Circus artist confronts physical challenge
by Ruth Moon
Juggling two or three tennis balls is more than most people can handle — throw in a couple more balls and a debilitating hand disease, and many would throw in the towel.
But Edwards resident Randi Foster approached the challenge head-on.
Her battle with a connective tissue disorder that affects her wrists and hands began when she was in eighth grade. Randi, now 18, can’t use the trapeze or juggle large objects, but she has figured out how to work around her handicap to pursue her circus dreams, and the Edwards Rotary Club is helping her along.
The Rotary Club gave Randi a $4,000 onetime scholarship for the upcoming school year. The scholarship is renewable annually, but usually given to freshmen. This year, the Edwards Rotary Club gave out 20 scholarships to high school seniors and four scholarships to continuing college students from the area, club board member Darlene Henderson said.
In the fall, Randi, who just finished her senior year at Vail Mountain School, will attend Fort Lewis College in Durango. She will major in education and plans on teaching elementary school.
But she’s not waiting for a degree to begin teaching; for the past five years, she’s been teaching fifth-graders at Vail Mountain School how to juggle. She also helps in the kindergarten classroom and is a student teacher for the high school AP calculus I class.
Her teaching doesn’t stop when class is out. For the past two summers, Randi has coached unicycle, tight wire, juggling and partner acrobatics at Colorado Academy in Denver, a private school with summer programs including an arts academy, a technology workshop and an academic institute.
“She’s really affable — easy to get along with, but totally dedicated to her art,” said David Wadsworth, director of summer programs at Colorado Academy. For most of her seven years at the academy, he said Randi has choreographed her own 15-minute dance routines to perform.
Randi’s love for all things circus began when her cousin taught her to juggle at age 10. Although she can’t juggle large objects anymore and can’t juggle small objects for a long time, Randi has managed to set some pretty high records with her juggling.
“I don’t really count records anymore because I got to over 1,000 and I got tired of it,” she said.
She then moved on to more complicated patterns; she can juggle up to five balls, juggle on a tightrope, and juggle giant blue rings.
For her Rotary scholarship application, Randi had to submit an essay and a questionnaire and meet with the scholarship committee for an interview, where the committee asked her about extracurricular activities.
“I told them about circus arts and said I can juggle,” she said. “They handed me three apples, and so I juggled for them.”
For her senior project at Vail Mountain School, Randi created a 30-minute dance routine composed of six dances she choreographed combining dance and circus arts. The dances, choreographed to music like the soundtrack to the movie “Anne of Avonlea” and the soundtrack to “August Rush,” use circus props and dance moves to create interesting forms of movement.
One circus tool Randi uses, called a diabolo, looks like two blue toilet plungers joined together at the top. As Randi balanced the butterfly-looking prop on a string stretched between two batons, she began twirling it and tossing it in the air to the guitar-thumping strains of “August Rush.”
“It’s harder than it looks,” she commented as she twirled.
Next, she tossed a top hat in the air and began a juggling routine with three blue plate-sized rings and the hat bouncing back and forth in the air.
Randi has never juggled chainsaws, swords or knives, but has played around with torches. She said she has to toss them so they complete one full rotation in the air, so she can throw and catch the handle instead of the flaming end.
“It’s not a super-hot flame because it’s oil that’s burning — lamp oil — but yeah, you don’t really want to catch the fire,” she said with a laugh.
Michael Ioli, upper school director and Spanish teacher at Vail Mountain School, has worked with Randi for the past seven years as her adviser and teacher. Ioli has helped Randi come up with special accommodations for her disorder; among other things, she had to have a scribe write down her dictation for AP exams.
But through it all, Ioli has been impressed by Randi’s creativity and work ethic.
“She’s done performances several times at the school where she wows the crowd — she does the ballerina-type juggling circus acts with unicycles and things,” he said. “She’s one of the most mature kids I’ve worked with.”