The first stilts appeared long before the forest. In those days, the Landes was a vast, very flat, marshy country, where the vegetation was essentially grass and scrub.
This was a landscape inhabited mainly by shepherds. To make their way more easily through the vegetation, to avoid getting their feet wet in the marshes, but above all to be able to keep an eye on their flocks of sheep from a distance, the shepherds used stilts.
Stilts are made up of two pieces of wood: the "escasse", or leg in Landes dialect, hence the current name of stilt, and the "paouse pé", or footrest in Landes dialect, attached to the escasse, usually at a height of between 90 cm and 1 m 20.
The stilt-walker attaches the stilt to his leg with two leather straps. The utilitarian use of stilts by shepherds gradually disappeared between the mid-19th and early 20th centuries. The establishment of forests not only drained the marshes, but also eliminated the grazing lands and thus the sheep and their shepherds on stilts.
But at the same time, the shepherds began to use the stilts for games, and also joined in with the dancing of the other villagers.
In 1889, the first group of stilt dancers was founded in Arcachon by Sylvain Dornon. His first dance was "Lou Quadrilh dous Tchancats".
Sylvain Dornon was also at the origin of numerous stilt epics, when in 1891 he made the 2850 km journey from Paris to Moscow in 58 days.
Today, there are around 21 Landes folklore groups dedicated to perpetuating the dances of their ancestors on stilts.
Many of their members take part in the Challenge de la Fédération des Groupes Folkloriques Landais stilt races, and some, like Sylvain Dornon, are committed to completing routes of several hundred kilometers.
Fédération des Groupes Folkloriques Landais
Mr Didier Gourgues
14 Rue des Erables
40280 Saint-Pierre du Mont