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Flailing fly guys blamed for heeby

May 15, 2023

Dear Otus,

I'm still shaking. It's the stuff of nightmares.

I took my family down to the Fire Safety Day at the Clinton Library last Saturday and there was one of those wiggly dancing inflatable things. No matter where I went, it followed me with its beady eyes and spastic arms. (Photo attached.)

Is it just me, or are there others who find those things disturbing?

-- Penny Wise,

North Little Rock

Dear Penny,

It was wholly a pleasure to hear from you and a further pleasure to reassure you that you are not alone.

Those fan-operated tube creations are frequently used in advertising and are called sky dancers or air dancers. In some parts of the country they are known as air puppets or wavy tube dancers.

The picture you sent (reprinted here for the edification of readers) is of a 15-foot arrow dancer. Had it been used for advertising, a logo or directions to an entrance would be printed on the arrow.

I've seen arrow dancers priced around $400. However, the high-end, two-legged, 28-foot "fly guy" dancers can cost as much as $1,300 (with fans). It was with the anthropomorphic fly guy that all the trouble began.

In 1995, Trinidadian Carnival artist Peter Minshall was hired to prepare an opening ceremony for the Atlanta Olympic Games. Minshall hired Los Angeles-based Israeli artist Doron Gazit, a specialist in inflatable tubes, to help him perfect his "tall boys," as he called them.

Gazit's fly guy air dancers made their debut at the 1996 Games to generally positive reviews for their novelty and quirkiness.

Gazit then went on to patent the devices and what was once considered an art piece soon found its way from farm fields (as scarecrows) to car lots.

And, because of the unassuming naivete of parents everywhere, they were soon haunting the nightmares of little children.

Once considered as innocuous as inflatable bouncy houses and slides, air dancers began showing up at children's birthday parties as a substitute for clowns, which had fallen out of favor after the theatrical release of Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988).

Clowns, especially the subset that twists balloons into animal shapes, have been demonstrated by the Society for Pediatric Research to have warped the psychological development of two entire generations of children.

The fear of clowns is known as coulrophobia. However, the study of automatonophobia -- fear of humanoid figures or anything that falsely represents a sentient being -- is still in its infancy.

Dr. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is one of the few experts in the nascent field of automatonophobia research.

"Most studies consider automatonophobia to be a subgenre of gelotophobia, pupaphobia or scoleciphobia," Nahasapeemapetilon said. "The rhythmic, asymmetric kinetic motion of the tube is the result of interaction between the air flow and the flexible membrane of the device and is evident during turbulent air flow.

"When the ratio, signified by the Reynolds number (Re), of inertial forces to viscous forces exceeds 4,000, the tube buckles and gyrates in a hypnotic fashion and can cause a reaction not unlike the stimulus-sensitive seizures caused by flashing lights.

"Children, especially, will stare at air dancers for hours. The resulting effects are typically sublimated until REM sleep and the child awakens with an air dancer-induced nightmare.

"In adults, automatonophobia symptoms are frequently presented as a feeling of unease, even nausea and dyspepsia. They are often dismissed as simple gastroesophageal reflux or any condition treated with simethicone.

"Not uncommon are symptoms of derealization, traumatic generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or what's known in the profession as EVE -- 'eisdem vaporibus ebulliens' in Latin."

When asked to break that down in layman's terms, Nahasapeemapetilon said, "Air dancers are creepy. They give people the heebie-jeebies."

Until next time, Kalaka reminds you there is help at ADDS (Air Dancer Disorder Support), which meets the second Tuesday of the month in the Bobby Leon Roberts Meeting Room on the sixth floor of the CALS Main Library in Little Rock. Sign up at the Website,, promo code: Zukunftschancen.


Fayetteville-born Otus the Head Cat's award-winning column of

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HomeStyle on 10/17/2015

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