“The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is a lesser known fairytale from the Grimm Brothers. It is also known as “The Worn-Out Shoes” or “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.” One of the most popular adaptations is the Barbie movie from 2006: Barbie in 12 Dancing Princesses.
I had never heard of the fairytale until I was in college and a roommate suggested I read it. Suddenly I saw the story everywhere, starting with Jessica Day George’s Princess of the Midnight Ball. This fairytale soon became one of my favorites.
For those of you unfamiliar with the original tale, I’ll tell you my quick rendition based off the many versions (including the original Grimm tale) I read for my own adaptation of the tale, The Dark King and the Eternal Dance.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses Tale
Once upon a time, there was a king who had been blessed with twelve beautiful daughters (Because how else are princesses to look). One morning he found that each of his twelve daughters had somehow worn their dancing slippers to shreds. How had this happened? They had been in their room all night long. He demanded his daughters offer an explanation; however, they refused to disclose anything. Though he locked them into their room each night, the problem continued.
Frustrated at having to purchase all twelve of his daughters new dancing slippers each day, he sent out a proclamation. Any man who could solve the mystery of the tattered slippers would be offered a reward and the hand of marriage to the daughter of his choosing. Nobles and princes alike came to solve the mystery. All failed and were put to death (because killing off the unsuccessful makes perfect sense).
Out in the kingdom, a war-weary soldier came upon an old lady as he journeyed. He paused to help her. As a reward, she offered him an invisibility cloak and told him to use it to solve the mystery of the tattered slippers. She then advised him not to eat or drink anything the princesses offered him.
Armed with knowledge, he went to the castle to solve the mystery. As had been done before, he was locked in with the princesses. The princesses graciously offered him bread and wine. He discreetly disposed of the offered food and drink into a (conveniently located) plant. When the sisters went to bed, he pretended to sleep.
At the stroke of midnight, he heard a stirring. Through partially closed eyes, he watched as a portal opened and the sisters began exiting. Throwing on the invisibility cloak, he hurried to follow the youngest sister down the staircase that now descended from their room into a dark wood.
In his rush he accidently stepped on the youngest sisters cloak.
“Ow! Someone stepped on my cloak.” She complained, looking about.
“It must have gotten caught on a nail.” Her eldest sister assured her.
He continued following them into a stunning forest made entirely of silver trees. Amazed, he snapped off a twig.
“What was that?” The youngest sister gasped.
“It’s just the princes, they are so excited to see us that they are cheering.”
They continued down the pathway, entering into a gleaming forest made entirely of gold. After a time, the golden forest gave way to a glittering forest made entirely of diamonds glinting under the moonlight.
Before long, the princesses came to a lake where twelve princes with twelve boats awaited their arrival. The soldier snuck onto the boat of the youngest princess causing the prince rowing their boat to comment upon the princess being heavier then he remembered.
When they finally reached the other side of the lake, they enter an enchanted dance where the princesses danced with the princes the whole night, until their slippers were worn entirely to pieces.
The soldier followed them for the next two nights. On the second night he took a golden twig. Again the youngest heard the snap and complained. Her concerns were put off. On the third night he took a diamond twig that once more does not go unnoticed. At the dance that final night, he took a golden goblet as his final piece of evidence.
The morning of the third day, he went to the king with all that he had found. Elated the king offered the soldier the promised reward, plus the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. The soldier married the eldest princess. And they all lived happily ever after.
But of course there are several holes in this story (as fairytales are wont to have). Holes that several authors answer in interesting and entertaining ways.
Sweet and Swoony Retellings
My Favorite Retellings:
Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George
Rose is one of twelve princesses–sisters condemned to dance every night in the palace of the King Under Stone. Galen is a young soldier returning from war. Together they will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to attend the endless midnight balls. All they need is an invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with silver needles, and that most critical fairy tale ingredient–true love.
This was my first proper exposure to the Twelve Dancing Princesses and will always have a special place in my heart. This book was spell-binding and captivating with surprising twists along the way. All the elements were so beautifully woven that I was convinced that knitting something must have been part of the original tale.
