He ran away to join the circus and became a world-class juggler, traveling the world

As I watched the Pope spin the ball on his finger, I felt that familiar awe and wonder only the circus brings. The crowd began to cheer and gasp as I continued my juggling act. The thud of the soccer balls as they bounced off my head and feet, and the swish of the rings as they soared through the air, created a symphony of sound. I felt sweat dripping down my face as I moved with grace and precision.

  • 1 year ago
  • May 6, 2023
5 min read
Yaikel performed with his circus troop at the Vatican for Pope Francis. Yaikel performed with his circus troop at the Vatican for Pope Francis. | Photo courtesy of the archives of the National Circus of Cuba
Yaikel Plasencia Ramos grew up in Cuba, where he eventually joined a traveling circus at a young age. He later studied at the National Circus School in Havana where he earned the top prize for a graduating circus artist. He worked on his juggling act for 24 years and travels the world with his circus troop.
The artists of the Circus of Cuba recently performed for the Pope at the Vatican.
Juggling remains one of the hardest tricks to perform at the circus, and takes years of training to master the discipline behind it.

SANCTI SPÍRITUS, Cuba — When I perform as a juggler, my name is Yaikel Roy. I fell in love with the art of the circus when I was seven years old and decided to pursue it as a career.

My juggling has taken me to prestigious squares in France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. We created magic for people of all ages. Every time I walk onstage and stare out into the audience, I feel more alive than I ever before. The job never stops rewarding me. In fact, it feels strange to even think of it as a job.

As I stand in the center of the stage, I feel the weight of the objects in my hands, the smoothness of the rings, and the texture of the balls. Their bright colors catch the light and reflect in my eyes. I begin to move as my arms and hands extend. The objects take flight, and the dance begins. I feel a rush of adrenaline as I throw each object higher and higher, while my heart pounds in my chest. The sound of the crowd’s cheers makes me feel safe.

Related: Wheelchair-bound man in Argentina becomes professional Circus dancer

I ran away to join the circus 

In 1999, in the town of Iguará, Yaguajay, I saw the Circus Brigade perform Los Bambisitos, led by retired instructor and artist Cirilo Esmer Hernández. That show changed my life. A jolt of electricity ran through my body as I watched the crowd cheer at the beautiful colors and tricks.  

Everything in the circus fascinated me. I loved the costumes, the crowds, and the performances. After the show, I decided to leave home to meet Esmer. When I found him, he asked me to talk to my parents, and I said they had given me their blessing. 

I told him how badly I wanted to join the circus, and he took me under his wing. Esmer warned me that juggling was one of the most difficult disciplines in the trade, but I felt determined. We trained in an old communal house of culture, in a huge room. When you entered, a mural to the right showcased photos of all the boys who worked at the circus. 

During training and rehearsals, Esmer sat on an old wooden stool by the door, encouraging us. As I practiced my skills, I felt the excitement and anticipation building. I tried to touch the glass tile on the false ceiling with a ball as I juggled. The colors, sounds, and smells of the circus became a constant presence in my life, filling me with joy and wonder. 

An adventure that led me to meet the Pope 

After graduating from the National Circus School in Havana, I began to travel. During one such trip, the troop ended up in the Vatican for a performance. I never imagined sharing my juggling act with Pope Francis. My heart pounded like crazy as I approached him. Afraid security might intervene, I mustered the courage to continue. Timidly, I asked the Pope if I could speak to him. He kindly nodded and smiled. As adrenaline coursed through my veins, I embarked on a trick I often perform at shows. I passed him a spinning ball, carefully balanced on my finger.

Yaikel trained with one of the best performers in the industry, Cirilo Esmer Hernández. | Photo courtesy of M&G Anima Event.

As I watched the Pope spin the ball on his finger, I felt that familiar awe and wonder only the circus brings. The crowd began to cheer and gasp as I continued my juggling act. My eyes scanned the crowd, and I knew, I would remember that day forever.

Juggling remains one of the most unsafe, difficult acts in the circus

Juggling is not just difficult, it is dangerous. I must remain constantly aware of my surroundings and the moving objects in the air. The slightest miscalculation leads to catastrophic failure. I focus intensely on the height, speed, and trajectory of each item, anticipating every move. Each muscle in my body works hard to keep the balls in the air; so that they do not collide or fall to the ground.

A shot of Yaikel juggling bowling pins during one of his shows. | Photo courtesy of Laurent Bugnet

Nowadays, in my act, I juggle with eight rings and seven balls: two ping pong balls in my mouth, two balls spinning in my hands, and the rest in the air. The soccer balls challenge me the most. Too big to hold, I must keep them in the air at all times, relying on quick reflexes. The rush of air as they whiz past my face feels exhilarating but also terrifying. One wrong move and they could collide with each other and hit me in the face. 

The intensity of keeping still and focusing on my movements, despite the danger, creates an undeniable thrill. When I complete a difficult pattern, I feel triumphant. It keeps me coming back night after night. The circus has taken me around the world – pushing the limits of what is possible while inspiring others. One day, I want to return to my small town of Iguará where I first learned to juggle. I want to perform a free show with my brother for the villagers. Then, I will have come full circle.

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