These Books Were Made for Dancing

“Mama always said there’s an awful lot you can tell about a person from their shoes.”
~ Forrest Gump

We watched Kinky Boots: The Musical at the weekend. Based on a true story, the show deals with friendship, loyalty and daring to be different. But it got us thinking about the importance of shoes. I love wearing heels and have a fairly impressive shoe collection. However, this year I’ve lived in slippers and trainers, so my heels haven’t got much wear. I have a few pairs that sparkle (only for very stagey or special occasions), so I’m thinking I’ll wear one on Christmas Day. Nothing says festive like a sparkly jumper and some sparkly shoes!

Shoes may be overlooked by many, yet are often crucial parts of the detail. From Anastasia’s wedding Louboutin heels in Fifty Shades, to Cinderella’s glass slipper – shoes can often define us. Adrian Mole and Margaret Simon may have suffered for their choice of footwear, but they were defining moments in their school career.

Shoes for Dancing

Noel Streatfeild is one of my favourite authors and my copies of her books are rather the worse for wear! I have most of her repackaged ‘shoe series’, although most of mine have the original titles (White Boots, Curtain Up, Apple Bough etc.) and I still turn to them when I want a light-hearted read. Three girls are adopted by a palaeontologist, who disappears, leaving them with his niece. Choosing to be the Fossil children, the girls are taught at home until the boarders offer to help, taking over their tutoring and enrolling them in the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. Two of the girls discover talents for acting and dancing; the middle one perseveres because she knows her family needs the money but she has other ambitions.

“It was all very well to be ambitious, but ambition should not kill the nice qualities in you.”

Ballet Shoes ~ Noel Streatfeild

Ballet Shoes remains one of my favourites books, partly because of the theatre connection (I’ll have to write a post about theatre books), but also because it captures the essence of the stagey world fairly well. It’s hard work, at times brutal and it really helps if you have additional income. But being on stage and performing is a rush like no other and embodying a character is truly magical. The book teaches us that life isn’t always fair, but that respect and kindness are important and even if you don’t have a lot, a loving family is more important.

Shoes for Living

We all know about the old woman who lived in a shoe with her many offspring, but when I think of shoes I think of the Borrowers, who were forced to leave their cosy home and travel to find their relatives. During this time they had to journey to the ‘other side of the world’ and were forced to live rough for a time. At one point, they find an abandoned boot and use it as their makeshift home. When the gypsy finds his boot and takes them back to his caravan, they are rescued by Tom, who takes them back to his house where they set up a new home.

“It’s so awful and sad,” she once admitted to Tom Goodenough, “to belong to a race that no sane person believes in.”

The Borrowers Afield ~ Mary Norton

To me the Borrowers were one of the most believable fictional characters; most of us are forever losing things and if the needles were definitely on that shelf, then perhaps they have been ‘borrowed’ for another purpose? I loved the resourceful ways in which they used everyday human objects and when I was 11 had big plans to go as Arrietty for Book Day with giant buttons and a half scissor (obviously, like most families, we forgot and ended up raiding the dressing-up box the night before; I ended up as Cinderella and my sister was Sara Crewe).

Shoes for Magic

Dorothy’s (silver) shoes are perhaps the most famous fictional shoes, but were only red in the movie adaptation; let’s face it, who didn’t want a pair of magical ruby slippers? I actually have silver sequinned shoes (less tacky than they sound, honestly) but Judy Garland’s shiny red ones would be the dream. I always wanted to play Dorothy, but Over the Rainbow is not an easy song to sing (see another stagey series ‘Starstruck’ which I also love), so I never braved the auditions!

I think The Wizard of Oz was the first book that made me believe in the power of a pair of shoes. Dorothy leads a simple life, but has a big imagination and is always looking for something more. Yet when a cyclone whisks her away to a magical, colourful land and plunges her into an adventure, it becomes all too clear that family is more important to her.

No matter how dreary and gray our homes are, we people of flesh and blood would rather live there than in any other country, be it ever so beautiful. There is no place like home.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz ~ L Frank Baum

While I totally got the shoes, I always thought she was silly for giving up a land of magic to return to grey Kansas and I actually preferred the later books in Baum’s series (especially Ozma of Oz). Yet, when I lived in Belgium I did long for home and started to sympathise more with Dorothy. But this was more because I felt isolated and missed people; if I had made friends with a talking lion, I probably would’ve been a lot happier! But it goes to show, that over time, the way you empathise with characters can definitely change.

Shoes for Murder

Although we don’t watch a lot of TV, we can’t resist a detective story and Sunday afternoons will often find us curled up with a Morse or Poirot. They’re reliable, clever and not glamourised. Hercule Poirot is a great character: vain, pompous and particular. But this only makes him more entertaining!

This Poirot begins with a trip to the dentist, meaning that readers are already on edge and not focusing on the detail. Numb with anaesthetic, Poirot still notices a buckle of lady’s shoe as he returns home. Hours later, it is discovered that his dentist has taken his own life… but why would he do such a thing? Naturally, Poirot is suspicious…

No, my friend, I am not drunk. I have just been to the dentist, and need not return for another six months! Is it not the most beautiful thought?

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe ~ Agatha Christie

I did enjoy this book, because it shows that people do notice what shoes you are wearing! There’s mistaken identity, betrayal and downright spite, but the solution is very clever. I have a bad habit of guessing ‘whodunnit’, but Agatha Christie often surprises me with her villain. I still rate And Then There Were None as her best, but when I played Vera a couple of years ago, I was disappointed that the stage version leaves my character alive, which is a much less satisfying ending!

Shoes for Mourning

I adored The Keeper of Lost Things, so was really excited to hear that Ruth Hogan had written more books (and wow do they look pretty on the bookshelf). We used to live in West Hampstead and have been to Highgate Cemetery, so this made it more evocative, as I could picture the areas really well (and it made me nostalgic for my life in London). Although I liked the book, it was a bit predictable and quite slow-moving. That said, I did enjoy the characters and the way they interact separately, before coming together at the end. Masha is suffering, struggling to come to terms with the death of her child, but slowly starts to heal through two ladies she meets (one in red shoes; one on rollerskates) and begins to see that life is for living.

When the music ends for someone you love, you don’t stop dancing. You dance for them as well.

The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes ~ Ruth Hogan

Sally Red Shoes reminded me of Jenny Joseph’s poem Warning (where she will wear satin sandals). Life is short, so once we get to a certain age, I do think we start to lose our inhibitions and what we say and wear matters less. I miss wearing heels, but lockdown has made me realise that flat, comfy boots are much better suited to walking in muddy fields! However, life is too short to worry, so excuse me while I crack out the sparkly shoes!

Do you think that a person’s shoes says a lot about them? Do you love wearing fancy shoes, or do you prefer slippers and trainers?

If you wish to buy any of the books listed, please support your local bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/Paradise_Library

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