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Stretch's Lair

Are Bigfoots really all that?
What comes closest to Bigfoots?


Rick De Jesus' modified duras
Dura Stilts
Other dry wall stilt brands
Accidents usually happen when
Metal and wood peg stilts
Slipping or tripping
Out of the ordinary
Books on Stilt Walking
What is the weight limit on your Grandpa stilts?
Do You Juggle?
Do You Spin Plates?

Scary Clown... 
Sky Dancing Explanation

Now, here is two questions for the experienced stiltwalkers out there.

 First, are Bigfoots really all that?

Bill "Stretch" Coleman writes:

   Yes.  I have Bigfoots, Duras, pegs and Powerskips.  Gary makes a top quality product.  And over 20+ years  has made over 600 sets for RBBB, Disney, Universal Studios and performers like myself.  Made to measure to fit YOU. 

 Second, since they're so hard to find, what stilt comes the closest to them?


   Bigfoot patent violators, and may sell for as much as $4500.   More moving parts, more to wear out in my opinion. 
Will they stay in business long?

Rick De Jesus' modified duras,

   Rick soups up Dura stilts,  turns them into "hot rods"!   Kind of like taking the family sedan and reworking the 
suspension, boring the cylinders, and putting in a roll bar.  He installs an inside leg brace, stronger bolts, (grade 8) and 
otherwise strengthens them for the rigors of performing.  Contact Rick De Jesus at Higher Level Productions Inc.
Phone - 407-493-8771 - Email stiltevents@gmail.com    stiltup@gmail.com

Dura Stilts.

   A lot of performers use these.  Put Loctite on all of the nuts and bolts.  Check them out before EVERY performance.  Be  prepared to have them "let you down" in the middle of a parade.  or not.  If you use the adjustable stilts, for maximum strength do NOT  put them at their highest setting. Also a good idea to hose clamp a  piece of angle iron on the calf tube for added strength.  The factory  straps are "ahem", less than ideal. 

   My Duras have the ground plate reduced in size and soled with a more "sticky" gum rubber type soling material. I find them more deft, less clumsy.

Be careful of the calf plate breaking. 

Other dry wall stilt brands.  

   Those I've seen and hear about are inferior to the Duras,  with out of round bolt holes or just sloppy fit, leading to fatigue.  One set that I examined, the performer clanked and rattled when he 
walked. But I haven't seen them all! 

Accidents usually happen when:

   Beginners.  Yet to learn the limits, and discover them the hard way.  I dislocated my elbow when I discovered that I couldn't turn corners at top speed.

   Intermediate/advanced  Poor judgment, and carelessness, inattentiveness, diminished capacity.

   I've slipped on hard packed ice and snow 2 miles in to a 3 mile walk. Why?  Because I was distracted by the wonderful conversation we were involved in!

   Once, at night I didn't remove my costume sunglasses when I knew better!  And stepped into an
"invisible" 18 inch deep hole!  ouch!

There are a lot of broken stilts, arms and legs and wrists out there. 

Metal and wood peg stilts.

   Mechanical failure.  Peg stilts and drywall stilts can fail.  Some times catastrophically, or all at once.  Lurk, (Martin Ewen) with 20 years of stilt performing snapped one of his wood peg stilts when he visited Denver last year.  I had a chance to examine the stilt and it wasn't pretty.  And gave Lurk no warning when it failed.  Joe Bowen discovered
metal fatigue the hard way when he set his world record for distance stilt walking.  Broke 5 stilts just by walking!   Broken welds.  Another reason to examine your stilts before every use. FYI Bigfoots have no welds.  If you are making your own stilts, bicycle tires  and roller blade brakes  make good stilt ends.

   A fellow stilter writes that the crutch tips on his aluminum tube peg stilts have worn through and asks what to do?

   Fill the tubes with a wood dowel.  Find a coin or washer the right size to  cover the end of the tube.  Coin should overlap the edges of the aluminum tube.   Put new crutch tips on the stilts. Glue some shoe soling to the rubber crutch
tips.  Replace shoe soling as it gets worn.  Make up a spare set of coin, crutch  tip, and shoe soling for quick change.  As you have found out, your stilts will  wear quicker than you think!

   For square wood peg stilts, many use old bicycle tires secured with hose clamps  or wire.  Cut a section of tire about 6 inches long.  Trim to fit the stilts, fold and secure to the stilt with hose clamps or wire. And I've even heard of folks using 
old tennis balls.

Know your equipment!

Loosened stilt screws may well have led to George Sommerdorf's  death.

Slipping or tripping.

   On any surface.  With any kind of stilt.  In my experience the Bigfoot soling material sticks the best and is very hard wearing.  I do jumping jacks and dance with mine, as well as miles at a time.  But there WAS that one inch long piece of rotten banana on my 1999 marathon stilt walk that nearly taught me the splits!  I added an extra foot to by stride
with that banana!

