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Literature / Dancing Shoes

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Dancing Shoes (originally released as Wintle's Wonders in the U.K.) is a young adult novel by Noel Streatfeild. It is about two sisters: Rachel and Hilary Lennox, one Happily Adopted, living in 1930s England. Initially they live with their mother in a shabby boarding house, but when their mother dies, the girls are adopted by their Uncle Tom and Aunt Cora, and end up trained in dance, with varying degrees of success.

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Tropes in this work:

  • Abusive Parents: Cora is emotionally and verbally abusive towards her niece Rachel.
  • Apron Matron: Pursey's character is built on this.
  • Beautiful All Along: Rachel. A justified case as the combination of her unusual features, general unhappiness, and being forced into ill-suited fashions make her look plain and awkward for most of the book. She's much prettier when she gains confidence and is allowed dresses and hairstyles that flatter her. When she starts wearing her braids around her head, everyone comments on how much better she looks. Many people even say she looks like she should be the ballerina instead of Hilary because she has "classic beauty".
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Vain Dulcie as Beauty, studious Rachel as brains and athletic Hilary as brawn. (While Dulcie is also a dancer her looks are emphasized more.)
  • Bittersweet Ending:
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    • In the end, Hilary doesn't become a professional ballet dancer. As she herself points out, all the talent in the world doesn't matter if you don't have the drive and passion to go with it. Rachel reluctantly understands that she's done all she can and she can't make Hilary into a ballerina.
    • It's acknowledged that Dulcie will probably still become a star, even though she lost the film role. On the bright side, she won't be as successful as Rachel.
  • Blithe Spirit: Hilary takes losing not one, but two sets of parents remarkably well.
  • Bookworm: Rachel, taking after her father and Uncle Tom.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Hilary has far more talent than she does ambition.
  • Brainy Brunette: Rachel.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Mrs Storm sets Rachel extra acting and speech exercises after seeing she enjoys their literature lessons. At the end, Rachel is pulled in to audition for a film and instantly lands the role.
    • Also a posthumous example, as it's mentioned that Rachel's father was an actor. Lampshaded when Cora comes under fire for not putting Rachel forward from the start.
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  • Cheerful Child: Hilary is optimistic and easy-going despite everything she goes through.
  • Determinator: Don't tell Rachel to give up on something. Especially not Hilary's ballet future.
  • Dumb Blonde: Downplayed. Hilary isn't stupid, but she's less studious and book-smart than the brunette Rachel.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Hilary is very popular with the other Wonders. Justified, because she's outgoing and cheerful and doesn't show off about her dance abilities, even though she's one of the best in the school. While Rachel makes friends in her group, the storytelling states that she was never going to be as popular as Hilary.
  • Extreme Doormat: Uncle Tom spends most of his time hiding in his art studio and won't interfere with Cora's decisions for Rachel and Hilary, even with how badly Cora treats Rachel and how unhappy Rachel is at being forced to become a dancer. He puts his foot down a total of two times: Making Dulcie apologize to her cousins for demanding they be sent away and signing Rachel on for a film role at the end.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Rachel is the Responsible to Hilary's Foolish.
  • Genki Girl: Hilary.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Averted. Hilary and Rachel fit the pretty sister/smart sister dichotomy but are close, loving and deeply supportive of each other. Their main issue is that Rachel is more concerned about Hilary's dancing career than Hilary is.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Cora believes Rachel doesn't want Hilary to train as a Wonder because she's jealous of her dancing talent. In reality, Rachel is doing everything she can to get Hilary into the Royal Ballet School and doesn't care about her own dancing classes. It's not that she doesn't want Hilary to use her talent, but only that she wants Hilary to work hard at ballet instead of the dance work most Wonders do.