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
High in the Transylvanian woods, at the castle Piscul Draculi, live five daughters and their doting father. It’s an idyllic life for Jena, the second eldest, who spends her time exploring the mysterious forest with her constant companion, a most unusual frog. But best by far is the castle’s hidden portal, known only to the sisters. Every Full Moon, they alone can pass through it into the enchanted world of the Other Kingdom. There they dance through the night with the fey creatures of this magical realm.
I loved this fairytale so much that I was excited to find this second retelling. Juilet Marillier has a lush beautiful way of describing everything. I was transported into this darkly stunning world. It was so well done that it felt not only plausible but real. The characters were lovable and there was a memorable frog! Just writing this makes me want to read this again.
The Midnight Dancers by Regina Doman
Tired of the tight leash that she and her sisters are kept on by their parents, Rachel Durham is seeking for a way out: and one night, she unexpectedly finds one in their Chesepeake Bay home.
As the pull of the night world grows inexorably stronger upon Rachel, her anxious father enlists the aid of Paul Fester (soldier, medic, juggler, and ninja) to find out what his daughters are up to. Paul embarks on a daring but difficult balancing act to win the girls’ trust – before it’s too late.
This book is an exciting and modern twist on the classic tale. I remember it giving me that fairie-portal world feel with a touch of paranormal.
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell
Twelve princesses suffer from a puzzling (if silly) curse, and anyone who ends it will win a reward. Reveka, a sharp-witted and irreverent apprentice herbalist, wants that reward. But her investigations lead to deeper mysteries and a daunting choice—will she break the curse at the peril of her own soul?
A delightful blend of my two favorite fairytales Twelve Dancing Princesses and Beauty and the Beast! I absolutely loved the twist at the end of this book!
My Fairly Dangerous Godmother by Janette Rallison
A fairy godmother can be a dangerous thing.
Some people bomb singing auditions. Sadie throws up on live TV during hers. So yeah, there’s no way she’ll ever be able to face strangers again, let alone the people at her high school.
Her performance on America’s Top Talent is so bad it earns her a fairy godmother through the Magical Alliance’s Pitiful Damsel Outreach Program. Enter Chrissy (Chrysanthemum) Everstar: Sadie’s gum-chewing, cell phone–carrying, high heel-wearing fairy godmother to save the day—or perhaps make it even more horrible.
Wishes are, after all, unpredictable things.
Janette Rallison became another favorite author when I read her refreshing and hilarious book My Fair Godmother. Imagine my delight when I discovered that her final book in the series meshed “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “The Little Mermaid”. This is definitely a series I’ve read again and again.
A Dance of Silver and Shadow by Melanie Cellier
When Princess Liliana and her twin sister set sail for new lands, she hopes to find adventure and romance. But the people of Marin live under the shadow of a curse–one powerful enough to destroy entire kingdoms. To protect them all, Lily and eleven other princesses are forced to participate in a mysterious and secret tournament.
More recently I was thrilled to discover this unique rendition of the tale. I was sucked in right from the beginning and loved how she made it into a tournament and had twelve contestants as the ‘sisters’. I adored the main character and her twin sister as well as their unexpected connection. When you finish it, you’ll want to immediately grab the next book and read her sisters story!
The Dark King and the Eternal Dance by Alesha Adamson
An unwanted proposal. An unexpected curse. Will Rayna, and her eleven sisters ever be free of the Dark King and this eternal dance.
Rayna is not usually the boldest of her sisters. However, when her eldest sister, Faelynn, seems ready to abandon her own happily ever after and accept the Dark King’s proposal, Rayna knows she must act and take drastic measures before someone gets hurt. Measures that just might cost her her heart.
An intertwined retelling of the “Twelve Dancing Princesses” and of “Hades and Persephone”.
As you might imagine, all the previous books had a hand in inspiring my own retelling. Since it had become one of my favorite retellings, I’d been thinking about how to incorporate it into a fairytale mesh-up idea I had when Camille Peters suggested I join her villain anthology. So of course this idea sprang to mind. Before long, Drake and Rayna had taken up residence in my mind and I’d begun crafting their delightful story.
