Love, guidance and a few circus clowns turned a shy little boy into a spotlight stealer

A summer afternoon inside North Dallas’ Palaestra gym is compartmentalized chaos. Girls swing from colorful silks affixed to towering ceilings, teens tumble and flip alongside a back wall and a young man with bushy yellow hair balances a plunger on his nose. A woman encircled by children shifts from a handstand to her feet and says a few words, and the students disperse.

One of the youngsters, 12-year-old Kameron Badgers, makes his way to the guy with the plunger, who pulls from a wooden chest three theatrical-looking knives. He hands them to Kameron, who tosses one, then another, into the air.

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Here, at the Lone Star Circus School, Kameron has discovered and developed his charismatic and talented self, a part of him that, under different circumstances, might never have emerged.

Here, at the Lone Star Circus School, Kameron has discovered and developed his charismatic and talented self, a part of him that, under different circumstances, might never have emerged.

He juggles the three surprisingly sharp daggers with relative ease. When he drops one, he smiles and tries again.

“That’s his personality,” says Deb McAlister-Holland. “One of the things that makes him so good is the way he is able to recover.”

When Kameron was in second grade, he came from a tumultuous foster-care situation to live with Deb and Fred Holland his grandparents and legal guardians, Deb explains.

At the time, she says, “he couldn’t read, tie his shoes or look anyone in the eye.”

The Hollands, both in their 60s, enlisted Kameron in every camp imaginable during his first summer with them, trying to gauge his interests and keep him physically active (“because we are not as energetic as younger parents,” Deb says). He likes karate. But at Slappy’s Circus Camp, she says, Kameron fell in love with the clowns and the circus.

Under the Hollands’ guardianship, Kameron strived to improve both academically and as a performer.

Kameron enrolled in more performing arts and acting classes, all supported by the Hollands on the provision that he make good grades.

He now has an extensive résumé — he acquired an agent, Linda McAlister (no relation); acted in three independent movies, a pilot television show and a couple of commercials; and performed in parades, Six Flags shows and the popular holiday production Cirque Banquiste at the Dallas Children’s Theater, to name a few.

At school, Wallace Elementary, he always makes the honor roll, he sings in the choir, and his science projects have won first place two years running. Last semester, he emceed and performed in the school talent show. Kameron shares about life on his blog, kameronbadgers.com.

Though he auditions, often successfully, for parts, he says he does it because it is fun, not for the fame. “When you are famous, it is like everyone is looking at you, like you are in a fishbowl, and I don’t really want that.”

It’s difficult to draw self-congratulation from Kameron; he’d rather talk about his favorite coaches, clowns and friends. But he will tell you that — with the help of Lone Star’s Fanny Kerwich, Alora Scavella and Kelly Shea and clowns Zerp (Nic Rainone, the guy with the yellow afro), Slappy (Tiffany Riley) and Monday (Slappy’s husband, Dick Monday), to name a few — he got pretty good at juggling and really good at the diabolo (a juggling prop consisting of an axle and two discs).

“When it clicks and it’s there and you see the smile on their face, I am like, ‘yes!’ ”

Fred Holland, a retired teacher, describes his grandson as a formerly introverted kid transformed by his experiences with mentoring clowns and circus performers.

“This has given him an opportunity to see himself as capable of doing something. And he excels at it … he catches fire on the stage. That’s one of those elements that makes a real performer. That’s what the professionals like Slappy and Monday see in him. This is why he gets opportunities — because he is capable and they see that.”

The circus school has proved to be fertile soil for quiet or eccentric people to take root and find camaraderie and confidence, says Alora Scavella, an aerialist and the teacher who earlier demonstrated for students a proper handstand.

“They go from being shy, head down, to weeks later being very outgoing, like saying ‘how’s it going’ to everyone they see,” she says with a smile and a wave of the hand. Her favorite moments as a teacher are when she sees kids who have been struggling to perform a physical feat actually get it.

“When it clicks and it’s there and you see the smile on their face, I am like, ‘yes!’ ”

Kameron says the whole staff provides similar encouragement.

“When I finally do something perfectly, all the coaches are jumping up and down and applauding, and so are the other kids,” Kameron writes on his blog. “Miss Alora turned cartwheels when I finally climbed to the top of the silks after months and months of trying and not being strong enough to do it.”

Deb McAlister-Holland summarizes Kameron’s transition from “scared, shy little boy” to polished performer:

“All it took was love, the routine that comes with involved adults who will put in the time to support your dreams while enforcing simple rules like a regular bedtime, and teachers who can work magic. Kameron has all those things.”

The other thing about Kameron, Deb adds, is that he is so eager to do for the newer kids what others have done for him.

To that tune, Kameron offers these words of encouragement: “You don’t have to be a gymnast or even be skinny to be in the circus. I’m not. You don’t have to be extra strong or have some special talent to come to class. There’s something in the circus that everyone can do.”

Learn more about Lone Star Circus at lonestarcircus.com or call 214.206.1449.

Follow Kameron at kameronbadgers.com