The Ruska Roma is the largest Romani group in Russia and thought to be the first to arrive in the 18th century. Some of them have become famous as musicians and dancers, and have even enjoyed public esteem in film and art. The Ruska Roma have had a higher standard of living than most Romani groups due to their admiration as performing artists among the Russian populace.
The Russian gadje (non-Romani) people felt an affinity to the nomadic Gypsy’s romantic image and their perceived carefree life. They were free to do as they pleased and engage in passionate self-expression through music, song, and dance. This happy fantasy was not the reality for many Roma who historically faced persecution. However, this idealized image suited the Russian temperament, whose elite during the 19th century engaged in lavish dinner parties that featured entertainment by the crowd-pleasing Gypsy choruses. To “go to the Gypsies” was a common phrase associated with leaving one’s cares behind and indulging in music, drink, and the company of alluring exotic women imbued with magical powers of seduction.
Following the Gypsy choruses came the Romen Theater, which opened in Moscow in 1931 and featured ensembles of dancers, singers, and musicians performing operettas with Romani themes.
Romen Theater Office Website
Russians composed songs on themes of idyllic Gypsy life. The Roma, playing into the stereotype reflected in popular music, literature, and films, incorporated these songs and their romanticized images into their repertoire. The Ruska Roma made a substantial living adapting their presentation to suit expectations of their culture’s romantic image. Because of this, they were able to integrate into Russian society more than other groups. The Romen Theater continues to be a central feature of Romani culture in Russia, and is the largest Romani theater in the world.
With an established history as a theatrical genre, Russian Romani dance blends traditional elements, such as foot-stomping, with theatrical staging and takes inspiration from Russian aesthetics. Joyful and energetic, the Ruska Roma women’s dance uses a wide full skirt in large graceful swirling movements, expressive arms held high over the head, exuberant turns and backbends, and exciting percussive footwork.
Traditional Romani dancing involved bare feet stomping exuberantly with expressive arms, and snapping fingers held high. The skirt was not used as a prop, though it is a central feature of today’s theatrical dance form.