Kingdom of Dance by Deborah Grace White
Don’t get caught eavesdropping on a dragon—or dancing might be the least of your problems.
With eleven younger sisters, Princess Zinnia usually has little choice but to be responsible. But if she had her way, she’d spend her time exploring the seashore and cavorting with the dragons often found there. When she sees one of those dragons flying mysteriously over her castle one night, the temptation to sneak out after it is too strong to resist. Except, by the time she realizes she doesn’t recognize this dragon, she’s already witnessed something much bigger than she was ready for. And now she’s trapped, her sisters along with her.
After reading the rest of this delightful series I’m eager to begin this last story! Her books are sure to be full of swoony romance and endearing dragons.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses by K.M. Shea
Quinn is a loyal soldier of Farset, willing to risk her life on behalf of her country and squad. So, when a fellow soldier volunteers for a dangerous mission, Quinn joins him. Their assignment is to investigate the nightly disappearance of the twelve royal princesses, a mystery none have solved as those who attempt it vanish. But when she follows the girls, Quinn uncovers the truth: the princesses are cursed, and they’re not alone.
If you are familiar with the fairytale romance genre you have probably heard of, or read K.M Shea. This retelling definitely sounds like an exciting and unique tale to add to my pile!
The Firethorn Crown by Lea Doué
A kingdom of shadows. A soldier sworn to protect. A princess silenced by love.
Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and reluctant heir to a mighty kingdom, struggles to live up to her inheritance … and to free herself from her mother’s matchmaking attempts. While seeking refuge from an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she meets a mysterious sorcerer-prince. When she and her sisters become entangled in his dangerous curse, she must find a way to end their nightly dances and prove herself worthy of the Firethorn Crown.
Lea was a part of the Villain’s Ever After anthology with me. I read and adored her book Hansel and the Gingerbread Queen and can’t wait to read more of her books. Especially if it is “Twelve Dancing Princesses”! Her rich fantasy world was simply delightful!
Poison’s Dance by Tricia Mingerink
If he falls to the lure of the curse, the dance might trap him forever.
Alex has survived his first year as high king. The new counsel has improved cooperation between the kingdoms, and peace seems achievable. When the Tuckawassee queen sends him an invitation he can’t refuse, Alex must once again face his greatest threat for the sake of peace.
I’m super eager to read this retelling. Another book I read by her was so exiting, I simply couldn’t put it down. I anticipate this book being just as engrossing!
The Thirteenth Princess by Nina Clare
The true story of the twelve dancing princesses has now been recorded…
Thirteen sisters have grown up hidden away by their Uncle, who rules the kingdom by proxy. When the eldest sister marries, her husband will take the throne. But the king has no intention of giving up his crown.
Maybe I’m biased but after working with Nina Clare for the Villain’s Ever After anthology, I’m excited to give this book a try too!
More Dancing Princesses!
Entwined by Heather Dixon
Just when Azalea should feel that everything is before her—beautiful gowns, dashing suitors, balls filled with dancing—it’s taken away. All of it. And Azalea is trapped. The Keeper understands. He’s trapped, too, held for centuries within the walls of the palace. So he extends an invitation.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include this very popular adaptation. The cover of this book is lovely and I tried to read it several years back but for whatever reason I couldn’t get into it. Perhaps I simply wasn’t in the mood for a retelling at that time. If you read and loved this retelling I’d love to hear what made it a must read for you. Maybe I’ll consider giving it another try.
The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Jenni James
Twelve princesses, one gardener, and a mysterious secret . . . As the castle gardener, Aleck is paid well, has his own room above the stables, and he is able to support his mother and younger brothers and sisters. Why would he risk it all for one girl? For weeks now, Princess Cascadia and her eleven sisters have awakened each morning to swollen feet and tattered dancing slippers without any recollection of what happened. Why would someone do this to them?
Jenni James always delivers sweet, entertaining, and quick reads! I’m looking forward to giving this retelling a try.
