Making a Living Blowing a Lot of Hot Air

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Katie Laibstain is thinking of changing her last name to Balloon.

This may be a rash move, as she's worked as a balloon artist for only two years. But she now works at it full time, averaging six gigs a week, building balloon sculptures for events, crafting balloon dresses, and entertaining children and adults.

Making centerpieces and arches for parties is a race against deflation, and Laibstain once worked almost 24 hours straight, crafting decorations and a 15-foot sculpture of a hockey player for a cancer benefit, she said. On the entertainment side, Laibstain recently developed an act where she climbs into a 72-inch balloon after inflating it with a leaf blower. It took a lot of practice to do this without popping the balloon.

"It's like learning to play a musical instrument. You learn the feel of it, the rhythm of it, the energy," Laibstain said. "You become one with the balloon."

The act has been a hit at children's parties, she said. There's also an adult version, which involves a little burlesque and won her a spot on "The Gong Show" on Comedy Central.

Inhabiting balloons poses a suffocation hazard, but more dangerous may be Laibstain's preference for inflating balloons by mouth. Balloons come dusted with talcum powder, and twisters can get sick from inhaling too much of it. However, she won't switch to a hand pump, as there's something inherently funny and classic about blowing up balloons the oldfashioned way.

"A pump, to me, is a sign of weakness," she said. "You aren't taking the risk for your art."

-- Sadie Dingfelder

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