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June 28, 2017

She's got a (long) leg up on the circus industry

Germantown stilt walker Samantha Hyman is head and shoulders above her peers when it comes to circus arts

Circus Arts People
Carroll - Circus Stilt Walker Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Circus artist and costume designer Samantha Hyman does a high kick while wearing custom-made stilts and stilt covers near her artist studio in Germantown.

Next time you go to a posh party in town that has any kind of sponsorship behind it, or stop by any of the city’s many street fairs or festivals, look up.

Odds are good you’ll see Samantha Hyman sashaying along on stilts, and with a huge smile on her face. She’s hard to miss.

Hyman, 32, of Havertown, is one of the city’s few self-taught stilt walkers and is hired as entertainment for any number of gigs – both public and private – ranging from birthday bashes and sporting events to big charity galas and nightclub parties. 

For Hyman, who’s been practicing for the past five years, it all started with juggling. Now, she can hula hoop on stilts.

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Most recently, Hyman designed and wore her own costume on stilts for the 2017 Mural Arts Wall Ball at The Fillmore, an annual event that raises money for collaborative public art projects around town. She wore a costume inspired by Philly’s Parris Stancell mural at 16th and Girard streets dubbed, “A Celebration of Poetry.” She even painted her skin blue.

“Over the past few years, people will call and say, ‘Can you build it?’ I just created a four-legged giraffe stilt costume for the Elmwood Park Zoo,” she said.

“It’s why I love the circus, because anything is possible.”

We recently sat down with Hyman for an interview inside her Germantown studio and asked how she got into stilt walking in the first place. She said it was an old flame who sparked the idea.

“We were just doing it for fun. Hula hooping, juggling and doing circus arts for fun, and someone called us and said there is this gig – it was the opening of Xfinity Live! and it was before and after the Bruce Springsteen concert,” she said.

“We calculated [the earnings] and said, ‘Jeez, that’s a lot of money! We’ll definitely do it.’”

Although she makes it look easy, Hyman admits it took her a while to get the hang of navigating crowds almost four feet above the rest.

“It helps to have someone’s hand to hold,” she said.

“You just have to get up there and hold someone’s hand until you get your sense of balance.”

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Artist Samantha Hyman poses for a photo near her artist studio in Germantown.

And the job doesn’t come without other obstacles.

“Occasionally, you get the dirty man comments. [Their] heads are around crotch-level. You get the right crowd, and they like to make comments like that, but usually, I just give them a dirty look and tell them they’re being disgusting. I don’t let it go too far,” she said.

An athlete and yoga practitioner, Hyman said it helps to be flexible and have good balance, naturally. She said she’s always loved circus arts, and when she saw the popularity (and profitability) of stilt walking, she realized she could make a living off entertaining. Hyman made her own stilts using 1-by-2-inch wooden planks, creating a small platform and then screwing on sneakers so her foot is attached. She then uses 2-inch Velcro straps around her shins and calves to hold her leg in place. Most of the materials can be bought at any Lowes, Home Depot or any average fabric store.

In addition to her husband-and-wife circus “troupe,” a term loosely used, Hyman also makes scarves. You can check them out here.