Does every small girl want to be a ballerina? It is surely parental wishfulfilment rather than the lure of a frilly pink frock and matching shoes that pushes the lisping infant into the world of dance. Mothers tend to have forgotten that whirling across a draughty church hall doing the same exercises week after week palls for everyone except the extremely disciplined, that acquired grace and deportment will invariably be undermined by teenage slouching, and blocked satin ballet shoes will remain for most girls an unattainable holy grail.
Such rose-tinted maternal memories notwithstanding, Noel Streatfeild’s children’s classic Ballet Shoes, published in 1936, remains a favourite for anybody interested in theatre. Whenever one mentions a first-class book of this kind, if the adult addressed knows it, their face will light up, and they’ll look exactly as they must have done as a child. This is true of either sex. E. Nesbit’s name gets many nods and smiles, particularly from elderly gentlemen who remember the Psammead: ‘a little beast’, said one. Mention of Narnia produces endless discussions on the merits of the seven books. And every woman who discovered I was writing about Ballet Shoes responded in exactly the same way. A sharp intake of breath was followed by, ‘Oh! My favourite book!’
Strangely, however, few recalled the story in any detail or the personalities of the three Fossil sisters, only their various talents. At the end of Ballet Shoes, a question is posed: ‘I wonder . . . if other girls had to be one of us, which one they’d choose to be?’ Most of the women remembered choosing Pauline, the eldest, a pretty blonde actress. Two chose the youngest, Posy. Her absolute dedication to dance was an alien concept to her sisters and she had red hair. She seemed to be a typical small girl, annoying, opinionated and rather naughty. Nobody ever said they’d chosen Petrova, the dark, sallow middle c
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