Friday’s Fairy tales: Twelve Dancing Princesses


Origins:- Originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812, it is also known as “tale 133” or “The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes”. There are also French and Russian versions, published later in the century which are both attributed to this original tale.

In the Aarne Thompson scale, this tale falls under “306: Supernatural Opponents”

Source: For this, I will be once again referring to my beautiful Barnes and Nobles Brother’s Grimm tales collection, page 350- “The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces”

The Tale:

  • There was once a King who had twelve beautiful daughters, who all slept in the same chamber together. Every night, the King would lock them in their room (I have no idea why but okay.)

  • Every morning, he would unlock the door to find that their shoes were worn out from dancing but nobody could find out how this was happening when their door was locked each night.

  • Because of this, the King makes an announcement that whoever can discover where they dance at night, could chose one of the daughters for their bride and become King after his death, however there is a catch here- if whoever chose to take on this task did not discover the answer within three days and nights, he would be forced to forfeit his life….(so you know, no pressure or anything.)

  • Shortly after, a King’s son presented himself to the challenge (CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!)

  • The Prince was allocated a bedroom next to that of the Princesses’, and was to observe their actions throughout the night- unfortunately, the Prince grew tired and fell asleep. When he woke up the next morning, the Princesses had danced through the night and he was none the wiser. He failed again a second time, and then a third time- after which, the Prince was beheaded.

  • Many more came to try the task, and all lost their lives (and heads).

  • A wounded soldier who could no longer serve in the army, decided to take a chance on the task. He told this to an old woman he met on the road to the palace, who advised him not to drink any wine he were to be given at night, and must instead pretend to be asleep.

  • The old woman presents him with a cloak, which she tells him will make him invisible so that he can follow the Princesses when they leave the room. (Convenient, eh?)

  • The soldier was welcomed at the palace, provided the room to sleep in, was given wine to drink by the eldest daughter, however he had tied a sponge under his chin (lolwhut) and allowed the wine to run down it, without drinking a drop. He pretended to fall asleep.

  • The princeses hear him pretending to snore, figure he is asleep and laugh at how stupidly he has wasted his life. They get dressed. The youngest sister says she feels anxious and that something bad is going to happen, the eldest tells her to stop being daft.

  • The eldest sister taps her bed, which immediately sank into the ground, and the sisters make their way through the opening in the floor.

  • The soldier watched all of this carefully, put on his invisibility cloak ( oh ho) and followed them down, walking so closely behind the youngest daughter that he steps on her dress. She cries out in fright but sees nobody is behind her.

  • When they reach the bottom of the stairs, there is a path of silvery trees. The soldier wishes to take some sort of token with him as proof so he breaks a twig off one of the trees. Again the noise startles the youngest sister, but the elder sister brushes off the concern again.

  • They pass through another path of trees, this time made of gold, and a third one made of diamonds- each time the Soldier breaks off a token and each time the youngest sister gets a fright from the noise, but the eldest sister ignores her.

  • They come to a massive lake with 12 little boats, and in each boat there was a handsome prince, waiting for each princess. The soldier seats himself with the youngest princess.

  • The Prince and the youngest princess can’t figure out why their boat is so much heavier and slower than the others.

  • Across the lake, a massive brightly-lit castle stands, playing loud music which can be heard all the way over the lake.

  • The couples dance, and the soldier dances with the youngest princess and her prince (cos that isn’t weird) and he drinks her wine before she can drink it- again the eldest sister ignores her concern when she voices it.

  • It gets to 3am and their shoes have holes in them, so they are forced to leave the castle, on the way back across the lake, the soldier seats himself in the boat with the eldest princess. They promise their princes they will return the next night.

  • When they reach the stairs, the soldier runs ahead and lies in his bed again, pretending to be sound asleep when the girls appear from the stairs.

  • The next morning, the soldier resolved not to share the secret just yet and to go with the princesses again the next night.

  • Exactly the same sequence happens again, and the third night, he brought a cup which had held the wine with him back as a token.

  • When the hour arrives for him to tell the King his discovery, he takes his twigs and his cups with him as proof, the twelve daughters stood behind the door, eager to hear the soldier’s answer (and failure).

  • The King asks “Where have my twelve daughters danced their shoes to pieces in the night?”, the soldier answers “In an undergroud castle with twelve princes” (seems legit, no?)

  • The soldier pulls out his tokens as proof and when the King asks for his daughters to see whether this is true or not, they were obliged to confess the soldier is correct.

  • The King asks which daughter the soldier would like to marry, and he replies that he should marry the eldest daughter as he is no longer young himself.

  • They get married the same day and the Kingdom was promised to the soldier upon the King’s death.

  • The princes were bewitched for as many days as they had danced nights with the twelve.

…huh, the end?

Well, I can’t help but feel the ending is somewhat a bit of a let down. I feel like the sisters should have been able to trick the soldier into not getting the correct answer, or something.

This tale is slightly different from many fairy-tales, just for the presentation of the Princesses- instead of being naïve, happy and caring, and instead, in this tale, they are quite malicious and cruel, tricking both their father and every prince (or soldier) even to go so far as drugging the latter without caring that they will die if they do not solve the puzzle- very callous.


I’ve not personally read any re-tellings for this tale, have you?

  1. Entwined- Heather Dixon (

  2. Princess of the Midnight Ball- Jessica Day George (

  3. The Door in the Hedge- Robin McKinley (

  4. The Night Dance (Once Upon A Time)- Suzanne Weyn (


*Disclaimer: I really enjoyed the Barbie movie- just throwing that out there as the mature 24 year old I am. ;3


3 thoughts on “Friday’s Fairy tales: Twelve Dancing Princesses

  1. I’ve actually read this original tale. I was in fourth grade so I didn’t notice anything weird about it haha It was my favorite, probably because it wasn’t the typical fairy tale. I haven’t seen this Barbie movie, but I did watch a few of the earlier ones. There’s nothing wrong with liking them, they’re good. (and no I wasn’t watching it with a child either.)

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