Standing six feet, one inch tall, one would probably think Troy Hunte should pursue a career in the NBA, or perhaps be a professional fast bowler.
But to ask him, even during his childhood, what career he most wanted to aspire to, without a doubt he would tell you a stlitwalker. Watching him dance, wuk up and and chip along Spring Garden Highway on Grand Kadooment, he appeared comfortable and in his element; but when Hunte was ten years old, one would never have believed that this shy, slight youngster would be standing so high.
Back then, he would routinely sit beneath the window of his Wildey, St Michael home on Saturday afternoons and watch as walkers stood majestically on their stlits or practised stunts at the neighbouring Pinelands Creative Workshop. Each time they moved with such ease and precision, this young man got chills through his body as he envisaged himself statuesquely high on his own stilts.
These dreams continued for almost a year until one day he built up enough courage to actually cross the road to the PCW and find out how he could get to stand on stilts. There he was met by Jeffrey Ifie Wilkinson, the stiltwalking tutor. With only a hope and a prayer that he could join a class, Hunte learnt the classes were free and that indeed he could join. Within an hour he was walking on the one-foot high beginner’s stlits. That was 23 years ago. Today, some can say that this young man is living his dream.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY as he conducted a stiltwalking class at the Bay Primary School in the Bayland, St Michael, the now 35-year-old described that day he approached Ifie as one of his sweetest yet.
“. . . That day I got the opportunity to pursue what I loved most, and I have not looked back since; don’t plan to either. Why stop when I am making an honest living from doing what I love most?” he asked with a broad smile on his face.
After that initial introduction to the stilts, Hunte advanced quickly to the strap-ons, then he moved to two-feet, three-feet and ultimately four-feet stilts. The former Garrison Secondary student has even performed tricks and dances on 8.3-foot-high stilts. He has travelled to numerous countries across the globe to perform his craft, got a few bumps, scrapes and a broken ankle, but he has no plans on ever retiring from the arts.
However, Hunte told Bajan Vibes he had a new focus in his life. That is to give children a similar experience to what he had when he was young by exposing them to the art of stilt walking. Hunte wants to establish a stiltwalking academy.
From 1998, he conducted a programme in the Ministry of Education called CHEKS – Cultural Historical Exposure For Kids In Schools, but due to the economic downturn it was cut in January this year.
“Stlits are my joy, my passion. That is what I love to do and that is what I want the younger people to feel. We are getting older and eventually we will have to stop at some point, and I would never like to see stiltwalking die in Barbados. So I plan to set up an academy. There are a lot of stiltwalkers in Barbados; you don’t see them because some people come and say they want to walk on stilts because they see what you are doing and they want to get in it for the money.
“They would come, learn to walk on stilts now and tomorrow want to get work; but it doesn’t happen like that because you have to learn how to do stunts; you got to learn to dance. Walking is not everything. When I first start to walk on stilts . . . it took me about nine months to a year before I actually did a show,” Hunte said.
“That is what I want the youngsters to learn –– it is more than just learning to walk. Walking is just the easy part of it, but if you want to learn how to hop and kick, stoop, lean back, that takes a lot of time and dedication. If you do not have that, do not come and say you want to learn how to walk on stilts because it takes time.
“I teach a little girl Eja. She started when she was three and she is now four and her stilts are the same height as mine. She tries, and tries. She might not get everything done right, but she tries. It makes me feel good when I see children I taught. I am very proud of her. I feel good when I see people on stilts that I taught. I have taught at every school in the island, expect the private schools,” he said.