Originally published on Fort Worth Star Telegram.
The Brooklyn Jumbies master stilt dancing group made such an impression on Amphibian Stage that the performing arts theater decided to embrace the unique concept.
Next thing you know, there were kids onstage on stilts in downtown Fort Worth.
These are the youngsters in the Amphibian Stage’s Tad-Poles group.
The Brooklyn Jumbies are coordinated by New York-based artist Laura Anderson Barbata, a close collaborator of Amphibian Stage. ”The delight and joy they brought to audiences, especially children, inspired us,” said Ayesha Ganguly, the development and community outreach manager for Amphibian Stage. “We are inspired by the West African stilting style of the Moko Jumbie.” Get unlimited digital access Subscribe now for just $2 for 2 months.
Hence, the name Tad-Poles. It really is youngsters ages 10-18 walking around and performing on stilts. And the kids love it, Ganguly said.
“Firstly, the idea of ‘walking tall’ on 3-foot or 6-foot stilts is an adventure and novelty for children. Secondly, the mix of walking, doing acrobatics and dancing to music on stilts is thrilling, and finally, when they perform in magical costumes at public events and get a lot of attention, they love it,” she said.
Now, the program is almost year-round, with classes in the spring, summer and fall. The summer session is going on now and registration is underway for the fall. Classes are Saturdays from 10-11:30 a.m. at Amphibian Stage, 120 S. Main St. in Fort Worth.
“I grew up in the positive environment of the Tad-Poles growing my self-confidence and passion for the artistry of dance and stilting.” – Kameron Bryant
Ganguly said an ideal class size is about a dozen students.
Amphibian also recently received a $2,500 grant for its Tad-Poles program from the Texas Women for the Arts, a program of Texas Cultural Trust.
“A grant from these visionary organizations is not only an important vote of confidence in our Tad-Poles stilt dance program, but it will also make our workshops accessible to more children than ever,” said Kathleen Culebro, Amphibian Stage founder and artistic director.
“The funding will allow us to keep tuition low or free to any student interested in learning this multicultural art form. It will also make it possible for them to perform for a very low fee at local libraries, after-school programs, and other community events.”
Tad-Poles stilt dancing group performs by invitation to public and private events every two or three months. Most recently, they performed at the Kimbell Art Museum to an audience of about 200 for the “The Language of Beauty in African Art,” an exhibition that celebrates vibrant cultural traditions and diverse forms of expression from Africa and the African diaspora.
“We start with tools to get comfortable getting up on stilts and getting down, slow walking with the help of a teacher/student partner, and then move on finer skills like walking/dancing, simple acrobatics, and then coordinated choreography in costumes for potential performances,” Ganguly said.
Stilt dancing has traditional roots in many countries in West Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, and Asia. Ganguly said it teaches teamwork, coordination and creative expression, and encourages global cultural understanding.
“Amphibian Tad-Poles are my mini family. I grew up in the positive environment of the Tad-Poles growing my self-confidence and passion for the artistry of dance and stilting,” said Kameron Bryant. “Now at 17 and preparing for graduation, I can say I will continue my passion for performing as I move on to college, something I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for my supportive Tad-Poles family.”
For more information about Tad-Poles, go to amphibianstage.com, call 817-923-3012 or send an email to email@example.com.