Balloons are serious business for Noodles the Clown

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Killingly - posted Mon., Jan. 14, 2013
Noodles stands with Keenan and Corinne LaMontagne after making them balloon sculptures. Photos by D. Coffey.
Noodles stands with Keenan and Corinne LaMontagne after making them balloon sculptures. Photos by D. Coffey.

Nancy Whitehead, a.k.a. Noodles the Clown, spent New Year's Eve making balloon creations for children at Frostival in Danielson. She took up her station inside Hearth and Home at 5 p.m., when kids were already waiting in line. One little girl asked for a chocolate Lab. Noodles pulled out a brown balloon from a bucket filled with balloons. She pretended to lick it. “I don't think this is chocolate,” she said. The little girl smiled.

“I'm going to go like this, and I'm going to go like this, and I'm going to go like this,” Noodles said. All the while her hands were moving, twisting and turning the balloon until it looked like a dog. Then she took a red balloon, blew it up and shaped it into a heart. After attaching the dog to the heart, she handed the creation to the little girl. She did it all so quickly her hands were a blur.

“I can make a teddy bear sitting in a balloon holding a flower in less than a minute,” Noodles said, “and be starting on the next balloon for the next kid.”

This will be Whitehead’s 29th year performing as Noodles. It all started when the adult education office she worked at planned a function for adults who didn't have their high school diplomas. Whitehead suggested bringing in a clown to entertain kids while their parents listened to presenters. “I suggested, not ever having the desire to be a clown, to find a clown for the event,” she said.

She got dressed up as well, and learned how to make a balloon dog. “This kid lit right up,” she said. “It was as if I gave that kid the best balloon in the whole world. I just felt it. That's all it took. I knew I wanted to be a clown.”

Whitehead signed up for every clown convention and magazine she could find. “I just went for it,” she said. “I surrounded myself with other clowns and learned from them.” They helped her to find the right costume style, the proper face paint, the right lips.

“It took me about a year to find my face,” she said. Her face is white with a red dot for a nose, two red dots on either side of her mouth, and long eyelashes all framed in bright yellow hair. “I started to simplify,” Whitehead said. “It looked cleaner, nicer, and I have a pleasant non-scary face now.”

Her clown conventions have taken her to Minot, N.D., Merrillville, Ind., London, and Las Vegas. She came across a costume on a rack at a convention that seemed right for her. Now she wears up to seven articles of clothing, including striped socks and shirt, ruffled sleeves and skirt, shoes, hat and apron.

Clowns told her to dim down the big red lips she had been painting on her face, a look that she admits was frightening. Another told her how to pat down her makeup. “I didn't know,” she said. At one convention, Whitehead and a few other clowns had a balloon jam. “We'd stand around making balloons,” she said. “People shared. One guy asked if I'd be interested in working at the White House. I said yes.” Lo and behold, the man called back with an invitation to the annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn. Whitehead went four years in a row.

She won first place in the master's division of balloon twisting in Las Vegas years ago. It's easy to see why, as she fashions requests to the delight of the children waiting their turns. One boy wanted a Spiderman, another a bow and arrow. Noodles made both in a minute's time and the bow actually worked. One girl wanted a hummingbird, another wanted a penguin. She made candy canes, flowers and swords. With a bucket full of balloons in a variety of sizes and colors, Noodles knows exactly where to reach to make a certain creation.

Five-inch rounds, 2-inch by 60-inch, and 3-inch by 50-inch balloons are the mainstays. The two-cylinder air compressor she wears around her waist ensures a fast delivery. Her creations are taken from books, conventions, her own ideas and from other clowns. All can be elaborated upon, and almost all can be made into hats. But Noodles didn't make hats on New Year's Eve because they take longer to make. As it was, they had to close and lock the doors to get her out on time.

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