A team of 16 young Chinese acrobats arrived here ready to dazzle Americans with their backflips, cartwheels and human pyramids, but their U.S. tour began with two nights at a homeless shelter.
A mysterious circus promoter from Wisconsin failed to meet the performers when they arrived Monday at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Instead, he called Bill Thompson, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission homeless shelter.
The promoter, who gave only his first name, Gary, told Thompson he had run out of money and needed someone to pick up the acrobats, who range in age from 13 to 20.
"He sounded desperate, no doubt," Thompson said. "From what I know, it seems to be poor planning more than anything else."
Thompson and other shelter workers arrived at the airport in three vans and no clue how to find the troupe. Thompson finally found a group of 18 people who fit the bill -- 16 acrobats and two adults -- and broke through the language barrier by saying "the one word we could all agree on: acrobat."
The Shanghai-based Guanhua Acrobatic team spent two nights at the mission, but first, Thompson took them to a McDonald's. "They all ordered the No. 9: grilled chicken," Thompson said.
The troupe put on an impromptu show for reporters Wednesday, tossing straw hats like boomerangs and performing acrobatic moves with ease. They also seemed remarkably sanguine about their situation, saying it was status quo for circus performers.
The acrobats, who planned a 10-month U.S. tour, said through a translator that they were looking forward to possible performances in the Dallas area, Chicago, Wisconsin and Las Vegas.
'We're used to waiting'
"I have a confidence we can find a tour in the U.S.," said Wenbin Gao, one of the adults traveling with the acrobats. "We're used to it. We're used to waiting."
Contacted by The Associated Press, the circus promoter refused to give his last name during a telephone interview. He called the mistake "a little scheduling snafu," saying trailers he purchased for the group never arrived in Texas because of recent snowstorms in the Midwest.
The promoter said he has lined up performances for the troupe, but refused to give specifics.
"Nobody is trying to do anything shifty," he said. "I'm trying to do something nice, not something dastardly. It's already fixed."
By Wednesday afternoon, the promoter said he arranged for the group to stay at a ranch near Dallas owned by another performer. Thompson confirmed they had left.
"They are going to another performer's place and they are warm and getting fed," the promoter said. "We're going to get them performing and get them happy."