PENDLETON, Ore. — Kricket Caffery is a tiny woman, but she stands 7-foot-4 on stilts.
From those dizzying heights, she gets an empowering view of the world. The 36-year-old former Marine makes stilts in her garage work shop and sells them to customers all over the country. She also teaches people to use their new appendages.
One of her clients is Pendleton’s Rhythmic Mode dance team. When Coach Debbie Kishpaugh decided to incorporate stilt walking into a routine she hopes will win Pendleton High School its sixth-straight state dance title, she called on Caffery.
Kishpaugh and Coach Jami Niord gathered up five of their dancers for a surprise road trip to Portland, not revealing their ultimate destination — Caffery’s home. Soon after arriving, the girls found themselves strapping on stilts. With Caffery spotting and giving encouragement, they learned to stilt walk in her living room. After two hours, they had the basics.
“She was so good with our kids,” Kishpaugh said. “She was encouraging and inspirational.”
Three of the original five (Brandy Anderson, Jessica Homan and Alex Grashaus) strutted their stuff at the recent state OSAA Dance &Drill 5A/6A competition at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Caffery said her life as a stilt walker started in 2006. In 2008, she and some friends decided to start a women’s stilting group. They arranged a workshop where the women learned to use power tools like drill presses and chop saws made their own stilts, got instruction on how to use them and then walked in Portland’s Earth Day Parade.
“It was pretty epic,” Caffery said. She started PegStilts.com that year in a tiny garage filled with power tools, lumber and stilts in various stages of production, her Pontiac Grand Am banished to the driveway.
Caffery makes pegs, leg braces, foot braces and foot plates from ash wood and uses reclaimed bicycle tires for tread. The New York native said her business is one of four stilt making companies in the country — all of which are in Oregon. She started slow, selling 18 sets of stilts that first year, but now has customers in 40 states and three countries.
The stilts come in a range of sizes and she does custom jobs, too. A woman who stood only 3-foot-10-inches tall hired Caffery to build a set of stilts that would raise her to average height.
Caffery also does workshops and performs at festivals, parades, parties and promotional events. She appeared at the Oregon Country Fair in Eugene and Burning Man in Nevada.
But, she especially loves helping young neophytes conquer their trepidation — stilt walking as metaphor for life, “empowering young people to face fear, stand up tall and be proud of themselves.”
Two lessons generally do the trick. Part of the process is teaching students how to fall correctly and learn balance.
“A lot of people think when you get up on stilts, you can just stand still, but you’ve got to keep moving,” Caffery said. “Balance comes through movement much like a bicycle.”
She said Pendleton isn’t the only dance team to employ stilts. A YouTube video shows 24 Utah dancers — the Bountiful High School Mandonelles — performing high kicks, splits and handstands while wearing Caffery’s stilts.