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Literature / Ballet Shoes

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Ballet Shoes is a children's novel by Noel Streatfeild. It is about three Happily Adopted girls living in 1930s England. Together they are being trained in dance and acting, with varying degrees of success. It was made into a BBC TV series in 1975 and a movie in 2007; the second adaptation was a BBC film starring 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.

Although only Ballet Shoes has been filmed, the book had several sequels following the girls' further adventures and connections with other young girls involved in performing arts. In America these books were all titled 'something Shoes' for recognition purposes (The Circus Is Coming being retitled Circus Shoes for instance).

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.
  • Acquired Situational Narcissism: Pauline's success in a stage production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland soon goes to her head and she becomes rather arrogant. Getting demoted to understudy brings her crashing back down to earth, as she's suddenly reminded of why she needed the job in the first place.
  • Adaptational Context Change: In the book, Sylvia doesn't want the girls to attend the academy because the two doctors are already going to educate them, and she doesn't think it's practical. Nana likewise agrees. In the film however, Sylvia is worried about the cost of lessons, and it's Nana who talks her around. Theo also rents her room on the condition that the girls attend the academy in the film, whereas in the book she's been staying at the house for a while before she suggests it.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Winifred in the 2007 film version is a lot more bratty than she is in the novel. Additionally the film leaves out a detail from the book that Winifred's father is ill and she is under pressure to provide for five younger siblings. The point about her father is referenced when Winifred rushes in too late to the A Midsummer Night's Dream audition because she has been to visit her father 'at his Sanatorium in Hastings".
    • Pauline's Break the Haughty moment is far more severe in the 2007 film version too. In the book after she misbehaves, Winifred replaces her as Alice just for the one night. However in the film Winifred is implied to replace Pauline for the rest of the performances.
    • Posy's reaction to Madame's stroke is more unsympathetic in the 2007 film. In the book everyone had been downplaying it to her, making her falsely believe she's being dismissed for a trivial illness. In the film she knows exactly what has happened, making her behave more selfishly.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Having acted on the stage plenty of times, it should really be that she needs to be taught to tone down her emotion.
  • 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. She's also more of a Plucky Girl compared to the two of them.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The trio of sisters Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, respectively.
  • Brainy Brunette: Petrova is known as the clever child of the three.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Posy is rather loud and shrill compared to her older sisters. Winifred is portrayed this way too in the 2007 film.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: The story ends with Pauline moving to Los Angeles to start a film career, Posy going off with the ballet to dance in Europe and Petrova getting flying lessons to become a pilot. Additionally the house is sold, meaning the boarders all disperse.
  • Casting Gag: Emilia Fox plays Sylvia Brown. Fox's mother Joanna David played Theo Dane in the original adaptation of the book.
  • Child Prodigy: Sylvia actually was one, at least to a palaeontologist guardian. Posy as well from a dancing perspective.
  • Cool Old Lady: Nana who is another surrogate mother to the girls and has plenty of wit and spunk despite her age. (On the other hand, she's the one who keep making disparaging remarks about Petrova's interests.)
  • Crack Defeat: 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 Winifred. Petrova gets the part because the directors are in a rush and Winifred is late to the audition.
  • 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 Fidolia.
  • Death by Adaptation: Mr Simpson's wife and child are dead in the film version, to allow for a romance with Sylvia. His wife is alive in the book, where there is no romance, and they don't have a child.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The children are put on the stage to help bring in money to support their families, which no one bats an eye at; however, they are still being taught schoolwork by tutors (referred to as "coaches" in Pauline's first contract for stage work.).
  • 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; it's mainly Nana who feel this is inappropriate.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Blonde Pauline is the pretty one and the one who is noticed most out of her sisters. This is justified by the setting; in the 1930s, natural blonde hair was one of the high standards of beauty.
  • Fiery Redhead: Red headed Posy is the spunkiest and most energetic of the sisters.
  • The Film of the Book: Starring Emma Watson.
  • Genki Girl: Posy, the most cheerful and upbeat of the sisters.
  • 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," short for "Guardian." This is due to Values Dissonance - as it would be scandalous for the public to mistake Sylvia's daughters for her own and that they might be illegitimate.
  • Ironic Echo Cut: Petrova gets a sty in her eye just before an audition, and Nana is giving her something to put on it and assuring her no one will notice. Cut (in the 2007 film) to the casting directors asking for "girl with the red eye" to step forward.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Sylvia has her hair tied back for the whole film. But for her wedding she wears it down for the first time.
  • Life Isn't Fair:
    • Winifred learns this when Pauline is given the role of Alice instead of her even though Winifred 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.
  • Locked in the Bathroom: Pauline does this after she misbehaves and Winifred replaces her as Alice for one night. She doesn't want to cry in the bedroom, because Petrova and Posy, who share it with her, might come in, so she locks herself in the bathroom to cry.
  • 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.
  • Not What It Looks Like: In the 2007 film Sylvia thinks Mr Simpson is romancing Theo. She's teaching him how to dance so he can impress her.
  • Odd Name Out: Pauline and Petrova are named after Saints Paul and Peter, but Posy came to live with them already named.
  • Old Maid: In the 2007 film Theo feels anxious about her age and acts as if she's an Old Maid when she's barely older than 30.
  • 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 traditional 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.
    • Also in the book, Pauline is cast as a Fairy Godmother in a pantomime, where she does have a traditional fairy outfit, and Nana brings up the earlier fairy outfits, approving far more of the Fairy Godmother costume.
  • Pair the Spares: The 2007 film pairs up Sylvia and Mr Simpson, looking like Theo will be left on her own. She ends up reunited with an admirer from her chorus girl days.
  • 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.
    • In the book, Posy's father is specifically noted as deceased when Gum sends her to Sylvia. His note states that Posy is "the little daughter of a dancer. The father has just died, and the poor young mother has no time for babies, so I said I would have her."
  • Playing a Tree: In the 2007 film, Petrova and Winifred play pea pods in a tacky version of Cinderella. In the book, it's Petrova who is stuck being a "jumping bean" in a pantomime of "Jack and the Beanstalk."
  • Plucky Girl: Posy. So much that when she faces a future without ballet lessons, she sneaks into a theatre where a famous Czech ballet company is rehearsing and performs for the director. Thanks to her natural talent and knowing Madame Fidolia, she's offered a spot.
  • Prima Donna Director: Madame Fidolia, especially at first.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Mr Simpson's wife is alive in the book, but both she and a young son are dead in the 2007 to allow for a romance with Sylvia. There isn't a romance in the book.
  • Race Lift: In the book the director Mr Sholsky is Jewish, but played by black actor Adrian Lester in the 2007 film. (Of course, this doesn't presuppose that Mr Sholsky couldn't be both black and Jewish.)
  • 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 mistress has a stroke...because it means Posy 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) in the book 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. Important to note that many of these titles were different when published in England and only became ___ Shoes when published in America.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Ironically enough, despite Winifred becoming brattier in the film, she gets a boost she didn't get in the book. When Pauline misbehaves in the book, Winifred replaces her for just one night. In the film, it's implied that Winifred will play Alice for the rest of the performances.
  • Tomboy: Petrova is as close as can get to this in her time period.
  • Town Girls: The three Fossil sisters. Petrova is the butch - with her love for engines and emphasis on becoming a pilot. Pauline is the femme - she's the pretty one of the trio and goes for the more glamorous career of acting. Posy meanwhile is the neither - although she's a ballet dancer, she's not particularly feminine in terms of personality (as she's the brawn in the Beauty, Brains, and Brawn trio).
  • The 'Verse: The Shoesverse, perhaps? This was Streatfeild's first book for children, and many of her subsequent juvenile novels explicitly take place in the same continuity. Mention of the Fossil sisters is frequently made in other books, and occasionally they even cameo in person. The Academy is also revisited. Many of Streatfeild's book featured a character wanting to study classical ballet, and they usually end up going to the school and meeting/studying under Madame Fidolia.
  • Wrench Wench: Petrova, in exchange for being the worst dancer of the three, is this.