    • Played straight with Dulcie, who feels threatened by Hilary and is furious when she beats her in the talent show. They tied when they first danced, but when repeating the dance to decide a winner, Dulcie is so cross that there's something missing, while Hilary is so pleased to dance again that she does it better than the first time, which is why she wins.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Blonde Hilary is kind and good-natured, albeit with a mischievous streak.
  • Happily Adopted: Hilary Lennox with Rachel's biological parents. Averted when Cora becomes their guardian.
  • Hated by All: Dulcie is loathed by everyone at the school, from Mrs Storm and her dancing teachers to all of the other Wonders. Even the all-loving Pursey disapproves of her behaviour and her own father barely spends time with her. At one point a whole troupe of girls help Hilary win a talent contest against her and there is mass rejoicing when Rachel steals her film role.
  • Henpecked Husband: Uncle Tom again. At one point he claims he can't get involved with "the dancing side of things", ignoring that dancing controls everything in the household, from the girl's career paths to their daily routines.
  • Hypocrite: Cora is not particularly attractive and had to fight for stage work because of it. One of the things she most dislikes about Rachel is how "plain and awful-looking" she is.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Rachel, thanks to Cora's criticism. However, Hilary, Uncle Tom and the other dancing teachers think she's genuinely beautiful when not dressed as a Wonder. The film director at the end agrees, especially since he wanted someone with Rachel's looks for the role.
  • It's All About Me: Dulcie, thanks to her mother's encouragement. At one point Cora buys a television for the household just so everyone can watch Dulcie.
  • I Can't Dance: Rachel doesn't want to learn to dance, and although she learns enough to leave the beginner's class, she has to think hard about the steps and can't enjoy it. She dreads becoming old enough to get her license to perform.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Cora and Dulcie spend the book bullying Rachel for her looks and poor dancing, while Dulcie is spoiled and set for a glittering career. At the end, Rachel takes a massive film role right from under Dulcie's nose - not only because she's a better actress, but because her looks were exactly what the director was looking for.
  • Last Request: Rachel is determined to fulfil her mother's final instructions about Hilary becoming a ballerina. She gives up in the end.
  • Nice Girl: Rachel and Hilary in contrast to Dulcie.
  • Parental Substitute: Averted with Cora but Pursey takes over as a motherly figure for the orphaned Rachel and Hilary. Mrs Storm and Uncle Tom also provide Rachel with some much-needed parental support and encouragement.
  • Pride: Dulcie. Her fall is that Rachel gets picked to play the lead role of Vera in a feature film.
  • Plucky Girl: Happy-go-lucky Hilary.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Lively, outgoing Hilary and shy, bookish Rachel.
  • Stage Mom: Cora towards Dulcie. It's mentioned that Cora's plainness meant she never got beyond chorus dancing, so is determined that Dulcie - who inherited her talent and her father's good looks - will become a star.
  • Spoiled Brat: Dulcie.
  • Team Mum: Pursey to all the Wonders.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Polished Dulcie and breezy Hilary.
  • The Stoic: Rachel gets stiff and uncomfortable when she's unhappy and rarely cries in front of other people, resulting in adults thinking she's much more unfeeling than she really is. It's pointed out in the text that when she's sad, she puts on a face that appears sulky, but which she actually means to signal that she wants to be left alone.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Inverted. Dulcie inherits her father's good looks while Cora is the unattractive mother.
  • The Un-Favourite: Rachel to Cora, who makes no secret of it.
    • Cora's husband Tom, on the other hand, likes Rachel, and she's the clear favorite of the girl's tutor Mrs Storm, to the point that when Cora tries to send Rachel to the local school, she is forced to change her mind, as Mrs Storm tells her that she'll quit if she has to teach Dulcie and Hilary without Rachel.
  • The 'Verse: The Shoesverse, perhaps? Many of Streatfeild's book featured a character in situations pertaining to dance.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Cora definitely qualifies as a wicked step-aunt.
  • When She Smiles: Rachel is described as having a face that "easily looks sad" (and for most of the book she has good reason to be), but is lovely when she smiles.

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