Happy Feat Founder Receives “Standing for Something” Award

  • 24 November 2011

Leigh Caldwell with Happy Feat performers

On October 29 Leigh Caldwell of Queensland received the John Simpson Kirkpatrick “Standing for Something” Award of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The recognition pays tribute to Australians who show extraordinary and selfless commitment to the community and who stand up for what they believe regardless of the cost to themselves.

Leigh is the founder of the not-for-profit Townsville dance group, Happy Feat. Its forty enthusiastic members have challenges such as Down and Asperger's Syndrome, acquired brain injury, or autism. They meet weekly to dance for two hours, and their joyful performances receive a standing ovation at community events.

Mrs Caldwell received her award from Fritjof Langeland, President of the Australia Brisbane Mission, at the Church's Townsville chapel. Many friends and community leaders were in attendance. Deputy Mayor, Cr David Crisafulli, was the final speaker at the ceremony, which was crowned with a performance by some of the Happy Feat dancers.

The idea for Happy Feat sprang from Leigh's personal association with difficulty—her son's battle with leukaemia and her own struggle with Guillain Barre paralysis, which kept her confined to a wheelchair for six months. At the time she was the mother of two very young children, and simple tasks were enormous challenges.

The illness caused onlookers to stare at her struggles with the toddlers. People spoke more loudly to her, and acquaintances approached her as though she had lost her sense of humour and her former interests.

“Because I experienced this challenge,” says Leigh,“ I better understand what people with disabilities have to deal with, and I seem to be able to see their amazing ABILITIES”.

There were a few obstacles to her idea. “I'm not a dance teacher! I can't even dance! I'm not trained to deal with people with special needs!” explains Leigh. “But that was not going to stop me...no way!” Happy Feat now has a waiting list for both dancers and volunteers.

Nomination for the recognition came from Lilian Malcolm, whose daughter attends Happy Feat. According to Leigh, most parents are surprised at the increase in their child's confidence and abilities as they participate. The dancers range in age from 15 to 62.

The “Standing for Something” statuette, which Leigh received from the Church, depicts John Simpson Kirkpatrick with his donkey. The pair doggedly scaled the heights and depths of “Shrapnel Valley” during the Battle of Gallipoli to transport the wounded away from the line of fire until a bullet ended the young soldier's life.