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Every Weekend, A Multicolored, Balloon-Clad, Sequin-Infused, Socially-Distant Parade Makes Its Way Through Some Kansas City Neighborhoods

Julie Denesha
Masks are a requirement as performer and artist Molly Balloons leads a parade of balloon-clad revelers through the Volker neighborhood in Midtown. The event encouraged residents to watch from porches or join in the procession keeping a minimum of ten feet apart.

With neighborhoods quieted by coronavirus fears and large gatherings still discouraged, one artist found a unique way to bring joy to the streets.

Every Sunday night some 30 colorfully-dressed, mask-wearing revelers gather — while keeping their distance — on the corner of Valentine and Genessee in Midtown. It’s a pandemic parade, organized weekly by the entertainer and artist known as Molly Balloons. The crew winds through the Volker neighborhood, waving to residents in their houses and on porches.

"I throw kindness around like confetti, and sprinkle pizzazz around the world like it’s my job — because it is,” Molly Balloons says with a laugh. She's a balloon artist and performance artist in Kansas City. She makes quirky dresses and costumes out of balloons for all sorts of occasions.

While her creations are big and beautiful, they’re also temporary. "They deflate the moment you start creating them, so you are on a time clock,” says Molly Balloons. She says balloon outfits make the perfect social distancing tool. The squeaky skirts she sculpts with hundreds of balloons spread out a lofty six feet across. “One of the brilliant things about balloons is you can make these massive, expansive outfits that sprawl across a Midtown street, and you can fill up so much space because it’s full of air!”

Julie Denesha
Decked out in parade gear, Sarah Belohlavy marches with the crew along neighborhood streets.

Shonda Garrison is one of the paraders. Dressed in festive cowboy fashion and wearing a face mask, she rings a cowbell and rides a colorful kid's bike. She leads the way through the neighborhoods on a parade route that changes each week. The event encourages residents to watch from porches or join in the procession.

“Come join us, but stay away from us, because we want to keep the safe distance of at least ten feet so it’s all about getting together to have fun," says Garrison. She says the main goal is to spread a little fun in neighborhoods quieted by the pandemic. “Love this neighborhood and love the people in it," says Garrison. "I know a lot of people are getting a little stir crazy, and so I just want to go and spread joy.”

Julie Denesha
Sporting a sparkly purple wig, Grant Lesher strides down the street at the head of the procession.

Sarah Belohlavy wears all white with a houndstooth jacket, topping it off with a jaunty Derby hat. Belohlavy says she's ready for a little merriment. "I’m here for some fun because I have been home for two months like a lot of people,” says Belohlavy.

Molly Balloons says it's essential to find fun ways to celebrate, even amidst a global pandemic. But it doesn't mean that she's making light of it.“We’re like what — two months into quarantine? And everybody has quite the appetite for gatherings larger than ten people, and it’s literally not safe to do so yet in any conventional way."

"It’s my job to be creative," she adds. "Whether or not I’m being paid for it or not, whatever, there’s no economy. There’s nobody being paid for anything.”

Julie Denesha
Jason Reinhard strolls by a painted wall on the Do Good Co. building on Terrace Street.

Molly Balloons also recruited Jason Reinhard for her small army of performers. His shiny red pants and floor-length sequin robe sparkle in the late afternoon sunlight.“To be honest, I’m here because Molly Balloons was like, ‘Come to my parade. I’m going to dress you up and put you in it,’" remembers Reinhard. "And here we are.”

Julie Denesha
At dusk, an upside down pedestrian sign greets merrymakers on parade through Midtown neighborhoods.

Molly Balloons says she's an entertainer at her core, so she focuses on what she can do. “Some people are going to cure cancer in this life — I’m not," she says. "Some people are wearing face masks every day because they’re going to their job at the hospital.

"I’m none of those things. I’m Molly Balloons. Nobody else is going to make your life fun. That’s up to you, baby. So, come on. Put your house shoes on. Join the parade.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Kansas City. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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