Star of the gypsy circus

October 25, 2013

Paris, France

By Philippe Wojazer

“I want to become one of the best Flamenco dancers” said Roujenka, 13, the youngest daughter of Romanes Circus founders, Delia and Alexandre. The circus, located on the outskirts of Paris, is a small Gypsy circus and is entirely family-run. It is comprised of a tent in an enclave along this busy Parisian boulevard.

After asking her father, Roujenka became the first member of the family to go to school. Her three sisters and a brother were educated by teachers coming to the circus. “I have many problems at school”, Roujenka said. “The other pupils make fun of me because I do not dress like them. It is out of the question for me to give up my culture and wear trousers and they do not even try to understand why I wear my long and colorful dresses. It is becoming harder and harder for me to be who I am even more since my community was attacked in France. I am happy with my sisters, my brother and my parents, and the way I live. We do not harm anyone but we are always criticized.”

When I asked about her hobbies, I was expecting a simple answer, like one given by most 13-year-old girls. “I do not watch television. I do not have stuffed animals. My animals are the cats running everywhere in the circus. I do not go shopping, this is not our way of life, it’s not in our culture. The only place I go shopping is the Flamenco tailor but it is very expensive. I have three dresses, one red and white, a yellow one and a black with white spots. When I get off from school, I practice my Flamenco dancing, I sing, I rehearse, I listen to music. My sister Alexandra is a great trapeze artist and she teaches me a lot too. All this is with the goal to improve my skills.”

Roujenka, who sleeps and lives in her parent’s caravan painted green with the message: “We all have a drop of Jewish and Gypsy blood” on it, was testing wearing make-up the morning I arrived. Suddenly her father Alexandre’s voice resonated, “All under the big top, we have the first show tonight and we have to rehearse”. It took half an hour to find everybody: musicians, artists, three of four daughters, the son Sorin but Roujenka was ready in a minute. She is the main character in their new show “Voleurs de Poules!” (Chicken Thieves!), an allusion to gypsies.

An hour before the show, Roujenka sat in the caravan to concentrate and review her performance in her head. When the show started, Roujenka was no longer a young teenager but a real artist, she sang, danced and juggled with fire.

She didn’t stop for almost two hours. When the lights dimmed and the spectators were all gone, the young artist was the last one left. She looked at me and said, “I think I will go to bed to rest now”. At that moment she returned to her childhood.

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