Look: How performers train to walk on 2-metre-high stilts in UAE for stunning shows

The artists are guided through the process by their instructor, who is often an accomplished performer with years of experience


SM Ayaz Zakir

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Published: Wed 23 Aug 2023, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Thu 5 Oct 2023, 4:48 PM

Ever walked around a market in Dubai to witness men and woman walking and performing on stilts? While such shows are fun to watch, the stunt is definitely no walk in the park. These Filipino performers, who spread delight during winter, undergo rigorous training as early as August – when temperatures begin to dip slightly.

A unique form of artistic expression that combines elements of acrobatics, dance, and theatre – walking on 2-metre-long stilts is no simple feat. Khaleej Times takes a look behind the scenes at their practice sessions.

“We practise nearly three hours a day, and nearly every day,” said John Kenneth Sanguer, a stilt walker of the Survivors Group. The group consists of eight Filipino members who practise tirelessly to leave residents and audiences amazed during their performances.

Before forming the group in February 2023, these artists performed individually or in other groups. “The love and support shown to us by the residents and visitors in Dubai has forced us to form a group and for this year’s winter performance, we promise it to be a spectacle,” said John.

John, and his teammates, start practice after they finish working for the day. They usually practise at Sharjah's Al Nahda Park. “We work at different places. As we return home, we freshen up and pick up our equipment and get to practice,” said John.

The artists are guided through the process by their instructor, who is often an accomplished performer with years of experience. The instructor shares key ideas and skills through countless performances.

Rigorous preparation, coordination, and pure physical strength is required for the art of stilt walking, said Christopher Laroya, the coach and the trainer of the group.

“The complicated task of balancing, control, and flexibility at such heights must be overcome by the artists within the initial steps. In each practice session, we perfect our ability to move on different terrain,” said Laroya.

Laroya said that this art requires a combination of physical strength, balance, coordination, and a sense of control. “Performers must develop the ability to walk, dance, and even perform complex maneuvers while perched on top of their stilts. It is physically demanding, as it requires the use of muscles not typically engaged in everyday activities,” said Laroya.

According to Laroya, a beginner finds it very difficult to balance on the stilts, however, it can be learned in a week’s time. “Balancing is the most important aspect of stilt walking. Post balancing, the performer is made to walk, and then he or she is included in the group. In the beginning, artists do fall down a couple of times,” said Laroya adding that if artists doesn’t fall during practice, they cannot learn.

“Practice makes a man perfect, that we can evidently see in our practice. It’s our sheer dedication and confidence, we are able to put up a great show,” said Laroya.

These remarkable artists don't fear falling but in fact, are weary of children pushing them and adults asking for selfies. “At times we have to perform on grass and sand, which is a very difficult task. We worry about children and audiences grabbing our attention which may make us lose our balance,” said John.

These fine artists are seen performing in City Walk, Jumeirah Road, Jumeirah Park, JVC, Downtown, Creek Road Barsha Park, and many malls in the UAE on occasions like National Day, Christmas, and various events during the weekends. “For us, costumes are as important as performance. For every show, we have different costumes. And that too must be ready since the beginning,” said John adding that at times they even perform thrice a day and they don’t have time to design the costume in the performing months.

The group has been performing in a few GCC countries, including Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. Now they want to target a platform that is known worldwide. “We want to perform at EXPO 2025 in Japan and we feel we will make it,” said John.

As months pass, these performers will continue to dedicate themselves to their practice, perfecting every step, sway, and leap.

So, as the winter months draw closer, keep an eye out for the towering figures that defy gravity, who are ready to take the stage to deliver stunning performances.


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