110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Mar 13, 2014 - 10:03:06am
The circus is coming to town!
Actually, the circus is already in town. DeLand is the winter headquarters of the Cole Bros. Circus. The clowns, trapeze artists, other performers, elephants, tigers, barkers and the rest of the crew are busy gearing up for the opening of the spring circus season — Cole Bros.’ 130th, which starts in DeLand Saturday, March 15.
A big attraction for kids of all ages is "the Human Cannonball," an act in which a man is fired from what Cole Bros. guarantees is the world's largest cannon, and he flies across the big top.
That man will be 28-year-old Dale Thomsen. Thomsen has been training for three years with circus veteran Elvin Bale.
Bale is a fifth-generation circus performer who was a human cannonball until an accident in 1987 left him walking with the use of canes.
The cannon had been set up, and a dummy of Bale's weight was used to measure how far to place the cannon from the net that would catch him. The trouble was, it had rained, and the dummy was wet and heavier than Bale. The calculation was flawed, and Bale came down on asphalt past the net, breaking many bones in the process.
Bale still loves the circus. He's vice president of operations for Cole Bros., as well as a trainer. He's taught a dozen or so human cannonballs their craft — very carefully.
Bale's parents had an animal act, and that’s where he started in circus work.
"I started with a shovel," he said.
But Bale was a daredevil from the get-go, even taking a car for a joy ride at the age of 6, during a French tour.
Bale's eyes were always lifted to the top of the tent, watching the aerialists. He became a trapeze artist and a human cannonball, flying through the air in a different manner.
A human cannonball is an aerial acrobat, Bale and Thomsen agreed. Being fired from the cannon is the least skilled part.
"It's like getting hit by a truck," Bale said.
The human cannonball must exit the cannon in a precise configuration and steer himself through the air to come to a safe landing in the net.
Thomsen, who hails from St. Cloud, Minn., said he loves the act and the circus. Like Bale, he was always a daredevil.
"When I told Mom I was doing the human cannonball, she just said, 'Have fun,'" Thomsen said. She knew protest would be futile.
While Thomsen wasn't born into the circus, he said, "I chose it … and I'm really excited to be part of the show."
Thomsen is in his second season with Cole Bros., and he has been training as a cannonball the whole time.
Thomsen's Human Cannonball act will close the show with a bang. He'll be shot 90 feet across the big top.
Kids of all ages love the act. Thomsen said he felt like Santa Claus during the circus parade in DeLand. Children looked at him in wide-eyed wonder.
Their eyes will get even wider during his act, so don't leave early.
But come to the circus a little early, Cole Bros. spokesman Chuck Werner said. Clowns will be on the midway with photo opportunities. Performers will act as ushers, and you'll recognize them when you see them in the ring, he said.
Tents will be set up on the DeLand Municipal Airport all week for practice and dress rehearsal.
Circus shows will be at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 15, and at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, March 16. Advance tickets are available at Downtown DeLand merchants and through the Cole Bros. website www.gotothecircus.com. The price for adults is $16, and $20 at the gate. Free tickets for children are available at Downtown locations, including The Beacon offices at 110 W. New York Ave.
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