   Another since retired circus performer broke his pelvis doing the splits the hard way. I'm told it was excruciating.  And that was just the sound! He was on VERY tall stilts.

   Pushing the limits.  If you set out to do flips, cross Niagara Falls on stilts on a high wire,
(yes, it has been done, see my history page),  a flight of stairs, a grassy bank, an escalator, or ? be prepared to fail a few times before succeeding.

   Diminished capacity.  Fatigue, hunger, alcohol, medical.  be aware, be careful.  That ceiling fan could ruin your whole evening!

Out of the ordinary. Slips Happen

   One slip and four stilt performers tumble from on high.  Ouch!

   3-4-5 kids act together to distract the wrangler and deliberately trip the stilt walking clown.  Results in a broken knee cap.

   At a stadium event the crowd gets very unruly and starts climbing the barriers to rush the stilt performers
and his partner.  Partner holds them back with his bull whip.

   Transmission oil leak during the spec left a wonderful clown with a permanently frozen wrist.

   Master Clown Frosty Little writes of his days with the RBBB circus and their tall stilt performers.  Peg stilts five to
14 feet tall. Needless to say, broken arms, wrists, shoulders and hips result from  seemingly miner incidents.  Someone
feeds a horse a carrot. A small piece dribbles unseen, becoming a launch pad for the unwary stilt performer.

   I'm remembering the time I was an "Ostrich jockey".  The costume was made with real ostrich feathers that had been washed, but not dyed.  As I was walking to my car from an outdoor festival I was "mugged"!  By four, that's right four, belgium sheep dogs.  A woman was walking her beautiful and well behaved dogs, two to a leash, when they, (the dogs, not the woman) got a whiff of the feathers.  They dragged her over to me, and proceeded to sniff the "ostrich".
They gave me a real going over, gently jumping up, putting both front paws on my legs and stilts to get get a better sniff!


   Eventually they were satisfied, and went their way.  Do they still sell smelling salts?  I could have used some then!

   Walking back from the ball drop one New Year's eve, two teens some distance in BACK of me start chasing each other.  I happened to be in the way!  Nothing malicious, but one second I was upright, a split second later I was sitting on the ground.  Six months later I felt fine again!

   Three  drunks decide to run between my legs . . . from behind!   Was on my tall stilts, (43 inches) fighting a strong gusting wind.  Scared me half to death, but no damage done.

   And last year at a Habitat for Humanity out door screening of the Wizard of OZ, a dog, off leash casually, with NO warning, sauntered over and hiked his leg and PEED on me!!!!

   Nice thing about suplex nylon, it pretty much rolled right off.  I went ahead and laundered that night anyway!

   Conditioning, mental and physical. The more experience and practice the better is all I can say.  Even if you have
to get up and start circling the park at 5 am as I have, you'll be the better for it.  How else are you going to learn that
you can bluff a pit bull?

 Or some others I don't know about??

   Likely.  and if you and I don't know about them, will parts or service be available when you need them?  You may want to stock parts and learn to service your stilts yourself.  Or make your own.  Just beware the learning curve.

   Anyone ever noticed that 90% of the pics and sculptures of hand held stilt walkers show an unworkable stance or grip on the stilts?  Like they never actually observed anybody on stilts, but just made something up!

   Please visit the links page at http://Stiltwalker.com/
The stilt history pages and the other stiltwalking photos pages also have some photos that are of interest to the student of stilt design.

Books on Stilt Walking

The book Circus Techniques: Juggling, Equilibristics, Vaulting by Hovey Burgess (1977) has several pages of instruction and photos of stilt walking and performing tips. Covers hand held and strap on  peg stilts.  Try Amazon.com, half.com, Ebay or your local library.
The  book titled "MOKO JUMBIES: The Dancing Spirits of Trinidad"  is a wonderful book on the subject, with many wonderful photos.

Dear Sir:
What is the weight limit on your (Grandpa) stilts?  I'm 250 lbs.

Dear "Sir" ???  How about dear Clown instead?  ;>)

   I wouldn't recommend that much weight on wood stilts.  I think the aluminum Dura stilts  (dry wall or painters
stilts) are good for about 225.  But check with them and see.

   Or if you really want hand held wood stilts, try making your own with oak hand rail stock.  Router a finger groove the
length of the handles to make them easier to grip.  Try fastening the foot blocks with several big hose clamps ( or
plumbers strap) and glue, instead of drilling big bolt holes through the peg.

   For workshops and festival use, I use the original wire strap that the manufacturer supplies, and then use glue and
3 and 4 inch deck screws to further secure the blocks. I pre drill 1/8 inch holes for the deck screws, with good results.
I've had the poles snap under heavy abuse, but the blocks have never slipped.  Kind of a belt AND suspenders approach.

