaid. The family runs a boardinghouse, so the three girls meet many different people who live in the house.


Tropes in this work :

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Amateur paleontologist Great Uncle Matthew fits this trope. He seems to forgot about the existence of the Fossil children for years and sends no financial support. When he returns home, he wonders who the three young women in the house are - forgetting that babies grow up.
  • Acceptable Feminine Goals: Averted initially as all three girls wish to get their names in the history books but Pauline and Posy eventually pursue acting and dancing careers while Petrova wishes to become an aviatrix.
  • Adaptational Sexuality: In the 2007 film both Sylvia and Theo fall in love with Mr. Simpson. Sylvia thinks Mr. Simpson prefers Theo, but he ends up proposing to Sylvia who accepts. (Theo herself ends happily reunited with an old admirer from her chorus girl days.)
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: The three girls' names all start with a P.
  • Alliterative Family : The girls' adopted mother named Pauline and Petrova for the saints Paul and Peter, respectively, but was annoyed that the youngest arrived already named Posy.
  • Alpha Bitch: Winnifred in the dance school. She is so because she's the most talented all-round students and thus gets most of the lead roles - until Pauline comes along that is.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Dr Jakes and Dr Smith are hinted to be lesbians and suspected to be so by many fans but neither the book nor the film elaborates. Note that they do rent two rooms at the boarding house.
    • Theo in the 2007 movie seems rather interested in Sylvia at times.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Pauline and Petrova often feel like this towards Posy.
  • Arcadian Interlude: Everyone gets a break from money, school and career worries when Sylvia rents a house in the country for a holiday.
  • Bad Bad Acting: Petrova when she is playing Mytyl in "The Blue Bird" (1975 film) and Mustard Seed in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" (2007 film) is called out for her expressionless acting.
    • A variation in the 2007 adaptation. When Pauline is cast in a film and has to act a sad scene, to show her "inexperience" while filming she just doesn't put any effort into her line and has to be taught to put emotion in by the director.
  • Ballet: It's in the title!
    • Although there's rather less of it than one might suppose from the title. Posy, the ballet-oriented sister, is the one least focused on and is really not a POV character at all. Even in the parts of the book directly about the performing arts, there is a lot more time spent discussing acting and the theatre.
  • Beauty Brains and Brawn Pauline is the beautiful one, Petrova is the smart one, and Posy, while not the stereotypical brawn, is a much better dancer than her sisters.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, respectively.
  • Brainy Brunette: Petrova is known as the clever child of the three.
  • Child Prodigy: Sylvia actually was one, at least to a palaeontologist guardian. Posy as well from a dancing perspective.
  • Christmas Cake: Theo acts as if she's an Old Maid when she's barely older than 30.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Uniquely it's the child herself who invokes this. Posy's birth mother was a ballet dancer and gave her up because she wanted to keep her dancing career. Posy grows up wanting to become a dancer too.
  • Dancing Is Serious Business: Posy and Madame Fidelia.
  • Embarrassing First Name: When Posy is delivered to the house, her letter states that she was unfortunately named so. However she never is shown having any trouble with the name herself, making it the parents who feel this way.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Blonde Pauline is the pretty one and the one who is noticed most out of her sisters.
  • Fiery Redhead: Red headed Posy is the spunkiest and most energetic of the sisters.
  • The Film of the Book: Starring Emma Watson.
  • Gag Haircut: Theo tries to give herself "a permanent wave" and ends up frying a lot of her hair, leaving it short for the rest of the film.
  • Genki Girl: Posy.
  • Happily Adopted
  • The Heart: Petrova is this to the family.
  • Impoverished Patrician Sylvia, sort of- she's consistently struggling financially but has 3 servants (okay, so for a long time she's only been paying two, the other being her own mother-surrogate), lives in a high-end district of London, and her teenaged daughters take paid work years before she does.
  • In-Series Nickname: The girls call Sylvia "Garnie".
  • Ironic Inversion: Petrova gets the part of Mustard Seed in A Midsummer Night's Dream despite giving a lacklustre audition, when her competition was the much more talented Winnifred. Petrova gets the part because the directors are in a rush and Winnifred is late to the audition.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Theo in the 2007 movie, although she doesn't look much older than thirty.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Sylvia.
  • Life Isn't Fair: Winnifred learns this when Pauline is given the role of Alice instead of her even though Winnifred is more talented.
