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‘Dance of the Happy Shades’, Alice Munro (short story)

Dance of Happy Shades

In which an elderly woman, a music teacher, invites her unwilling students to give a musical recital at her home. Amidst the faintly squalid surroundings, sandwiches crawling with flies, fusty smells and judgemental young mothers, a child who would in these times be described as having ‘special needs’, sits down to take her turn at the piano. And as the fed-up audience look on, the little girl peacefully, lightly, and with wobbling notes, taps into something ‘else’. A quiet sort of magic happens. What the author calls ‘Real music’, in this most unlikely place. The Dance of the Happy Shades, music meant for a child, slips out through the open window and into the dusty street. It’s a transforming moment.

Meantime, the elderly woman, who gives the same equable, gentle encouragement to all the children she teaches, shows no surprise. Because for those who believe in miracles, as Munro tells it, miracles are to be found every day.

This story is so typical of Alice Munro’s unique perspective, and of her gift for taking marginalised or invisible people, in this case the elderly woman and the small girl at the piano stool, placing them plump at the centre of her tale. Quietly showing us how it might be for them.

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Jo Ely

Described as "an intelligent, creative, imaginative, original writer" by Guardian Book of the Year author Trevor Byrne, Jo Ely has been Shortlisted for the Fish International Short Story Prize and has had a short story selected for an anthology edited by New York Times Notable Book of the Year author Sandra Tyler (Woven Tale Press, US ed. 2016). Jo has published short stories, children's books and written interviews with writers for the Woven Tale Press. She also reviews for the world's first online Empathy Library. 'Stone Seeds' is Jo's first novel, published by Urbane Publications (Amazon.co.uk).

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