Paula Large gave me a tip on an Event called a Balloon Jam that was taking place at the Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village down by Disney. The event got started at 7 AM, so I rose bright and early to get there. As usual, I got a bit lost looking for the place and when I arrived there were a handful of people setting up tables and putting out brochures. I sat quietly, and waited, to let things get underway. People sat around and talked and I didn't see a single balloon, so I started to get nervous since I had to get to another event later that day to sketch. Finally a group gathered some chairs and sat around in a circle. They started inflating balloons with an automated inflating device and things got going. Other small groups formed and they taught each other how to make unexpected and strange balloon creatures. The room began to fill with the sounds of balloon squeaks and plenty of conversation.
I spoke with Paul Belanger, one of the organizers of the event, and he explained how balloon twisting has become something of an international phenomenon. He traveled to China and wanted to start an event called a balloon fashion show. People tried to explain to him that the Chinese didn't like balloons but that didn't discourage him. He organized the show anyway and now similar events are sprouting up all over China. He unfortunately does not make any money off of these knockoff shows.
One conversation cropped up when a twister asked everyone, "What was the biggest tip you ever got for twisting a balloon?" Answers varied from $20, to a bottle of wine to an airplane ticket. It was agreed that the ticket was the best tip. As I was sketching this group twisting their little bears and snakes, I noticed in the corner of the room something big being built. Instead of using the thin long balloons, they were using fat chunky balloons and chaining them together to form large cylinder shapes. The Great Wandini, Sheree Brown-Rosner, explained that they wanted to use these fatter balloons so the manufacturer would continue making that line of balloons. All the balloons were bright yellow, and for the duration of the sketch, I never figured out what they were building. It wasn't until I saw a youtube video taken at the event that I discovered what they were up to. Twisting balloons is a whole subculture I was never aware of. Balloon Jams are certainly a fun bizarre experience. I hope I get to experience a jam again when they are in town. Next time I would want to show up later after hundreds of balloon sculptures litter the floor.