   Oak stilts will be heavier than the Grandpa stilts, but more likely to take the heavy duty use you will subject them to.
And you'll have the pleasure of making them yourself.

Let me know how you do, and good luck!

Scary clown . . .

So yes, I have - unintentionally, well usually, unintentionally- scared the occasional toddler, and the rare teenager, usually a girl practicing out her emotions.

Today, I scared the cows. THE COWS for god's sake! I was on my stilts, with my umbrella, traffic flagging for a bank grand opening. The cows were across the street, five lanes wide, at least. And a third of a  mile to the south, and 50 yards from the fence.

In the third hour of a four hour shift, the head cow, oh hell, it might have been a steer, I wasn't looking that close, you know. I was waving to the cars, pumping my umbrella, dancing, prancing, trying to hitch a ride, crouching low, doing squats, flailing my thumb, cheering them on when they - the cars, not the cows, successfully completed their left
hand turn into or out of the parking lot, jumping up and down, arms  over head yelling YEA!! YOU DID IT! . Ditto for when the bike club made  their circuit past the bank, I would cheer them on too.

I was getting tired, I had forgotten my lunch, but had found a banana  and some cough drops, and even a tootsie roll amounst the debris of the cab of my truck. I was tired, but the DJ was doing a good job. Now he was playing some energetic country western.

I looked up, over the road to see the cows "coming home". Lead by a single cow/steer they trailed slowly, taking their time, but moving purposefully to the north. I don't know why, the pasture, if you could call it that, brown and dotted with the hills and burrows of dozens of prairie dog colonies, was baron.  So what was the attraction to the north? I have no idea.

But willing to get excited at anything that would get me through this last hour with my sore feet and back, and finally to some food, I excitedly ran back to the DJ, shouting, "The cows are coming home"! And he was shouting "THE COWS . . . I couldn't hear what else he said, but he too had noticed the cows moving.

So I ran back up a slight incline to my spot at the sidewalk near the street . . . and not exactly stumbled, but I did catch myself, and of course waved the umbrella a bit to catch my balance. Bad timing. Apparently the head cow/steer had finally seen me, at what must have been 100 yards away. And instantly reversed direction, causing a mini stampede as the head of the herd now reversing direction piled into the back part of the herd, who had yet to get the message of the sudden change of direction!

So when you get to bragging about how you scared that kid, or that drunk, remember . . . I SCARED THE COWS!

"Great story... It was not only a very funny anecdote, but you also  explained very clearly what a 4 hour stilt shift is like. Thanks! "Ron  Jarvis

"You'll become a legend, a scary story told around the campfires of cow  tribes.. or herds.. or whatever for generations. Well, probably not  campfires because they're scared of fire, but around the water tank  maybe. Cow mother's will use stories about you to get their children in  the barn before dark."  David Pitts

"Do you juggle?"

   Not in the traditional sense.  I do manipulate objects, but not balls and clubs.  I spin a little poi, or rather I spin
MEGA poi, a little.  Best when performed to music, and also very effective for traffic flagging at car lots and the like.

   The most dramatic example of object manipulation that I practice is what I call Sky Painting or Sky Dancing.

   I manipulate - what an inadequate term - while on stilts, equipped with a 20 foot long "fishing pole" to which is
attached a stroboscopic ribbon up to 60 feet long.

   Beset, nay, near drunk with music, I dance with my pole and ribbon.  This is an interactive performance, mind you.  The ribbon caresses the sky, and my audience: a cheek here, a shoulder there, a small hand.  With little or no
encouragement, children - and adults- reach - to reach, grasp and release the flowing colors.

   The breeze is my friend, enabling spirals, figure eights, circles and more.  The wind teases me as I dance over the
yielding ground.  Near and far, left to right, forward to caress my , yes my audience. For they are mine.  The fourth
wall?  What wall? Backwards, dancing to prepare for my next attack, my dance, dare I say, love, covers the stage.  One
performer covering a circus tent of volume, air and space, emotion and imagination. The colors flow, blend, separate,
rejoin as the speed and patters change.  My audience, seated, leans in to experience all the better. Faces up
turned, some in joy, others in dumbfounded amazement.  I am exhausted.  The band continues, I continue, the kids are
eternal in their quest for the ribbon. I am determined to conduct the music to its finish.

   Finally, the music is concluded.  Drenched with sweat, my hair, hat, shirt, waist,  soaked, saturated,  I turn to face
the crowd.  Silence, more silence - I bow, the applause begins.  The band leader takes the mic, and I hear: "well,
we can't compete with that".

   I am shocked.  Competition ?  No, not that.  But I understand.  You take a risk when you do something that is
outside of your audience's vocabulary.  "he was a good juggler" is how you compliment a juggler.  But how do you
compliment the nearly indescribable?

