The ABC Performance Guide: Balloon Pops

Welcome to the new ABC Performance Guide. Throughout this series we will be looking at different types of act and what’s involved, offering tips & ideas to consider when creating your own acts. Part 1 is dedicated to the timeless burlesque act: The Balloon Pop.


Balloon pops can be tricky to pull off. As one of the ‘classics’ in terms of burlesque acts, they are widely popular but it’s not as simple as stapling a few balloons to a costume and off you go. There are lots of things to consider when doing a balloon act, lots of things that can go wrong and many common mistakes we see repeated over and over again.  However, as always, the cunning burlesquer has developed ways of getting around those issues particular to balloon pops and here we reveal the secrets behind the perfect balloon pop.

Gypsy, Viva & Impressive Johnson - Balloon Act
Gypsy, Viva & Impressive Johnson – Balloon Act

Backstage Prep
It might seem like an obvious one, but if you’re doing a balloon act, allow plenty of time to prepare. In addition to hair, makeup & costume, make sure you allow enough time to get your balloons blown up and attached. Your fellow performers won’t be happy if the show grinds to a halt because you’re due onstage and you’ve not even finished blowing your balloons up!
Another point to consider when doing a balloon pop, is the amount of space backstage; where are you going to store your balloons before your act? If there are half a dozen performers squeezed into a mop-closet of a dressing room, perhaps a balloon act isn’t the ideal choice.

Inflating the balloons
Some performers choose to blow up their balloons manually, the old fashioned way, while others prefer a balloon pump. Many performers recommend the latter, as it means the glitter inside the balloons doesn’t become damp and stick to the inside of the balloon, as can happen if you blow them up yourself.

Storing your pins / poppers
We have seen many ingenious ways of concealing your pins / popping device during the act. Lots of performers work it into the routine, for example Vendetta Vain’s cowgirl balloon pop, where the pin is concealed in the end of her pistol, or Missy Malone’s champagne balloon pop, where she uses a corkscrew to pop the balloons.

Vendetta Vain uses her pistol to pop her balloons. (Image copyright Mark Dunnigan)
Vendetta Vain uses her pistol to pop her balloons (image copyright Mark Dunnigan)

Other tricks include pushing a pin into the end of a feather or simply concealing larger pins (the dress-making kind with a big round ball on the end) carefully in your hair / headpiece, so you can easily get to them during your act.

Hitting the beat
Another one that might seem obvious but believe us, we’ve seen it go wrong many times. If you’ve chosen a particular song with very definite obvious  beats, please  try to pop the balloons in time to the music. Randomly striking the balloons with no sense of timing will just look messy and if you completely ignore the obvious beats in the song that tell you when to ‘pop’, not only are you missing out on the dramatic  tension you can create with the perfectly timed pop, it will leave the whole act seeming somewhat meandering and not properly planned / rehearsed.

The awkward fumble
If you don’t hit the balloon quite right it might not pop, resulting in an embarrassing fumble (especially for those awkwardly-positioned balloons at the back between your shoulder blades).
Sometimes this is just unavoidable and in this case, you can either play the cheesecake ‘Oops I missed!’ card and throw in a cheeky wink or smile, or you can opt for the comedy route and make a big deal out of your inability to reach the final balloons to the point that it just becomes comical.
However, for those trickiest balloons in the hardest to reach place, resident ABC teacher Daiquiri Dusk says “Get the audience to do it. For the last couple if balloons, head out into the front row and pick a suitable candidate then simply give them the pin, strike a pose and pop! It saves you awkwardly fumbling to reach, gets them involved  and also means you won’t miss any balloons hidden round the back if you’ve miscounted while popping.”

Balloon straggles
Another problem with balloon acts is what’s left after you’ve popped all the balloons; behold your fabulous costume, revealed for the audience’s delight. But wait, what’s that? You still have lots of tiny, straggly little bits of burst balloon hanging from it – not exactly glamorous! The simplest option is to have the balloons attached to strips of elastic (fastened with Velcro or press-studs). These have tiny hooks sewn around them, which the balloons can be attached to, for easy removal once you’ve popped them all; simply unfasten the elastic and drop. This trick has the additional bonus of meaning the balloons are always evenly spaced out when you put them on so there are no cheeky gaps.

And so we reach the end of our first blog in the Performance Guide series. Part 2 looks at fan dancing, you can read it here: Fans & Fan Dancing.