    • Adding insult to injury she later loses the part of Mustard Seed to Petrova (who has no aptitude whatsoever) when she is late for an audition through no fault of her own.
  • The Lost Lenore: In the 2007 film adaptation Mr Simpson's wife died of typhoid fever, along with their son.
  • Meaningful Name: Posy was named by her birth mother. It's likely that - since the woman was a dancer - she gave her daughter a name that would inspire that quality.
  • Middle Child Syndrome: Plain Petrova who has no artistic gifts is sandwiched between prettier sisters who are gifted in acting and dance respectively. To make matters worse, she is expected to attend a demanding performing arts academy with them without complaining. She gets some relief from Mr Simpson who shares her interest in motors and often acts as a surrogate father towards her.
    • Although uniquely for the trope, it's Petrova who gets the most scenes with Garnie - which hints that she might be the latter's preferred daughter. She certainly never gets reprimanded like Pauline and Posy do at various points.
  • Playing a Tree: Petrova and Winnifred play dancing jumping beans in a version of Cinderella.
  • Odd Name Out: Pauline and Petrova are named after Saints Paul and Peter, but Posy came to live with them already named.
  • Old Retainer: Nana, who raised Sylvia as a child and helps to raise the Fossil children, sticking around even when Sylvia can no longer pay her.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: An in-universe example in the book. Nana and the girls are surprised that the costumes for the fairy roles in "A Midsummer's Night Dream" consist of colored bodysuits and little else, rather than traditonal wings and wands. Nana is dismissive when the director explains they are "modern fairies." This isn't present in the film, as Pauline and Petrova's costumes have wings and flowing gowns.
  • Parental Abandonment: Unlike her orphaned sisters, Posy's mother, a young dancer, gives her up because she "has no time for babies." Posy's father is never mentioned, hinting she may be illegitimate. Posy does not resent her mother and is rather inspired by her to become a dancer herself.
  • Playing a Tree: Petrova and Winnifred play pea pods in a tacky version of Cinderella.
  • Plucky Girl: Posy. So much that when she faces a future without ballet lessons, she sneaks into a theatre where the Russian ballet is practising and performs for the director. Thanks to her natural talent and knowing Madame Fidelia, she's offered a spot.
  • Prima Donna Director: Madame Fidelia, especially at first.
  • Shrinking Violet: Petrova, as the one sister that doesn't enjoy performing.
  • Skewed Priorities: Sylvia is disgusted when she finds out Posy's. Posy is upset when her dance tutor has a stroke...because it means she won't be able to get dance lessons from her any more.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Pauline briefly when she becomes successful on stage. She quickly learns her lesson though.
  • Spell My Name With an S The author's last name completely defies the I before E except after C rule.
  • Stage Mom: Averted. Sylvia is glad when Pauline gets major roles, as that means there is more money flowing into the household, but she never exhibits any stage mom tendencies and loves the girls no matter how they dance.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Played with a bit. It's mentioned that Petrova, who hates dancing, ends up being one of the most technically proficient dancers in the school because she hates dancing, so she ends up taking basic classes year after year and gets all the core moves completely ground into her mind. But her performer sisters are the ones who always get major roles in ballets and plays, while she's always (gladly) stuck in the background. Although in this case, her sisters aren't bad at technique; they just never learn it by rote the way she does.
    • Petrova does have a leading role at one point, but that's because Pauline is portraying her brother, and it's more convenient to cast her as the sister.
    • Also comes into play (possibly) with all-round brilliant, plain Winifred vs. good-at-acting-but-merely-competent-at-the-rest, beautiful Pauline. Mostly it's observed that Winifred's not very attractive and looks shabby at auditions (because her family are flat broke and chaotic), but she also seems to lack Pauline's charisma.
  • Theme Naming Pauline, Petrova, and Posy Fossil.
    • Lampshaded by Nana:
      Nana: You're all three P. Fossil; one lot of marking tapes all through.
    • Could also apply to all of Noel Streatfeild's works: Ballet Shoes, Tennis Shoes, Circus Shoes, Theater Shoes, Party Shoes, Movie Shoes, Skating Shoes, Family Shoes, Dancing Shoes, and Traveling Shoes. Whew!
      • Important to note that many of these titles were different when published in England and only became ___ Shoes when published in America.
  • Tomboy: Petrova is as close as can get to this in her time period.
  • Wrench Wench: Petrova, in exchange for being the worst dancer of the three, is this.