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Harry Walker
Jeffery Taylor, the former dancer and critic chats with Harry Walker, winner of the 2003 Sunday Express National Dance Award for Children
January 2004


Harry Walker, 11, is a regular little lad. He sports a gelled Tintin quiff, hates tidying his room, loves to lie in on school mornings and is seriously into football as practiced by Liverpool FC. Harry stands 4` 9” and weighs 5 stone “and a little bit”. And with his slim athletic build and easy going confidence it is no surprise that he is a talented tap dancer and winner of the Sunday Express Award for Children at last week's annual National Dance Award ceremony.

What is beyond belief is the knowledge that at birth Harry had his right leg amputated just below the knee.

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Harry Walker recieving his many prizes from Rachel Jane, Arts Editor, The Sunday Express.

The prizes came from Robert Heindel, Royal Academy of Dance, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, Scottish Ballet, Royal Ballet, Dans-ez, Freedís of London, Gamba, Porselli, Dancing Times, Dance Europe, Angelina Ballerina, Darcey Bussell and Carlos Acosta.
Photo: © Dougie Morrison

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Guts, slogging hard work and pure talent meant Harry passed his United Kingdom Alliance Bronze Medal tap exam last June, the first time anyone with a prosthetic limb had entered the contest, let alone pass with distinction. And as if that was not enough of a mountain to climb, Harry was also coping with the death of his mother Dana, 39, a short time earlier. A few weeks ago he gained his Silver Medal with Honours. “I'm working on my Gold Medal now,” he said after receiving his Award from Sunday Express Arts Editor, Rachel Jane. “I want to be a song and dance man like my idol, Dick van Dyke.” “I was very nervous,” Harry admits, “I've never been presented with an Award before and had to say thank you to so many famous people.” But putting on a performance is a talent that dance teacher, Tina Counsell spotted right away in Harry. “One of my other boy pupils rang me to say that his friend with only one leg wanted to do dance lessons,” she recalls. “I didn't believe it.” Harry's mother then rang to convince her and almost a year ago to the day in January 2003, Harry started to rewrite the history books of British dance by taking his first tap lesson.

“When Harry came,” Tina remembers, “I didn't see how I could do it. I've only ever had pupils with 2 legs before.” Harry's first problem was balance as he has no sense of contact with the floor with his right foot, “I made him work at the barre at first – the waist high rail that dancers support themselves with in their daily class,” she explains. “But I reckoned without his determination to make it work. When I set him a step he'd go away and come back the next week with it right.

“I realized after only a couple of months that he was born to go on the stage and I entered him into competitions to give him a challenge.”

Harry started by walking in time to music until he could walk evenly with only the faintest trace of a limp. He also had to turn his bad leg out from the hip because his artificial foot turned in and he'd trip over it. “Since I've started dancing,” says Harry, “I can walk the plank in the school assault course because my posture's better.” Adds Tina “He can jump on both feet now, and on the left leg alone, but it will take a little more time to jump off the prosthetic leg. But with Harry it really is only a matter of time.”

Since the death of his mother, Harry lives with his step father, Charles Day, 39, and his four-year-old half sister, Ellen. Day first met Harry and his single parent Dana, when they visited his firm, Ruth Palmer Car Sales, when Harry was 2 years old. “Dana and I started a relationship and one day Harry said to me, can I call you Dad?” recalls Day. “When I told Dana she said, will you support Harry in everything he does? It was easy to say yes.”

As Harry is growing at the vigorous rate of any 11-year-old child, his prosthetic leg requires almost constant adjustment, “They have to keep my false foot growing at the same rate as my real foot,” he explains with a grin. But fate has dealt Harry a further raw deal. “Harry's bones grow twisted,” explains his father, “so every 2-3 years the bones of his stump need to be shaved back into shape in an operation that leaves him in a wheelchair for months. Which is a nightmare for an active little boy.” This process will continue until Harry ceases to grow.

Last November Royal Ballet ballerina Darcey Bussell, today only a couple of weeks away from the birth of her second child, said when interviewed about the Sunday Express Children's Prize, “I've seen kids with these problems and because they love their dancing they can cut off from whatever terrible things might be happening to them. Expressing yourself through music and movement gives confidence in all areas of your life, even at a young age. It's magical.”

It certainly works for Harry. Last year Harry and his father could not join the nation's jubilation when England won the Rugby World Championship. “I got very upset when England won,” he remembers. “It made me realize that I'd never be able to do what Jonnie Wilkinson did. So I just kept telling myself that I had my dancing and that makes me feel better.”

Back home in Weston-super-Mare last Tuesday night after the excitement of the Awards ceremony, his father asked him if he had enjoyed himself. Harry's reply was short and to the point. “It's the best day of my life.”

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