Story of a… Stilt Walker
Mike Weakley, 48, has made a career out of walking tall, to the delight of young and old alike.
As a college student from a small town in North Carolina, Weakley was unsure of his future until he got a job delivering balloons. “I was paid extra if I dressed as a clown. People started asking for me to come dressed up for birthday parties or grand openings, and it was a blast. Soon after, I dropped out of business school to audition for Clown College.”
Weakley was accepted into the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1988. After graduating, he performed with the Ringling Brothers Circus for seven years before settling in Orlando.
“Out of everything I learned at Clown College, stilt walking became my passion. Learning the basics wasn’t too difficult; most people pick it up after several lessons. But becoming comfortable, agile, and in control takes years to master.”
At 6 feet tall without stilts—and 9½ feet tall with them—Weakley stands out. “The stilts are made of magnesium, a strong but lightweight metal. I strap each foot to a footrest, and the calf of each leg is strapped to a pole higher up the stilts. I sit on elevated surfaces to put them on: countertops, folding ladders, even the back of my car.”
Weakley’s gigs vary from parties to theme park events—even the White House. “You have to be a people person to succeed at this job. I juggle, twist balloons, and play games while on stilts. I love to dance. People get a kick out of seeing me wiggle my knees back and forth. At one festival, several kids spent the afternoon riding their skateboards through my legs. It’s all about making sure the guests are having fun.”
“If I’m not too active, I can easily go 2 to 3 hours on stilts before needing a rest. But if I’m doing a lot of dancing, 30 to 45 minutes is my limit. Stilt walking puts a lot of stress on the legs.”
“It takes lots of practice to get over the fear of falling. I know that getting hurt is always a possibility, but my fear has been replaced with respect for the art.”
For Weakley, the best part of entertaining is giving back. “I’m part of Cirque du Monde, a program that teaches circus skills to at-risk youth. It helps give them self-esteem and focus their energy on something positive. Getting to be a part of that makes my job even more special.”
“I will be stilt walking for as long as my body lets me. Even after that, I’ll still find some way to entertain. I’m happiest when I’m performing.”