The Exchange


Lisa loved to dance. Twice a week she went to Mrs. Joule’s ballet school for lessons. But no matter how hard she worked, Lisa felt she would never be as good as Susan or Jody, the best students in the class. The proof was in the mirrors that covered one whole wall of the huge ballet practice room.

Oh, those knees! thought Lisa as she stared at her reflection. Why do they have to stick out when everyone else’s are straight? Lisa worried because her toes didn’t point as gracefully or her legs kick as high as the rest of the girls’. She also believed that she was the only one who ever fell down while doing ballet turns across the room. Lisa wanted to be in the first line, where all the best dancers were, instead of the second or third line. If she became good enough, Mrs. Joule would move her up, but that seemed impossible.

One afternoon when Lisa reached into her bag for her pink ballet slippers, they weren’t there. She had left them at home. “Mrs. Joule,” she called, “may I borrow a pair of slippers?”

“Of course,” her teacher replied, and she brought in a big box full of slippers that she kept for such an emergency. Each pair was folded neatly and held together with a rubber band.

After sorting through a few pairs with Mrs. Joule, Lisa found a nearly new pair of pink slippers that were held with satin ribbons instead of strips of elastic as her own were. They were exactly her size! “How about these?” she asked.

“Fine,” Mrs. Joule responded, adding, “I remember these shoes. They belonged to Eileen Webster, who’s with a big ballet company now. I’m proud to say she is one of their best dancers.”

Lisa slipped the shoes on and tied the smooth satin ribbons around her ankles. How comfortable they were. In fact, Eileen Webster’s shoes felt wonderfully special. And so did Lisa. She daydreamed about being a great ballerina until someone shook her shoulder. “It’s time for class,” Susan said.

That afternoon Lisa danced better than usual. She did every step the best that she could. She wanted to be another Eileen Webster, and the shoes were helping her. The mirrors reflected a new Lisa. Mrs. Joule even called on her to demonstrate a particular dance step. For once, Susan and Jody were following her, and Lisa was careful not to make any mistakes.

After class Lisa went up to Mrs. Joule and asked, “If I give you my old shoes, do you think I could keep this pair?”

“If you’d like,” replied Mrs. Joule. “Do they feel all right?”

“They’re perfect!” said Lisa.

The next time Lisa went to class she exchanged her own worn slippers for Eileen Webster’s almost new ones. As time passed she started coming early so that she could practice before class. Sometimes she stayed later with Susan and Jody to work on different kinds of ballet steps and turns. And she was soon moved to the front line. She was also the first student to do two turns in place instead of just one.

“That was really good!” Susan said sincerely.

“Thanks,” said Lisa. She couldn’t tell Susan that it was the shoes that made her dance so well. That had to be a secret. There wasn’t another pair like them. They helped her leap higher, land more softly, arch her feet more gracefully, and twirl around like a toy top.

As dance recital time drew near when all the students in the class would present what they had learned before an audience of parents and friends, Lisa’s class met more often to rehearse their dances. Lisa noticed that her shoes were showing signs of wear. The once-smooth leather looked wrinkled, and the soft pink color was not so pink any more. The ribbons became unstitched and were resewed again and again. But because the shoes were so important to Lisa, Mrs. Joule did not insist that she get new ones for the recital. “Clean them up the best you can,” she said.

Shortly before the show was to start on the first night, Lisa was practicing her solo when she felt the bare floor against her foot. The sole of her shoes had torn, leaving a big hole! She had to find Mrs. Joule.

“Oh, dear,” sighed Mrs. Joule. “It’s a good thing I brought the box of extra shoes. You certainly can’t wear these. Not only do they look terrible, but this torn one is dangerous. Lisa, these shoes are worn out.”

“Mrs. Joule,” cried Lisa, her eyes wide with panic, “I have to wear them! Oh, please try to fix them. I’ll never be able to dance without them!”

Lisa felt sick to her stomach. Without those slippers, I’ll dance like the old Lisa. I’ll make mistakes and embarrass everybody. She shivered at the thoughts going through her head.

“All right, Lisa,” said Mrs. Joule. “I’ll see what can be done. Now go get dressed. I’ll bring your shoes to you.”

Lisa went to the dressing room. Nervously she touched her hair. Where, she wondered, is Mrs. Joule? She did several fast turns to see if her hair would stay in place. It was fine. What’s keeping Mrs. Joule? Her classmates were talking and helping each other with their costumes and makeup. Lisa put on her dance dress and checked around for her teacher.

“Don’t worry, Lisa,” said Susan. “She’ll be here.”

A few minutes before show time Mrs. Joule hurried down the hall. “Here are your shoes, Lisa,” she said breathlessly. “Now hurry! You girls are dancing first.”

Lisa put the slippers on quickly. “Oh, thank you,” she said, and gave her teacher a big embrace. “Everything will be fine now.”

Lisa hurried into the dance line between Susan and Jody, and one by one they danced out onto the brightly lit stage as the audience clapped.

The whole show went smoothly. Lisa’s class received extra applause for some of the more difficult dance steps that they did. Lisa had never danced better. She knew her family was proud of her.

When it was all over, Lisa and her parents went to say good night to Mrs. Joule.

“Thank you again for repairing my shoes,” said Lisa. “I couldn’t have done well without them.”

“But you did,” said Mrs. Joule as she held up Eileen Webster’s tattered shoes. “I couldn’t tell you before because you were so sure it was the shoes that made you dance well. Now you see it wasn’t the shoes at all. It was your own hard work, and you made me very proud tonight.”

Lisa stared at Eileen Webster’s worn shoes.

Mrs. Joule continued, “You may keep her shoes if you like, but please, from now on, wear your own. I just sewed ribbons on them for you to use tonight.”

Lisa pulled the ballet slippers she had been wearing out of her bag and saw her initials printed on the inside of each one. They’re the very same pair that I exchanged for those of the ballet star! she said to herself in amazement.

“Did you hear that?” she asked her mother. “It wasn’t the shoes. It was me all the time, and I didn’t even know it? Just wait until tomorrow night. I’ll do even better!”

And she did.