My sister had a book of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales — a gray hardcover with watercolor illustrations for each tale.  I devoured them repeatedly (except for “The Snow Queen,” which seemed exceptionally long).  Fairy tales, in my mind, were supposed to be short and aphoristic — and the Brothers Grimm were certainly so.  Hans Christian Anderson was different, though:  his tales were moody.  In the film version of The Red Shoes, impresario Boris Lermontov describes the end of the titular tale as follows:  “Oh, she dies.”

Well, not quite:  in the version I remember, the cursed dancer begs a woodcutter to chop off her feet, and after he does, the shoes dance away with her severed feet still in them.  And then she lives happily ever after.  As a nun.  Repenting.

Powell and Pressburger transform a cautionary tale about vanity (the girl insists on wearing her red shoes to church) into one about artistic imperatives, but, to me, “The Red Shoes” will always be about vanity.  To wit:  my own pair of red shoes.  They weren’t ballet shoes — my ankles would crack long before first position — but a pair of Airwalks.  (Nowadays, everyone wears has a pair of Day-Glo Pumas, but I bought mine over 10 years ago, when I lived in Washington, D.C.)  The red had a metallic sheen, the type of color you see on a Ford Taurus to make it ‘jazzy.’  On the soles of the shoes was a design of interlocking arrows, like a dance pattern.

Those shoes were my first statement of sartorial personality.  Before that, shoes were simply a vehicle to protect your feet.  It was OK if they were from Payless Shoe Source made your feet stink.  It was OK if they stained your socks when they got wet, because they didn’t signify anything.  All this changed, of course, when I found that first pair that I loved.

How I held myself changed; how I moved changed.  The shoes were the first things my former beau, R____, noticed about me.  You walked in wearing your ruby red slippers, he’d say, recounting our meeting.  I wore those shoes while I DJed:  I had to be on my feet all night and sometimes danced in the booth.  After my shift had ended, I moved over to Badlands, where the dancing continued.  My shoes didn’t glow when the lights hit them (and they certainly didn’t have the luminous quality of three-strip Technicolor), but when the music was right, they could have been dancing me, for all I knew.  One night, the DJ at Badlands grew annoyed at the requests for Madonna’s “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” and proceeded to play the Pablo Flores mix of the song continually for 45 minutes straight.  Good times.

But the more you love something, the more it falls apart.  The sheen on my shoes cracked and flaked off from overuse.  I staunched the damage by painting the cracks with nail polish, but it didn’t look quite right.  The shoelaces, after years of mangling by DC Metro escalators, frayed.  The arrows on the soles melded into one another.

No need to cut off my feet or to leap in front of a train — I knew it was time to retire the shoes.  But my feet kept dancing nonetheless.

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