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Stilts are poles, posts or pillars used to allow a person or structure to stand at a height above the ground.
Stilts for walking are poles equipped with platforms for the feet to stand on and can be used, depending on the design, with straps to attach them to the users legs or be held in place by the hands of the user.
In flood plains, and on beaches or unstable ground, buildings are often constructed on stilts to protect them from damage by water, waves or shifting soil or sand. Stilts have been used for many hundreds of years.
Types of stilts
Hand-held stilts are used as childhood toys and in circus skills workshops and are of two main types: string and can/bucket stilts and pole stilts. Unlike other forms of stilts, hand-held stilts are not tied or strapped to the wearer.
Hand-held pole stilts consist of two long poles, each with a foot support. The stilt walker holds onto the upper end of the pole, rests his feet on the foot plates and pulls upward on the pole while taking a step.
Hand-held string stilts (also known as tin can or bucket stilts) are platforms with strings attached to them. The platforms, most commonly made of tin cans or small plastic upturned buckets hold the stilt walker's weight while the strings are used to pull the cans to the feet as they take a step.
Peg stilts, also known as Chinese stilts, are commonly used by professional performers. These stilts strap on at the foot, ankle, and just below the knee. Peg stilts are often made from wood but can also be made of aluminium or tubular steel. This type of stilts are the most lightweight ones and allow a user to walk quickly, to turn suddenly, and even to jump rope or dance. The stilt walker must keep moving at all times to keep their balance.
Drywall or Dura stilts
Drywall or Dura stilts are designed to allow the stilt walker to stand still or to walk. They were originally designed for people to work at an elevated height during drywall or plasterboard construction, painting and other such activities. Drywall stilts are heavier than peg stilts and are usually mostly made of aluminium. The design means they are safer for walking but often means they are less versatile than peg stilts in use.
Spring stilts are spring-loaded stilts that allow the user to run, jump and perform various acrobatics. Spring stilts using fiberglass leaf springs were introduced in 2004 under the trademark "Poweriser", marketed for recreational and extreme sports use. Using these stilts is also called Powerbocking. Spring stilts are often mostly made of aluminium. Spring stilts using steel coil springs, an antecedent of the pogo stick, were attempted in the 19th century.
Though technically a type of peg stilts, the line of the Digitigrade stilt follows the foot and not the shin bone. This allows costumers to mimmic any digitigrade animal: horses, emu, goats, etc. Because of the extreme stresses on this type of design they tend to be more rare; i.e. fewer successful home-made designs.
History of stiltwalking
Archaeological ruins and texts show that stiltwalking was practised in ancient Greece as far back as the 6th century BC. The ancient Greek word for a stilwalker was κωλοβαθριστής (kōlobathristēs), from κωλόβαθρον (kōlobathron), "stilt", a compound of κῶλον (kōlon), "limb" and βάθρον (bathron), "base, pedestal". Some stilts traditions are very old. In Belgium, stilt walkers of Namur fight on stilts since 1411. The inhabitants of marshy or flooded areas sometimes use stilts for practical purposes, such as working in swamps or fording swollen rivers. The shepherds of the Landes region of southern France used to watch their flocks while standing on stilts to extend their field of vision, while townspeople often used them to traverse the soggy ground in their everyday activities.
Stilts can be used for various purposes: as a prop in entertainment, as a tool to enable other types of work to be achieved and as part of a hobby or recreation.
Stilts are used widely in many countries for the purpose of entertainment. Stilt walkers perform their skills in parades, festivals, street events and at corporate functions.
The local festivals of Anguiano (La Rioja, Spain) feature a dance on stilts in which dancers go down a stepped street while turning. Other stilts walking and dancing festivals are held in Deventer, Netherlands in early July each year, and in Namur, Belgium.
Early stilt walking acts were mostly of the style of a very tall person with the costume having long trousers or skirt to cover the stilts. More recently stilt walkers have created a wide variety of costumes that do not resemble a tall person. Examples are flowers and animals. The tall person type has also expanded to include a wide variety of themes. Examples include sportsmen, historical acts and acts based on literary or film characters.
One of the most recent varieties of stilt walking acts is a stilt walker riding a 'stilt bicycle'. This bicycle is usually an ordinary bicycle with extended seat post and handlebar stem.
Aluminium stilts are commonly used by fruit farmers in California to prune and harvest their peach, plum, and apricot trees. Stilts have been used for the washing of large windows, the repairing of thatched roofs, and the installation or painting of high ceilings.
Stilts are used for drywall construction, finish painting, and hanging suspended ceiling tile.
Stilts are available to be purchased as a children's skill toy and stilts are commonly taught in circus skills workshops at schools and summer fairs and other events.
Stilt walking records
In 2007 Neil Sauter has attempted the Grand Rapids Marathon on stilts. In 2008 Roy Maloy of Australia, after several attempts, took five steps on stilts 17 metres (56 ft) high, a record for the tallest stilts.
- Les Echasseurs Namurois. (visited 2008-03-11)
- κωλοβαθριστής, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- κωλόβαθρον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- κῶλον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- βάθρον, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
- [s.n.] (26 September 1891). Stilt Walking: Sylvain Dornon, the stilt walker of Landes. Scientific American Supplement (821):[unpaginated]. Accessed March 2014.
- "Stilt-walker to walk in marathon". MLive.com. October 19, 2007.
- Australian stilt-walker totters to tallest mark". Brisbane Times. November 3, 2008.