A Brief History of Women Walking Tall
Women Walking Tall began as a project of the Motivity Center, where its founder and director, Terry Sendgraff, and her students pursued artistic expression through aerial movement and dance. By 1990, Sendgraff began to explore stilting as a way to move elevated dancing to new venues, particularly outdoors. Sendgraff was also intrigued by the cross-cultural use of stilt walkers in ritual and in ceremony.
In 1991, Sendgraff started Women Walking Tall. The idea of eight-foot tall women captured Sendgraff's imagination - she envisioned a grove of trees from which these tall women might emerge, costumed in green, symbolic of nature. A handful of women joined Terry on stilts do debut Women Walking Tall at the 1991 Michigan Women's Festival. From that moment, a mission was born to impart to others the power and grace of stilt walking and to support the women's community.
In the spring of 1992, Women Walking Tall presented its first major performance in the grove at Lakeside Park in Oakland, where most of us have learned to stilt. A two-year grant from the California Arts Council enabled Terry to offer free weekly classes in the park. As many as 300 women and girls learned to stilt in that time - their ages ranging from 4 years to 75! Two more performances were given at Lakeside Park in the spring of 1993 and 1994. In the last one, seventy-three women and girls performed on stilts, accompanied by musicians, ground-level dancers and theatrical props. Several weeks of rehearsals and many months of organizational and artistic preparation went into this production. The 1994 performance roused a huge audience with a series of stilt dancers and processions featuring dancers bearing water, seedlings (young girls), a winding snake, trees, veiled dancers, stilters displaying quilts, elegant birds and a Caribbean dance.
By this time, Women Walking Tall was a well-known and beloved part of the East Bay art community. Our exaggerated size not only empowers ourselves, vicariously we empower others, especially women and children through the physical statement of being tall beyond expectations!
The commitment required
to build and sustain the organization with nonprofit funding, to teach
and direct workshops and artistic activities meant a huge self-sacrifice
for Terry. In the Fall of 1995, she resigned as artistic director to pursue
personal and artistic interests, is currently teaching aerial dance through
her project The Motivity Center. Women Walking Tall operates as an all
volunteer cooperative organization and offers workshops in beginning stilt
walking, costume making and stilt building, in addition to developing
new works and strengthening our repertory. Through cooperative management
we have retained Terry's original goals to support women's issues, human
rights and environmental concerns.