   Later I hear "hypnotic", "mesmerizing". Soon, soon please, I hope to hear "spiritual".

"Do you spin plates?"

No, I prefer to stalk them.

   Like a giant jungle cat, or your tabby, I am always wary, alert to opportunities. Searching, seeking, observing.  On
the look out.  The ebb, the flow of the jungle's - er, festival's- occupants. The trails to and from the watering
hole, the buffet line, where my prey congregates. Places of concealment, possible distractions, dangers, impediments to
my quest.

   For I am hungry.  Deeply, urgently, hungry - for the chase! For the best tasting hot dog, desert, ice cream cone, funnel
cake, pop corn or brisket, any where, any time, is the one you track down and stalk yourself!

   Ah, look!  Over there:  FOOD! a funnel cake on a plate!  An ice cream cone, and a burrito!
Observe:    Quick, which opportunity is the best: the prey borne by the darting child, the athletic looking youth, or the lumbering, distracted adult?

   Choices matter.  If I pick the wrong one, the chase will be too  soon over.  Ah, the child spots my cleverly here to
fore concealed out sized telescopic fork.  I put my finger to my lips, make eye contact, and gesture, ever so slightly
to her brother's funnel cake.  She understands.  She consents to play along.  The drama begins!

   Crouching like an invisible nine foot tall house cat, silently- surely, only I can hear the bells tinkling on my
feet- I begin the stalk.  Deftly keeping in his shadow, out of his peripheral vision, I pursue, hovering, dodging,
twisting, even skipping as needed, I remain concealed.  My near two foot long feet do me no favors, but I am adept.
Occasionally bringing my fore finger to my lips, I signal my audience for cooperation.  For we are all part of this drama
of life and death!

   I close in.  My stomach is hungry.  I rub, my hand circling. My mouth involuntarily is opening and closing, as if taking
bites of the funnel cake.  My senses real: the sweet, greasy, aromatic funnel cake calls to me.  My self
discipline crumbles, I moan.

I am discovered!

   Graciously he offers me some cake.  A piece, perhaps is all he has in mind.  Perhaps even a generous piece.

   Instead I deftly take the entire plate from him. I smile. I thank him profusely, over and over again for his generosity,
his understanding.  Breaking off a small bite of cake, I offer it to him.  He takes it, swallows, perhaps in
confusion and realization: The trickster clown has taken advantage of his generosity and trusting nature!

   I explain the culinary facts of life to him:  The best tasting treat is the one you stalk yourself!  He smiles.
Laughs even.  I return his funnel cake to him, after perhaps reserving a bit for myself.  For even the clown deserves a
reward for a job well done!

I look about.  Ah, over there . . .

Sky Dancing Explanation
   The Sky Dancing essay describes two 2002 performances at the Lone Tree, Colorado concert in the park program.  Marilyn told me that folks talked for weeks about my "conducting" the CSO in their performance of the Blue Danube.

   It took about two years of on again, off again practice to develop enough muscle memory to make me happy with it. Not every performance is a peak performance of course, but those two that I write of, they were out standing. It was the jazz band, not the CSO leader, that made the "compete" comment.

   Sufficient space, and condition and direction of the wind is critical. I also prefer a seated audience, gives me more
volume to move the ribbon in. Firm, level, ground is preferred to the rain soaked sod that was omni present at
the CSO performance.

   And of course a degree of physical conditioning is helpful! The 2002 Cherry Creek Arts festival performance came at the end of a very long and active day.  The heat was considerable, and my "dance floor" exceeded the width of the
entire stage: 60 feet or so.  The first challenge was finding the rhythm in the Latin Jazz composition.  And then
interpreting that music in a very physical way, across the entire width of the stage.

   The choice of music is a factor as well. Some stuff I can't do a thing with. I'm pretty much moving in half time with my
feet and in full time with the ribbon . . . at least I think that is what happening! I prefer a piece I am familiar with,
that way I can anticipate a little better. What usually happens, I show up and then find out what the music is. Then
I either do it or not, no practice, just cold. Makes for an interesting challenge.

   I wonder if Sky Dancing would fit in a circle (busking) act some how, but haven't the faintest clue how to string all my
bits and pieces into a show. Some day I hope to figure it out.

   The plate stalking piece is a little more fanciful, but not by much! I get a lot of laughs from it, every time. Its a
LOT of fun.

   Maybe next I'll relate my "stilts on stilts" stunt. I walk on hand held stilts while wearing my strap on stilts!
stiltwalker-hires5.jpg  New efforts will involve a little more height with taller
stilts.  Wish me luck!

   I know you don't have to read this, but I DID have to write it! Thanks for your patience and your comments.

Hope this helps.

Walking tall and stretching imaginations!

Bill "Stretch" Coleman