I have been stilt walking over a decade now. I have performed all over the world at many different venues and events. From TV commercials and casino stages to Indy parades and music festivals. After successfully teaching many people to walk on stilts as apposed to falling, I can say with confidence that my technique works. This is a quicker and easier way to become a self-confident stilt walker than most.
How do I learn to stilt walk
The best and most obvious way to learn how to stilt walk is with a tutor. However this is not always possible in which case here are a few pointers.
What stilts do I use
There are 3 main types of stilts used by stilt walkers today. The most commonly used stilts are “single pole” stilts. These stilts have been used in circuses for centuries. Most people are familiar with these. Another type of stilt commonly used is the “drywall” stilt. These stilts are hinged with a wide base making them more stable. These were primarily developed for use by plasterers. Thirdly, “poweriser” stilts are commonly used. These enable the stilt walker to leap, jump and run.
What’s the best
The best kind of stilt to use depends upon the type of activity you want to do. Things to consider are:
o The type of character/job you are playing/doing; and/or
o design/weight of your costume; and/or
o height of costume; and/or
o type of movement you are planing to exercise; and/or
o environment in which they will be used.
Drywall stilts are the easiest to use and easiest to learn on. Using these is the closest to walking with your own legs! However these have disadvantages too. They can be expensive, especially to repair. They have large feet, which makes them less versatile for costuming. They can be noisy too, and often sound like Dr. Strangelove’s arm. These really are geared for use by beginners. However, a professional stilt walker will use them in limited circumstances for certain performances. They are excellent for stationary costumes like statues, juggler’s and big heavy costumes.
Pole stilts are the most communally used stilts by performers. These are a lot harder to learn on. However pole stilts allow for more graceful movement once you have mastered them. There are many variations of pole stilt, from home made wooden stilts to aluminum stilts. Some have the brace up the back and some up the side. Some stilts use Velcro straps, and some bolt the shoes in. I prefer aluminum stilts with a brace up the side and my shoes bolted in for my performances. Shoes bolted in are more secure as Velcro allows for more movement in the foot, which is generally undesirable. Side braces can often feel more secure for advanced movements.
Finally there are powerised jumping stilts. These have a curved spring loaded pole which uses the down force of your weight to provide lift, much like having a trampoline strapped to your foot. These are great fun and you can get some big air and great speed up on them. Costuming is sometimes restricted with the powerised jumping stilts. These certainly do take some practice. It is harder to become more advanced on these due to the acrobatic nature of the exercises these make possible!
There are some extra pieces of equipment that I would recommend. Firstly (and MOST importantly), knee pads are required even when you are at a professional level. These can save you from severe injury. Secondly, shin pads are excellent for making your stilts more comfortable. All types of stilts need to be strapped on tight. The shin pads will protect your legs from the straps as they can become quite painful after extended periods of walking/performing. Also for the absolute beginner wrist guards and a helmet will help protect you from most falls. Further, these will help you feal a little safer when starting
Now I have stilts how do I start???
This is the best way of learning stilts I have found yet. Remember when falling always go knees first!!!!!
Firstly, find a friend that is willing to help and able to support your weight. Secondly, find an area that you can fix a rope between two points like two trees or two lamp posts, telegraph poles or even goal posts. To begin stilt walking, it is easier to walk on firm ground as this provides for greater stability. The rope should sit between your waist and arm pit whilst on stilts. You should also have something to sit down on and put on your stilts. A car roof is generally pretty good to sit on. Although anything a bit taller than your stilts makes the transition from a seated position to a standing position easier. Your friend can help guide you from your seat to the rope by providing support much like a walking frame.
Your feet must be about shoulder width apart. Remember to keep your feet straight and toes to the front as though you were walking on your heels. Start by standing upright and facing along the rope with it safely under one arm. This is for you to grab in case you lose your balance. First, practice “marking time” this is the name for walking on the spot. Each leg is lifted so that the stilt leg is about 6inches above the ground and then returned to the spot. This is repeated with the other leg, shifting the weight from one to the other. You can’t stand still until you are a master!!! Think of it as like riding a bike. When learning to ride a bike, it is difficult to learn how to be stationary without falling off to the side. Stilt walking is the same, but you could fall in any direction!
After you have become used to the weight of the stilts and can control them, you can now try taking a few small steps. This is just the same as before, except your foot is placed a little further forward. You are now moving! When you reach the end of the rope, turn by pivoting on one foot. This is generally a good time to ask your friend to be on stand by. I tend to find that after about 20mins you pass through a pain barrier. This is your muscles getting used to a different way of walking. It does get easier to walk once you pass this pain barrier – promise.
Once your confidence has built up, get your friend to stand away from the rope and walk towards them. Have them ready to catch you if you fall. Do this every day for a week (or as often as you can). By the end of this time you will be a confident stilt walker. Once you’re comfortable walking, then try some new things like running, skipping, pirouettes and managing slopes.
To walk on stilts you need to fall forward, the same as we do to walk normally. However, if you lean too far, you will fall over especially if you don’t step forwards.
When falling always fall to your knees. This is what the knee pads are for. If you’re falling backwards twist your body to fall to your knees. If you put your hands out you will most likely break your arm. Also you do not want to fall on your back; this is when most severe injuries happen.
Learn to pirouette and step out of it as this will help you in recovering falls. Also you can usually stop yourself from falling if you step out a little further, however, if you step too far, you might end up doing the splits – or worse, straining a kneecap!