Life behind the tent

Circus workers travel from town to town, meet new people year-round

"Everybody wants to join the circus," Berengere Naidenkine said with a smile in her heavy French accent, setting up an easel and paints in the entryway to the tent.

But unlike most, Berengere has been with the circus for almost 13 years. Others join the circus on a whim and then leave quickly.

"They stay for one week because it's a 12-hour-a-day job," she said.

Those who were at the Circus Chimera in Craig on Aug. 30 and Aug. 31 probably saw Berengere painting faces during intermission. More likely, circus goers were dazzled by her flaming hula-hoop performance.

What circus-goers don't see is the life behind the tent, living on the road year-round, the country home in France she gets to see only once every few years, the familiarity of home that becomes familiarity of the road.

Twelve years ago, Berengere was fresh out of painting school and searching for work in Bordeaux, France. She heard a Russian troop was in town performing and made her way to the circus to find work painting signs.

It wasn't long before she met Evgueni Naidenkine, a clown, who became her husband. At the drop of a hat she left her country and her old life for one on the road.

"We had to find a way," Berengere said about the language barrier with her Russian husband. "That's the circus life. It's a lot of mixed weddings."

But they got through the language and soon Evgueni's sons were graduating high school and moving from Russia to join their father in the ring.

Evgueni's son, 26-year-old Vilen Naidenkine, came to America in 1997 to perform with his father.

"For one year, you can see more of the U.S. than anybody who lives here for your whole life," Vilen said from inside his trailer while his father finished putting on his clown ensemble in the back.

During one tour, Vilen and his family will see about 120 towns.

That life on the road means a life without a permanent residence and time away from some friends and family.

Berengere said it was the little things she missed, like her home country's food. But this lifestyle is the one for her.

"I like to meet different people, in different societies," Berengere said. "You can paint when you're 60 years old. You can't always perform in the circus when you're 60. Well, maybe you can, but you have to put on a mask."

John Henry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or jhenry@craigdailypress.com.

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