Nella's Dancing Shoes
A Story by Eleanor Farjeon
from Italian Peepshow
This is a Choosing Story. Sometimes when I have told stories to Briget and Chloe and Nan all day long, and really can't think any more, I say, "Choose what shall be in the story."|
Then everybody who is in the room chooses something.
BRIDGET: I choose a pair of Red Velvet Dancing Slippers. (Bridget has a pair of red velvet dancing slippers.)
When I have thought, which mustn't be more than a minute, the story begins, and goes on by itself.
Once upon a time there was a beautiful Dancer who lived in a garden in Italy.
In Nella's cupboard at home were rows and rows of other slippers, of gold and glass, and silk, and leather, but she never wore any of them when she went to dance for the people. For the rose-red velvet slippers were magic slippers which made her dance better than anyone else in Italy; and when she wore her other slippers, she couldn't dance at all. Nobody knew this but Nella.
One day Nella was in her garden picking roses, and because the dew was on the grass she had taken off her red velvet slippers and left them by her chair. Suddenly a great Eagle swooped out of the sky, caught the slippers in his beak, and flew away as swiftly as he had come. Nella gave a scream and stood on tiptoe, and reached out her arms, trying to touch the sky. But it was no good; the slippers and the Eagle had vanished entirely.
Then Nella sat down and cried and cried. She was to dance that night for the Prince of Florence, but when the people came to fetch her she was still sitting crying in the garden, and she wouldn't tell them why. She only sobbed, and said she wouldn't dance. They entreated in vain - no! she wouldn't dance. She couldn't, of course, because she had lost her magic slippers. Every day after that she sat in the garden watching the sky, and every night the people were sad because Nella, their beautiful dancer, would dance for them no more.
One day as Nella sat watching the sky for the Eagle she saw a rush of wings overhead. It was not the Eagle, however, but a flight of Swallows. "Oh, Swallows!" cried Nella. "You go about in the sky as people go about on earth, so have you seen the great Eagle who stole my red velvet slippers?"
The next day as she was watching, a flcok of wild swans flew over her head.
The next day as she was watching, she saw a thousand Starlings twinkle like stars over her garden.
On the fourth day as she sat in her garden a single shadow fluttered on the grass, and looking up she saw it was made by a green Parrot with one red feather in his tail.
Then Nella began to weep again, for it seemed to her that her precious slippers might as well be in the Eagle's beak as in the middle of India, for all the use they were to her.
Just then she heard a voice say, "Come, come, I wouldn't cry if I were you!" and looking up she saw the Fan-Man looking though the gate. He was long a thin and dressed in green, and he had a green paper fan in his hand.
Then he came into the garden and told Nella to stand on tiptoe as though she were going to dance, and when she was on the very points of her toes he opened his fan and fanned her. Up she went into the air like a bird, and after her went the Fan-Man, fanning with all his might. He fanned her right across Italy and Turkey and Persia until the reached India; and when he fanned her to the very middle of the Jungle, the Fan-Man stopped, and Nella dropped.
Now in the very middle of the Jungle in the very middle of India there is a Blue Pool, so Nella dropped into the Pool and went down and down and down till she got to the bottom. At the bottom she found the Blue Nymph of the pool sitting on a lotus leaf, and to Nella's great joy the Nymph had the red velvet slippers on. But as she had never seen slippers before and hadn't the least idea what they were for, instead of having them on her feet she had hung them in her ears, where they dangled like a pair of red earrings.
Nella clasped her hands and cried, "Nymph, Nymph, give me my slippers!"
But the Nymph didn't know that, and anyhow she had no use for slippers to dance in, but only to hang in her ears, so she eagerly asked, "Will you change?"
Then Nella rose to the top of the pool, where the Fan-Man was waiting for her. As soon as he saw her he spread his fan again, and in another moment she was sailing over India and Persian and Turkey and Italy. And when they came to her own rose garden, the Fan-Man stopped, and Nella dropped.
The first thing she did was stand on her toes and dance.
The next thing she did was send word to the town, saying, "Tonight I will dance for the Prince of Florence."
And that night, under thoudands of stars, amongst thousands of coloured lights, Nella danced on the lawn in her red velvet slippers better than she had ever danced before, and all the people, overjoyed to have their beautiful Nella dancing for them again, climbed on the chairs and tables, and clapped their hands, shouting: "Brava, Nella! Brava! Brava!"
The art of improvisational storytelling is one that true storytellers need to cultivate and frequently practice.
One of the best collections of what were originally improvisational stories is The Wonder Dog by Richard Hughes - these stories began as stories told to children evacuated from London during the Blitz. In them are reflected the fears and anxieties of the children, and story becomes a means of coping with them.
Richard Hughes says in his introduction, "Each story was told entirely off the cuff, and once-only performance never repeated to others. Naturally only a few out of very many ever got written down afterwards. For whereas the child, who has been held by a story seems capable of total recall, and can tell it back next morning almost word for word, this unpremeditated kind of storytelling demands from the teller himself intense concentration on his listeners - not on the story bubbling up freely from his own Unconscious. The teller tends to forget his story as soon as he has told it, like the dream you forget on waking: unless he can get it dictated back to him later it is gone for good. Almost every story in this book has been through a child's mind and back to me again like this before reaching the written page." (p. 9)
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