The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler
Zita is not an ordinary servant girl—she’s the thirteenth daughter of a king who wanted only sons. When she was born, Zita’s father banished her to the servants’ quarters to work in the kitchens, where she can only communicate with her royal sisters in secret.
This rendition looks adorable.
Pirouette by Kenley Davidson
It was just a dance. But in Caelan, dancing changes everything.
Especially if you’re a princess.
Princess Ilani is cursed. She can no longer dance, and is therefore considered worthless. Forgotten. Invisible.
Until her twelve sisters are trapped in a deadly game with a breathtaking prize—a royal bride and an empire for the taking, if a man is willing to risk everything for a chance to win.
Kenley Davidson’s books seem to have risen in popularity, I’m looking forward to giving her a try soon! (I’m told that there is very minimal language but an over all clean read.)
Mirrored by Alex Flinn
Celine’s life is the stuff fairy tales are made of. She’s beautiful, talented, and brave. Unfortunately, her tale comes complete with a wicked stepmother! When Violet steps into Celine’s life, everything changes and weird things begin to happen to her—bizarre accidents, strange illnesses, and rabid animal attacks. Celine doesn’t feel safe anywhere. It’s almost as if some hateful witch is out to get her.
“Twelve Dancing Princesses” seems to be the back story in this “Snow White” retelling. Any time you read something by Alex Flinn be prepared for all the feels of teenage angst.
Dancer by Kimberly Rogers
A desperate attempt to save a child demands sacrifice.
Imani Tanzer is the closest her young brother has to a mother. When he falls ill due to a vengeful dragoness, it seems almost impossible to save him. Yet when she hears rumors of a dragon healer, Imani risks seeking him out. The dragon gives her a sliver of hope—the curse can be transferred but she and her sisters must leave their family behind forever.
I’ve had several people recommend Kimberly Rogers to me and look forward to reading some of her books!
The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn
Under the stars, in a secret world…
Rowena, the youngest of twelve sisters, loves to slip out of the castle at night and dance in a magical forest. Soon she convinces her sisters to join her. When Sir Ethan notices that his daughters’ slippers look tattered every morning, he is certain they’ve been sneaking out. So he posts a challenge to all the suitors in the kingdom: The first man to discover where his daughters have been is free to marry the one he chooses.
A Branch of Silver, A Branch of Gold by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
A re-telling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” like you’ve never seen before!
For six hundred years I have dwelt in this prison. Trapped. Helpless. Unliving and undying.
For six hundred years I have watched as cursebreakers come and go. Brave young women all, gifted with powers beyond mortal understanding.
I have watched them die. I have watched them wish to die.
A Door in the Hedge by Robin McKinley
A retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses in which an old soldier discovers, with a little help from a lavender-eyed witch, the surprising truth about where the princesses dance their shoes to tatters every night.
A book of three short stories the last being the “Twelve Dancing Princesses”. Robin McKinley had always been a favorite read for me. I’m just sad the story is short.
The Dancing Princess by Kendra E Ardnek
Plagued by nightmares for the last few years, Katrine only wanted answers. Instead, she finds herself trapped in a tangled web of melody as she tries to free a cursed king and his brothers. No one deserves existence such as theirs, but dare she risk her very life?
Phew! I made it to twenty-two recommendations. I know that there are even more “Twelve Dancing Princess” retellings and I’m certain more are being written. Drop your favorites in the comments. Which fabulous sweet and swoony retellings did I miss?
* Reader Suggested Recommendations:
A Lonely Dance by Selina R Gonzolez (Mild swearing and violence–Triggers: past abuse off page.)
The Midnight Show by Sarah Pennington
The Dark King’s Curse by Wyn Estelle Owens
Curse of the Midnight King by Yakira Goldsberry
Wrought of Silver and Ravens by E.J. Kitchens
Dancing and Donuts by Rachel Kovaciny a historical western retelling
P.S. Would you like to get even more sweet and swoony fairytale and fantasy romance suggestions? Follow my newsletter by clicking the link below!