Sunday, May 22, 2011

9 out of 10 stiltwalkers are handicapped.

I've been doing this stilt thing 30 years, I've built many many pairs of stilts for myself and others. I'm just about to attempt to make a pair out of chinese waxwood and the pegs are so slim it scares me. Once inch square Hickory is what I've used the last decade. While I have this going on I thought I'd write down some info that I parrot out to interested stiltpeople and others about the prime importance of the fitting process.

You are not symmetrical, you might like to be but you're not. Grab a piece of newspaper and stand on it in a neutral stance [if you have a movement background] or a 'putting stance' [if you are new to this]

Don't look down throughout, focus on a horizon and keep your chin facing forward and just stand as naturally and as comfortably as you can. Ideally your hips and shoulders should be on the same plain.

Have a friend trace the outline of your feet and then step back and look down.

Yep, you're a freak. You will see that the way you naturally stand is far from symmetrical, there's all sorts of variation going on.

It is these individual variations applied to symmetrical equipment that handicap the vast majority of people who use stilts. You will be doing your movement vocab and your body a huge favor if you accept this. I'm talking here specifically about 'Peg' stilts, as that is my speciality.

I move very naturally and that is a large part of both my appeal and why I have physically survived using an apparatus that by design applies undue stress to the body for as long as I have.

Here's what I do in the fitting process.

After you have done the newspaper tracing exercise keep it for reference.

At the point where you have both the shafts and the braces on which your footpeg will stand grab a ladder or platform and a friend. It's important both your feet are at the same level as you fit first one stilt then the other. You need to be able to put your weight on the stilt you are fitting without stepping up or down from the secure position you start from.

You should be standing on some sort of secure platform with the ability to shift you weight entirely on and off one foot with minimal movement.

Put [have your friend] the unsecured footplate on the stilts bracing and position the stilt as directly as possible under you. You are looking to have a straight line shoulder, hip, knee, foot.

Have your partner issue two instructions, "Weight on" and "Weight off"

You should be focused on keeping a straight stance and being aware that there is a positional spot you are seeking wherein your weight will transfer directly down and into the ground.

Your assistant should be focusing on only one thing, where your foot is on it's brace in relation to the top of the stilt up where it's later going to attach to just below your knee. Depending on where your foot is positioned, the top of your stilt, once weight is applied, will pull either towards or away or forward or backward and what you are seeking is for when the weight is applied it does not pull in any direction at all.

It doesn't matter how non symmetrical this ends up being. You will feel that once weight is applied it transfers straight downwards and your assistant will feel no counter force at the top of the stilt. When this is achieved mark the footplates position and move onto the same exercise with the other stilt.

Using the markings, screw the footplates on and then I repeat this exercise with the shoe that gets bolted to the stilt as a second layer of balance fitting. Same same, "weight on" "weight off", again when the conditions of the top of the stilt remaining stable when weight is applied is reached, then mark the shoe placement and bolt on accordingly. Your assistant should be simply able to rest their finger on the very top of your peg stilt without it moving as you put weight on and off at the final stage of balancing.

Fixing the attachments below the knee can affect the linear line of balance later in the construction but if you fashion it with it's original placement in relation to the outside of your leg to mirror that of the fitting process above then that's ideal. Alternatively you can construct the tops before this fitting process so the whole thing is integrated in the one process.

I typically do my top bits second and have never had any real issues.

Having a well personally balanced pair of stilts will allow you to transfer a great deal of your movement vocab from the ground up to your stilt movement.

I watch many stilt practitioners handicapped by bad equipment. They are hip driven or always leaning either back or forward and it greatly limits the movement available to them as well as putting uncalled for stress on their lower back or knees.

The real test of a well balanced pair of stilts is to be able to pirouette without compensation or traveling anywhere.
Other tests are being able to hold one leg up next to your head while standing straight. [You can see in the above photo I'm not doing that, I'm forward and to the left a little, this is bad form however it's a snapshot and I was probably in the process of straightening, no really!]

email me if you have further questions.

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