Neurotic Owl

flying through clouds of uncertainty on wings of existential dread

The Hanged Man/The Red Shoes, or how studying ballet traumatizes us

I have a feeling a lot of people think they know The Red Shoes, and maybe more know the dance movies or newer stories built around it but haven’t actually read the Hans Christian Andersen original? So let’s just establish that it is waaaaay more moralistic than you probably think. In general, if you assume an HCA story ends with someone repenting and going to heaven, you’re going to be right more often than not.

But basically, little orphan girl gets adopted by rich old practically blind woman; gets shiny red shoes (ooooh shocking) thanks to said near-blindness, wears them to church repeatedly (horrors!!!!!). Creepy old soldier at the door of the church offering to dust people’s shoes with his beard (WHAT) taps the shoes and tells them to stick tight while dancing. Commence involuntary dancing, eek. They manage to get the shoes off but little Karin juuuuust can’t resist, puts them on again, and dances off into the woods. Cue disapproving angel, hours or possibly days of exhausted dancing through brush and briar, and finally she ends up at the executioner’s hut begging him to cut off her feet which happily DANCE OFF WITHOUT HER.

There’s some byplay where she repeatedly tries to go to church on her new wooden feet and crutches, and her severed feet turn up to scare her away till she goes to work in the parsonage and repent a bunch more. Repentance eventually works, she goes to church, and then she dies there and the angel welcomes her into heaven, which is probably not a great time for anyone else in the building that day.

SO. Why tf did I, a person with real issues about body horror and amputation, and a real disconnect from heavily Christian stories about sin and punishment, pick this? The Hanged Man needed a story about self-sacrifice, and that’s weirdly not a thing that turns up in fairytales as much as you might think – especially not with the primarily female characters who interest me the most. The Little Mermaid would have been a good option, but I have PLANS for her, plus I really want to draw her as Black and I am absolutely not putting any BIPOC on a card that references hanging, even tangentially. Karin also gave me a way to mirror the traditional imagery from the RWS deck – don’t ask me why, I’m not doing it with every card, but for some reason with this one I really wanted to get a similar pose and even some of the colors.

But also, the Red Shoes is one of those stories that really resonates for me as an ex-dancer, and I think for a lot of dancers given how popular the ballet version is. The feeling of loving to dance and also being hurt by it, being unable to stop even when you desperately need to – that’s a feeling I think a lot of us had. I know when I eventually did have to stop dancing it was a huge sacrifice of who I thought I was; there was a long mourning process coming to terms with no longer thinking of myself as a dancer first and foremost, and recognizing that the art form that saved me when I was a child was hurting me deeply as an adult.

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This entry was posted on June 15, 2021 by and tagged , , , .
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