Like Ballet Shoes and Theater Shoes, Dancing Shoes is another novel by Noel Streatfeild about children in show business. The setting for this story is a dancing school run by selfish, demanding Cora Wintle, who calls her students Wintle’s Wonders. Rachel, the main protagonist, is Cora’s niece, and she and her adopted sister Hilary move in with Cora after their mother dies and leaves them orphans. Rachel has no interest in dancing, but Hilary has talent for it, and indeed the girls’ mother wished for Hilary to enroll at the Royal Ballet School. Rachel worries, therefore, that Hilary’s training with Mrs. Wintle isn’t serious enough. On top of that, both girls must contend with the obvious favoritism shown to Cora’s spoiled daughter, Dulcie.
Though I enjoy Noel Streatfeild’s writing very much (and Elizabaeth Sastre’s narration even more), I think this is the weakest of the three “shoes” books I’ve read. The plot structure was very similar to that of Ballet Shoes and Theater Shoes, and the characters weren’t as interesting to me as either the Fossils or the Forbes children. Cora Wintle seemed almost cartoonish in her role as antagonist, and I had a hard time truly buying Rachel’s motivation for preventing Hilary from becoming a Wonder. Characters like Pursey, the girls’ nurse, and Mrs. Storm, their teacher felt like poor imitations of supporting characters in the previous books (namely Nana and Doctor Jakes and Doctor Smith). I also grew weary of Dulcie, who probably could have used a redeeming quality or two.
What was interesting was how much more up-to-date this book felt than the previous two. It was published in 1957, the same year as other still-relevant books like Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary and Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat , and aside from a few dated references, it is the kind of story that could still be published today. In fact, girls who read a lot of middle grade fiction would recognize the rivalry between Rachel and Hilary and Dulcie as very similar to the “mean girls” stories written for tween girls here in the 21st century. In that sense, it might be easier to sell some kids on Dancing Shoes rather than the more old-fashioned “shoes” books.
This is, sadly, the last of Streatfeild’s book available in an audio format. I may not have enjoyed this last book as much as the others, but I will definitely miss listening to Elizabeth Sastre’s wonderful voice, which will forever be the voice of all of Streatfeild’s characters in my mind.
I borrowed Dancing Shoes from my local public library.