Front cover of a 1999 American picture book edition of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses".

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (German: "Die zertanzten Schuhe"; also published in English as "The Dancing Shoes", "The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces", "The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes" and "The Worn Out Shoes") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm, from the 1815 second edition onward. Similar stories also exist in the folklore of Armenia, Cape Verde, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Iceland, India, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Slovakia and Turkey.

In the tale as told by the Brothers Grimm, a king is confused as to how his twelve daughters are able to leave their locked room each night and completely wear out their shoes by dancing. Many princes try to find out the princesses' secret but all fail in the attempt. Eventually, a poor soldier finds out how the princesses are able to leave their room each evening and where they go thanks to some help that he receives from a mysterious old woman.

The story has been adapted to other media numerous times.


Dancing Princesses Page 328

Illustration for "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" from the 1912 British reference work The Children's Encyclopaedia, published in the United States as The Book of Knowledge.

A king has twelve beautiful daughters who all sleep together in one large bedroom. Each night, the king locks and bolts their bedroom door. Each morning, however, he finds that their shoes have been completely worn out from dancing.

The king makes a proclamation. Whoever finds out where the princesses go at night can marry whichever of the princesses he chooses and rule the kingdom after the king's death. Anyone who accepts the challenge will be given three nights to find out where the princesses go. Anyone who takes up the challenge but fails to find out where the princesses go will be put to death.[1] Many princes try to find out where the princesses go at night. They sleep in an adjoining room to the twelve princesses' bedroom. The door that connects the two rooms is left open so that the princes can observe the princesses. All of the princes fail to carry out their task, however, because they all fall asleep.

A poor soldier who can no longer serve in the army because he has been wounded approaches the town where the king lives. An old woman stops the soldier and asks him where he is going. The soldier half-jokingly says that he would like to find out where the princesses go at night and later become king. The old woman tells the soldier that he can complete that task easily. She tells him not to drink the wine that he will be offered and gives him a cloak that will make him invisible.[2]

The soldier arrives at the castle and is just as well received as all the princes who had tried to complete the same task before him. That evening, the eldest princess gives the soldier a cup of wine. He pretends to dink it but really pours it into a sponge that he has hidden under his chin. He then pretends to snore loudly. The twelve princesses all believe that he has fallen into a deep sleep as a result of drinking the wine drugged with a sleeping draft. The youngest princess, however, has a strange feeling that some bad luck is about to befall them.

The princesses get dressed. The eldest princess taps on her bed. It sinks into the ground and reveals a staircase that leads to an underground chamber. Unseen by the princesses, the soldier puts on his invisibility cloak and follows them. At one point, he treads on the dress of the youngest princess. The eldest princess tells her sister that she must have caught her dress on a nail.

After having reached the foot of the staircase, the princesses and the invisible soldier pass through three avenues. The first one is lined with trees with leaves made of gold. The second is lined with trees with leaves made of silver. The third is lined with trees with leaves made of diamonds. The soldier snaps a twig off each kind of tree. The youngest princess is startled by the sounds of the snapping twigs. The eldest princess tells her that it is the sound of cannons being fired in their honor.

12 dancing princess par Arthur Rackham

Early 20th century illustration for "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" by the British artist Arthur Rackham.

The princesses and the invisible soldier come to a lake. There are twelve little boats on the lake, each one rowed by a handsome prince. Each princess gets into a boat. The soldier gets into the same boat as the youngest princess. The prince who rows the boat remarks that it somehow feels much heavier than usual that evening.

The princes row the twelve princesses and the invisible soldier across the lake to a castle where a dance is being held. The twelve princesses dance with the twelve princes. The invisible soldier dances too. Whenever one of the princesses lifts up a goblet of wine, the soldier drinks all of it. The youngest princess is frightened to see the wine suddenly disappear. The eldest princess tells her to say nothing about it.

At three o'clock in the morning, the princesses leave the castle. The invisible soldier follows them. The princes row them back across the lake. The princesses return to their bedroom the same way that they came. The invisible soldier runs up the staircase ahead of them. By the time that the princesses return to their bedroom, they see the soldier apparently fast asleep in his bed.

The soldier chooses to say nothing about what he knows to the king in the following two days. He stays in the castle and follows the princesses again each evening. On the third evening, the soldier takes one of the wine goblets.

