Q ‘ A: The Balloon Guy

For the third year, 2002 University graduate Matt Harkins roamed the Student Recreation Center during Dance Marathon this weekend creating his balloon magic for the kids.

He also provided the balloons used for the balloon drop at the closing ceremony and created a balloon archway on the dance floor.

How long have you been making balloon creations?

“I’ve been doing balloon twisting, which is used in creating the animals for over nine years. The balloon decorations, I’ve been doing for two years.”

Is it difficult to learn to make balloon animals and decorations?

“A lot of people say it’s all very difficult, but I find that it isn’t difficult at all. Anybody can do what I do.”

How did you get your start?

“My parents were involved with a Christmas party and they were going to hire someone to come in and do this. When they found out what the price of this type of work is, they said ‘we can’t afford that.’ I decided it didn’t look too hard and went to the library and got a book and that’s how I learned. That year I was able to make about six things.”

How many items can you make today?

“Now I’m up to about 25-30 different characters.”

What is the most common request you get?

“I do dogs on a leash a lot. Most of my creations when I started were just one balloon thing, now I’m starting to get into multiple balloon things. I’ve been going from general animals to more specific things.”

How are you looking to expand your repertoire?

“I recently got a book that shows Disney characters. I’m going to be learning those so that probably by next year at this time, I’ll be able to have those on a regular basis.”

How long does it typically take you to learn how to make a new creation?

“If I sit down with that book, I’ll learn all of those characters in about a month. But in order to get enough speed, that takes about a year to be able to perfect it. I have to be able to do them fast.” What is your favorite creation to make?

“One of my personal favorites is a monkey climbing a banana tree.”

When you come to events like DM, how many balloons do you use?

“For an event like this, I’ll go through almost 400 balloons an hour.”

How do you find yourself at events like this?

“When I was a student here I was always reading the newspaper and would see events that were coming up. If I knew people involved with that organization, I would pass my name along. When I first got started at DM, friends from high school and the University both asked if I would come here and do the balloons for it.

What do you like about being able to create things with balloons?

“It’s the amusement factor. I’ve been doing this for nine years, but I’ve only been out for hire for five, so it’s just something that’s growing. It came to be a hobby of mine and then it came to be what it is now. I’m looking to organize things and keep it going to be able to do this part-time and then full-time. I’d like to own my own store sell balloons there and still do proms, sorority formals and things like that.”

How can making balloon creations help keep spirits up during long events like DM?

“From my experience, there are very few people who don’t like balloons. Even if you find someone who doesn’t like balloons, the kids that come here do like balloons. And when little kids get a balloon and their faces light up, that does help the students here who are dancing. The joy there helps push them along.”