Stilt Walkers of Havana
Carnival season in Cuba dates back as far as the 17th century, and stilt-walkers have loomed over the attendant street parades and festivities for just about as long. The tradition is most evident certainly in Havana. No longer limited to carnival season, in Old Havana especially, hardly a day goes by that stilt-walkers aren’t out and about, celebrating life to the distinctively Cuban beat. Indeed part of what distinguishes Cuban stilt-walkers is the music. Where else might you see clowns on stilts moving to conga music? In fact, the local stilt-walkers are often musicians and dancers taking their performance capacities to new heights. Havana even has rapper stilt-walkers. Like children everywhere, local children are fascinated by stilt-walking, and being exposed to it at an early age, are often prone to try it themselves. It’s not uncommon to see children trying to keep with the pros during street festivities.
Havana has some locally well-known stilt-walking troops such as “Tropa Zancos Cubensi” who wear colorful costumes and play all sorts of instruments, inviting people to join in and move to the rhythm with them whether on stilts or flat soles. There is also a troop of stilt-walking human statues. Another Havana troop, “Gigantería,” officially works with the City Historian’s Office. They dedicate their theatrics to preserving Afro-Cuban traditions, and stage carnival street festivities in the same manner that they were several centuries ago.Troops such as this constantly train to master their skills, and teach stilt-walking as well. Along with outlandish costumes, they incorporate other skills such as juggling clubs, balls, and even burning torches. Sometimes they leaflet to draw attention to public meetings and causes. Aides from fair-weather entertainment, they are known to provide needed levity to marginal neighborhoods as well as to disaster areas after hurricanes. Sometimes a troop will go around visiting neighborhoods and schools just for evident the joy of the children.
For first-time visitors to Cuba, Havana’s stilt-walkers inevitable help create an unforgettable impression of the city. The music is so infectious that everywhere they go, locals and tourists of all ages are bound to follow these giant pied pipers.
We’re certainly hoping to get a troop into some colorful Nick Graham shirts one day soon. Until then, check out the Crazy For Cuba Collection.
By Jorge Soccaras