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The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Let’s talk about fairy tales for a minute.  Princes and princesses and happily ever after.  Trolls under bridges outwitted by young men who follow the advice of old crones in the woods.  Enchanted castles, apples, spinning wheels.  Magic around every corner.

When I was little, I had an illustrated book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  I would spend hours poring over every page, getting absolutely lost in the details of the illustrations.  The stories were, of course, sanitized versions of the original tales, but they still contained a hint of the original menace of the Brothers Grimm.  Like salted dark chocolate, this little hint of danger/salt made the sweet stories so much better than other, completely scrubbed versions I found.

Now, as an adult women who has lived through the falseness of easy “happily ever after,” I have a love/hate relationship with most of the stories.  The one that still draws me in, though, is the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  If you haven’t heard of it, you can get the full version here.  Here’s a very short version:

A King had twelve beautiful daughters.  He locked them in their room every night as they slept, but still every morning their shoes would be completely worn out as if they had been dancing all night.  The King asked for help to discover their secret, offering one of his daughters as the reward.  Some people tried and failed.  One man, taking the advice of an old crone he encountered in the woods, discovered their secret.  The princesses followed an enchanted pathway to a castle every night, where they danced all night, then traveled the pathway back to their room before dawn.  The man who solved the riddle married one of the princesses and they lived . . . . well, you know.

The part of this story that draws me in every time is the period from 12-6am, when the princesses are away dancing all night, dancing with such abandon that they completely wear through their shoes.  See, I can’t resist an unspoken back story.  How did the princesses find the enchanted pathway?  Why were they locked up in their room at night in the first place?  What compelled them to go dancing every night?  And what in the world did they do after their secret was discovered?

I’ve begun to see this story as a kind of metaphor for things in my own life.  There is, first of all, the literal dancing.  I started dancing on a regular basis about four years ago.  I make it important in my life, even if no one ever knows the dancing is happening.

The more lasting metaphor for me, though, is the pursuit of what brings happiness, the opening of a pathway that leads to an entirely new world.  A few years ago, around the same time I started dancing, I decided that things that scare me are things I need to try.  I have not regretted any of the scary things I tried, even if they did require a little bit of resetting afterward.  Lately, the scary thing that has opened up an enchanted pathway is the move back to Kentucky.  I am in the process of discovering and re-discovering work that I love.  Most of the discoveries are still in the 12-6am place, waiting for the right time to be brought into the open.   Meanwhile, I am doing the work, wearing my metaphorical shoes to metaphorical bits, and enjoying every minute.

Watch this space for updates on what’s going on with my work.  Fairy tales aside, I guarantee any news will come from me, and not from some prince who magicked his way into my private work spaces.

(this picture is a page from Buddha’s Brain by Dr. Rick Hanson.  It’s a great read.)

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