Stiltwalking Stars

Stilt-walker dragon dancers at Johor Chingay 2012
In the lunar year of the dragon, this mythical creature featured more prominently in the recent Johor Chingay procession.  You must have enjoyed watching the wide variety of traditional dragon dancers as well as many dragons that were creatively designed in different themes with flowers, balloons, wool, plastic basins, ang-pau packets and other materials.  These delightful dragons just added more excitement, colour and energy to Johor’s annual Chingay. 

You would have thrilled to the undulating movement of a huge head rearing up with eyes lit up in flashing lights, followed by its 60ft length, chasing the pearl in a lifelike image of a celestial dragon.  Moving with the momentum of a tidal wave, the dancers lift, dip, thrust and sweep the dragon head, weaving its luminous body around.  In spite of the pressing crowd, your view was clear because this particular dragon dance was performed with its dancers standing tall on stilts! 

Skilled stilt-walkers having fun at the Johor Chingay

This sole performance of dragon dancing on stilts was by Hong Yang Sports Association, believed to be the first troupe in Johor Baru to perform on stilts and the only troupe in Malaysia to do stunts on stilts.  

This troupe of skillful stilt-walkers has participated in numerous prestigious events including several Johor Arts Festivals, the MBJB Street Carnival 2005 as well as the Singapore Chingay parade for many years since 2002.  Just before the Johor Chingay, they were again guest artistes in the Singapore Chingay, dressed as Fu Lu Shou (Good Fortune, Prosperity & Longevity) characters, and stilt-walking in water!

Hong Yang troup dressed as aliens in Singapore Chingay 2011
Hong Yang troup as Fu Luk Shou characters in Singapore Chingay 2012

Members of the Hong Yang troupe agree that their most memorable experience was the invitation to the Stilt-walkers Festival in Namur, Belgium last September.  Namur has a 600-year old tradition of stilt-jousting and Hong Yang was proud to represent Malaysia among invited nations like the United States, France and Togo whose stilt-walkers also participated in the week-long fest.  Their team of eleven had a wonderful experience performing as they only troupe of stilt-walkers who did stunts like jumping through rings of fire.

Jumping through ring of fire, a stunt performed in
the streets of Namur, Belgium
“Unlike our hands-free stilt-walking, the stilt-walkers of Namur use hand-held stilts,” said Ng Hee Thian, 31, a senior member of Hong Yang who was fascinated by the various arts of stilt-walking around the world. 

Yeo Han Leong, 34, and Ng were among a few stilt-walking enthusiasts who first trained with experts in Singapore’s renowned Tian Loong Koong Stilt-Walking Group. 

Under the skilful supervision of sifu John Ng Chwee Chuen, they also trained to perform unique stunts like striking an object with the stilts after diving through a ring of fire.  Yeo is among the most competent martial arts exponents to perform the daring stunt of jumping through a ring of fire with the added challenge to aim his stilts to accurately split a watermelon or an egg!

Hong Yang troupe dragon-dancing on stilts
Then a few senior trained enthusiasts got together to form a troupe in Johor Baru to practice regularly in the evenings.  As the numbers grew, they had classes of up to 50 trainees including non-Chinese youths, girls and kids as young as 10 years old.  Besides stilt-walking and dragon dancing on stilts, this troupe also trains in the martial arts of wushu, lion dancing, balancing giant flag poles and walking big-headed puppets. 

“Safety is a priority and there is no compromise,” declared Yeo, the troupe’s sifu.  He welcomes students to join their training class and invites youths to just come to their training sessions in Taman Johor.  He said that trainees would complete at least six months of training before their talents are ‘spotted’ and after a year of honing their skills, they will be trained to perform stunts.

Skilled stuntmen thrill the audience at Stilt-walker Fest
in Namur, Belgium
Yeo said that beginners train with 2ft high stilts and should show competence in balance, marching on the spot, walking a distance, performing a few supple steps and a “safe fall” before being allowed to use higher stilts. 

Depending on their ability, trainees can go on to train with stilts at 2.5 or 3 ft for acrobatic stunts and walking on 4 and 5 ft stilts.  This is not a sport for the faint-hearted because competent stilt-walkers perform the dragon dance on 6ft stilts, a length more than the average height of Malaysian men!

Students are encouraged to train with the troupe because it’s good to start young and channel their youthful energy into this sport.  While Yeo started his training at age 12, Ng said he started when he was just 10.  Classes on Monday (Stilt-walking), Wednesday (Dragon dance) and Friday (Lion dance) are from 8.30pm to 10pm.  For enquiries on training with Hong Yang Sports Association, contact Yeo Han Leong on Tel: 012 – 778 2315 and Ng Hee Thian on Tel: 016 – 712 3352.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 17 February 2012


  1. Anonymous2/20/2012

    These stilt walkers are great! Very talented.

  2. Hi, may i have the contact for the group leader or talents? As we may wish to invite them for one of the events in coming CNY at KL

  3. The contact details are listed in the last paragraph of my story on the Stiltwalking Stars. You may also send an email to Ng on: