Who Invented Roadside Arm-Waving Air Dancers?

Where did the inflatable dancing man come from? You know what we mean: the tall fabric puppets that you attach to a fan and let loose to dance in the air, capturing the attention of people passing by. Where did the air dancer come from? They’ve been around for less than 18 years, and have an origin story involving three countries and the Olympic Games.

The immediate ancestor of the air dancer that we know and love from the modern roadsides are massive inflatable puppets that were part of the opening ceremonies at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. The project had a true international spirit, originating in fabric dancing puppets that are part of celebrations in the Caribbean. A Carnival parade artist from Trinidad, Peter Minshall, came up with the original concept for humanoid marching puppets filled with air. Israeli artist Doran Gazit, who specializes in inflatable forms, figured out the practical side, and the ancestors of the Air Dancer…Tube Guy…whatever you call them, was part of the opening ceremonies at the 1996 Olympics.

From there, the story develops complications: Gazit patented the men without Minshall’s permission, but they ultimately did not fight this out in court. The air-dancer technology has been licensed to a variety of companies, eventually devolving into the distracting balloon-puppet things that we see on roadsides to this day.

Episode 143: Inflatable Men [99% Invisible]
Biography of an Inflatable Tube Guy [Re:form]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.