Roland Park-based artist stages Stilt-a-thon downtown

Remington resident Jacqueline Robarge spent a day off walking shakily on stilts at Rash Field at the Inner Harbor Sunday, Oct. 21.

Robarge, 45, who is director of a nonprofit that works with prostitutes and incarcerated woman said that while she "can do street outreach in an open-air drug market" she is "terrified to be 5 feet off the ground," said Robarge, of Power Inside, in East Baltimore.

Robarge was one of dozens of people from around the region who came on Oct. 21 to Baltimore City's Joseph H. Rash Memorial Park for the second annual Stilt-a-thon, on Rash Field, sponsored by Nana Projects, an art studio in the Roland Park area.

Co-funding the free event were the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks, the Parks and People Foundation and Free Fall Baltimore.

Most, like Robarge, were stilt-walking novices, and signed up for workshops to learn how to stilt-walk.

Robarge was game, but admitted she was close to a panic attack.

She recalled that as a child, "I was always the one in camp holding everybody up."

Standing at the registration table was Nana Projects director and principal artist Molly Ross, a Hampden resident. Ross, 42, is known for staging area parades, many of them involving stilt-walkers, and also holds parade workshops and shadow puppet shows.

Her newest project is a shadow puppet show planned for next July as part of a national puppetry festival in Bethesda, she said.

The Stilt-a-thon "is more just a festival," said Ross, 42, creator and former longtime coordinator of the Great Halloween Lantern Parade, an annual event in Patterson Park.

Ross also holds stilt-walking workshops in city parks.

"Part of the idea is to bring people into city parks that aren't being utilized," she said.

The idea of a Stilt-a-thon grew out of Ross' need for stilt-walkers for her parades.

"So many people wanted to learn and we found it joyful to teach them," she said.

Fifty pairs of stilts were stacked in Rash Field, next to the Maryland Science Center. Some were very short, and children too young to stilt-walk could walk on the bottoms of painted pails attached to ropes that they could pull to simulate stilts.

"I'm almost as tall as you," Amara Murphy, 7, told her mother, Jennine Auerbach, of Butchers Hill.

Maya Gallant, 11, felt 10 feet tall as she strode around, dwarfing her mother, Molly Gallant, of Lauraville. Maya was a confident stilt-walker after three years of practice.

Like riding a bicycle, "you can't forget," she said.

Less skilled was Aaron Haettenschwiller, 12, who came with his mother, Susan Ricard, of Charles Village. Aaron attended a stilt-walking workshop in Seton Hill this past spring and was doing it for the second time.

But his mom preferred to stand on the sidelines.

"I haven't braved it yet," Richard said.

A lot braver were friends Susie Arnold, of Hampden, Cindy Schmigel, of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Allie Strovel, of Parkville.

"Why not?" answered Strovel, 37, when asked why she wanted to learn to stilt-walk. "Look how fun this is. You only live once."

Tourists in the Inner Harbor were impressed. Nutt Changboon had her picture taken with a stilt-walker.

"There's no (stilt-walking) in Thailand," she said.

A group from western Michigan watched awhile, but didn't sign up to participate.

"I don't know," Diane Reinke said. "It looks like a challenge."

Ross liked what she saw.

"Someday, I'd like to see a parade of stilt-walkers, just 100 people on stilts," she said. "That would be really cool."

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