@story MARCUS COKER
@images COURTESY BILL BROWN ENTERTAINMENT
The sun is shining at the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair, and Dan Poor, who is fifty, is standing ninety-feet above the ground on a platform the size of a record album. Below him, a crowd has gathered close to a pool of water, craning their necks to see what will happen. From Dan’s perspective, the pool, which is twenty-four feet wide and nine-and-a-half feet deep, could be covered with a half dollar, and Dan’s supposed to land in it. As the crowd starts clapping, Dan raises his arms above his head and prepares to jump.
Eighty-five feet below, the surface of the water is smooth. In fact, it’s hard to tell the top of the pool from the bottom. So other divers begin to splash the water, making the surface more visible from up high. And then it happens. Dan somersaults three times, does a half twist, and hits the water going fifty-five miles an hour. “The shock of entering the water is comparable to jumping off the top of a six-foot ladder and landing on concrete without bending your knees,” says Dan. “If the landing’s not perfectly vertical, the pain can be tremendous.”
The crowd is silent, waiting to see if Dan’s okay. In a few moments, he emerges on the side of the pool, smiling and waving as if the whole thing is no big deal. But it is. With each jump comes the possibility of injury or death. “I’m afraid every time,” says Dan, “but I keep coming back because conquering that fear is an incredible feeling.”
Dan is part of a group of performers that travels worldwide entertaining audiences like the ones at the Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair. The group is called Bill Brown Entertainment and includes trampolinists, tumblers, and divers. During this year’s fair, which is September 21-29, the performers will put on a free twenty-minute trampoline and diving show three times a day.
The show includes five divers and an announcer. They start on a trampoline in front of the pool, flipping and twisting in the air. First they go forward, then backwards. Some land on their backs, others on their stomachs, bouncing high in the air and doing handstands on the side of the pool before they come back down.
Next are the dives into the pool, one, two, even five at a time. Sometimes in costumes, the performers crawl along the diving boards and climb the tower, bouncing or flying off into the water. They crisscross each other in the air, and then appear to land on their faces or backsides—anything for a laugh. “The easier it looks, the harder it is,” says Bill Brown, owner of Bill Brown Entertainment.
Most of the dives are from springboards that extend out across the water, but several of them are from twelve-by-twelve inch platforms about sixteen or thirty-three feet above the water. “Thirty-three feet is as high as they go in the Olympics,” says Bill, “We do many dives that you see in the Olympics, plus many others. Some of ours are harder because they use two people or more.”
The divers continue until the show is over—twisting and tucking in the air, sometimes holding onto each other as they somersault into a pool no deeper than most ceilings are tall. When the show is over, they’re smiling and taking pictures with the crowd.
Everyone—the crowd and the divers—seem to love it. Still, a show like this isn’t without challenges. Tim, a twenty-one-year-old gymnast from Michigan, has bruises all along his arms. He says, “I’m used to landing with my arms out. Sometimes, when diving, I forget to pull them in.” Bill says, “He’s just new to diving. He can do a triple twisting back somersault on the floor, no problem. But when you adapt it to diving, you still have to fall nine or ten feet at the end of the move.” Bill slaps his hand on the table and says, “When you’re learning, the first few go like this.”
For Bill, who grew up as a diver, the bumps and bruises are part of the gig. “A lot of us, like Dan and me, are old timers and can do this in our sleep. But if you mess up, it can bite you. For example, you have to learn how to lift your shoulders as you enter the water so you slide across the pool. Once, a long time ago, I messed up and broke my legs. I was on the bottom before I knew I was wet.”
Now, at the age of fifty-seven, Bill still dives. “I have a little juice left, so I dive when I feel like it. My body is fine, I just can’t do as much at the speed as I used to.” That’s what’s inspiring about Bill—he doesn’t let anything keep him from what he loves, at least not something like age, or even cancer.
“In 1996, I was taking chemotherapy three times a week for stage-four melanoma. We were performing in China, and I had my shots with me. The doctor said I had a five percent chance of living. But I didn’t slow down. We traveled to The Georgia National Fair, and I tried to do a dive and landed flat on my face. I had no energy. I was ignorant and didn’t want it to get the best of me, so I just kept going.”
Sixteen years later, Bill’s okay, still travelling the globe with his diving shows and giving people the time of their lives. “The audiences are what keep us going. Sometimes they laugh; sometimes they cry. We live for those moments.” No doubt, when you see the divers tuck, twist, and take off, you’ll flip with joy and wish you could tumble through the sky like they do. But please, whatever you do, don’t try this at home.For more information, visit arkansasoklahomafair.com or billbrownentertainment.com.