BUSHWICK — The epiphany struck her at age 22, when she entered a Nashville hotel lobby as experts inflated, contorted and competed with colorful rubber balloons at the "Twist and Shout" balloon convention.
"My whole life changed, I was just like, 'I want to do this with my life,'" recalled Katie Balloons, whose birth name before she rechristened herself is irrelevant, she insisted.
"I thought I was just going to a nerdy balloon convention, like a 'Star Trek' convention. It was nerdy, but it was amazing."
Since then, the southern Virginia native has made her living perfecting the art of creating, wearing, and performing in balloons, and has been featured on TLC and various other news outlets for her skills.
Now the Bushwick-based Balloons is preparing for a Halloween extravaganza at Chelsea's Dream Downtown hotel, where the 28-year-old will create a balloon environment for the event company Brightest Young Things.
"I love balloons in such an undying way...I was called to it like you just know you want to marry someone," she said. "I've been Katie Balloons since I was born — it just took me a little while to realize it."
Her diverse repertoire includes a burlesque striptease in which she creates and steps into a giant golden bubble, strutting on stilts in a handmade balloon dress, creating balloon drops (in which the bubbles drop from overhead onto the crowd), and dancing in a bikini with balloon accessories that she then uses to float in a "hipster pool party."
Last month, Balloons also co-starred on TLC's reality show "The Unpoppables," which followed her and two other balloon-makers as they prepared intricate sculptures on last-minute deadlines.
And for fans seeking an extra bang for their balloon, she occassionally partners with her pet ferret Herman, who she also brings on the subway and on strolls around the city, as Herman's new Facebook page shows.
"Herman can join the act if I'm wearing balloons. I carry him as part of the costume. He doesn't know any tricks, but the audience loves to coo over him," she said. "He can be held and petted. It's just over the top quirk. A girl wearing balloons and holding a ferret! He likes biting balloons, so I have to be careful."
Balloons, who has offices both in Brooklyn and in Washington, D.C., is always pushing her own limits, experimenting with different approaches to balloons and teaching herself new skills.
"I might as well have gone to school for it," she said of her constant practice with balloons, a medium that came naturally to her even as a child.
"I think the thing that sets me apart from a lot of balloonists is that I am young, and so my approach is young," she added. "But what happens when I am old?"
For now, though, she's happy to bask in the bubble-filled glory.
"Some call me a diva, some call me a perfectionist," she said, "but really, I'm just a lot of fun."