Circuses, Gypsies, and Poodles' length of leg

Study of images listed in "Gordon's Poodle Visuals" lead to the conclusion that Poodles acquired a greater (than before) length of leg during the course of the dog show movement, perhaps in order to display showcoats to best advantage. It's problematical to assess length of leg relative to other retrievers prior to the dog show movement, since Poodles pre-date the modern retrievers by many centuries; in addition, the Chessie is among the oldest of the modern retrievers and was always a long-legged dog. Dates present a conundrum also in relation to the circus. Our modern circus--as opposed to the ancient circus, and in which the ring/rings are the dimension at which a horse at a canter leans inwards and enables acrobatic feats; which displays trained animals and particularly horses, exotic animals, freaks, acrobats, clowns, etc.--dates from the end of the 18th century--late in Poodle-time (and establishment of Poodle leg-length prior to the dog-show movement). In relation to Poodles'/proto-Poodles' more ancient roles in performance troupes and as individual entertainers (see also Guide dogs, HEDs and special skills dogs), we present references.

So far, we've been unable to support a connection between Poodles and Gypsies, who arrived in Eastern Europe (from India/Pakistan) in the later Middle Ages. In support/denial of the Poodle/Gypsy connection, see British Circus Life, by Lady Eleanor Smith (London: Harrap, 1948), pp. 25-6: "The circus....language is a curious mixture of Romany, Italian, rhyming-slang, back-slang, and other expressions peculiar to the Big Top alone....It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the circus has absolutely nothing in common with the roaming Romany bands so frequently to be encountered in English lanes....between the two is a gulf so vast that no one unfamiliar with the tober [circus-pitch or circus-route] can really comprehend its immensity. The gypsies....are, on the whole, seldom show people. Rather they are tinkers, knife-grinders, horse-copers, or boxers....frequently found on the fairground, where they ...[conduct] rifle-ranges or coconut-shies....practice palmistry....are very rarely, if ever, to be found near the circus...consider circus people as Gajos--non-Gypsies....The people of the circus...keep...away from...Romanies, dismissing them contemptuously..."

A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia, by David M. Crowe (NY: St. Martin's Griffin, 1994) outlines the sorry tale of Gypsies in this area (where persecution continues to this day), with the happy exception of Gypsy dances and music celebrated in 19th century romanticism, for example, as expressed by (Hungarian) Liszt and as observed particularly in Russia where there was a famous Gypsy chorus, Gypsy cabarets in Moscow ("'beautiful Bohemians with gleaming teeth were performing--the terror of fiancées, wives, and mothers.'", Crowe, p. 168, quoting Lev Tolstoi's diary). Here are trained bears: Pushkin talked to Gypsy bear trainers in Akkerman and Izmail in the early 1820's; a bear is mentioned in his poem "The Gypsies" (1823-6): "In tattered tents they make their home..../A family for supper gathered,/...a tame bear lies behind their tent; nearby, untethered, / The horses graze...The steppe all round / Is full of life..." (Crowe, p. 165-6, quoting from Selected Works, translated by Irina Zheleznova, vol. 1; Poetry, Moscow: Progress, 1974, pp. 65; 82). Imperial Russia was more liberal towards (some) Gypsies than much of Eastern Europe. If a social group is forbidden at fairs, denied horses, forced to live on the outskirts of settled communities, live by stealing food and clothing, Poodles seem unlikely, and, indeed, none are mentioned. However, as we research Gypsies across Europe from east to west and back and forth within the centuries, we may yet be able to support Dorothy Macdonald in this connection.

Return to Circuses, Gypsies, and Poodles' length of leg