The following morning, the king asks the soldier if he has found out the princesses' secret. The soldier tells the king everything. He shows the king the twigs from the trees with leaves made of gold, silver and diamonds and the wine goblet as proof. The king then summons his daughters and asks them if the soldier is speaking the truth. They admit that he is.

The soldier, who is no longer a young man, chooses to marry the eldest princess.[3] He becomes ruler of the kingdom after the king's death.


Literary adaptations of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" include a short story by Walter de la Mare included in the 1927 anthology Told and Told Again, a poem by Anne Sexton included in the 1971 anthology Transformations, a short story by Robin McKinley included in the 1981 anthology The Door in the Hedge, the 1989 novel Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson, the 2005 novel set in the world of Arthurian legend The Night Dance by Suzanne Weyn, the 2006 fantasy novel Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, the 2009 fantasy novel Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, the 2011 fantasy novel Entwined by Heather Dixon and the 2014 novel The Girls of the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine.


Photograph taken during a performance of a stage adaptation of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" in Portland, Main in 1942.

A British musical TV movie based on the fairy tale, called The Dancing Princesses, was made in 1978. It stars Jim Dale as the soldier, Gloria Grahame as the witch who helps him and Freddie Jones as the king. It was first shown on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on March 18, 1979. In the TV movie, there are only six princesses. The soldier eventually decides that he does not want to marry any of them because of how deceitful they are.

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" was adapted as the third and final episode of the sixth and final season of the American TV series Faerie Tale Theatre. The episode stars the British actor Roy Dotrice as the king, Peter Weller as the soldier and Lesley Ann Warren as Princess Jeanetta. It originally aired on the Showtime channel on November 14, 1987.

Under the title "The Sewn-Up Dancing Shoes that Wore Out" (Japanese: 踊りぬいてボロボロになる靴; Odori nui te boroboro ni naru kutsu), the fairy tale was adapted as the twenty-second episode of the first season of the anime series Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics (Japanese: グリム名作劇場; Gurimu Meisaku Gekijō). It was first broadcast on TV Asahi in Japan on March 16, 1989. In the episode, there are only three princesses. It is revealed that a curse has been placed on them by demons who live in the magical castle where they dance each evening. The soldier is ultimately able to lift the curse from the princesses. The princes who try and fail to discover the princesses' secret are imprisoned rather than put to death.

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" is one of the three Grimm's fairy tales that are loosely adapted as segments in the 1962 American movie The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.[4] In the version of the story presented in the film, there is only one princesses who goes to dance at a Gypsy camp each night. Her secret is discovered by a heroic young woodsman. The segment stars Yvette Mimieux as the princess, Jim Backus as the king, Russ Tamblyn as the woodsman and Beulah Bondi as the old Gypsy woman who helps him. In the movie, Wilhelm Grimm (played by Laurence Harvey) first becomes interested in the idea of writing a book of fairy tales after he finds out that all of his acquaintances tell the story of "The Dancing Princess" in slightly different ways and when he discovers that there is no book that contains a definitive version of the tale.

The Canadian-American computer animated film Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses was released direct-to-video on February 21, 2006.

See also


  1. Some English translations of the Brothers Grimm's "The Twelve Dancing Princesses", especially ones published in Victorian times, do not refer to this harsh punishment for anyone who fails in the task. They may instead refer to the princes who fail to tell the king where his daughters go becoming enchanted or being publicly humiliated in some way.
  2. In the version of the story included in The Red Fairy Book, the 1890 anthology of fairy tales compiled by the Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang, the hero is a young cowherd named Michael who later becomes a gardener at the castle. A fairy appears to Michael and gives him two magical trees that will grant wishes if he rakes the soil in their pots, waters them, wipes their leaves and recites a certain verse to them. (An almost identical description of how to get a magical plant to grant wishes also appears in the earliest known written version of "Cinderella" from 17th century Italy.) The trees give Michael a magical white flower that makes him invisible when he puts it in his buttonhole.
  3. In the version of the story in Andrew Lang's The Red Fairy Book, Michael chooses to marry the youngest princess
  4. The other fairy tales that are adapted in the 1962 movie The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm are "The Elves and the Shoemaker" and "The Singing Bone".

External links

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.