“How did you find us?”, asks Brigita Rodrigues, opening the door to her tango salon on the upper floor on a former cultural house in Petrašiūnai micro-district of Kaunas. Known more for its chimney-filled landscape than for tango, the micro district is not the most poetic one in the city. Yet. We do believe the emotional temperature of Petrašiūnai has risen a few degrees since the tango-dancing couple of Brigita and Carlos has moved in here. So, how did we find them? Google knows everything.
How long has your Tango salon been open?
Carlos: Three years.
Brigita: I lived in Vilnius before, and I had my own tango school there. Initially, I am from Šiauliai. I graduated from the academy and opened my school. I spent 17 years in the capital of Lithuania. Carlos actually came to a milonga in my salon - this is how we met.
Carlos, why did you come to Europe from Argentina?
Carlos: It was six years ago. I received an invitation to work as a tango teacher in St. Petersburg, Russia. When the contract – and my visa – finished, I had two options – to go back home or continue my trip. I chose the latter and first went to Tallinn, Estonia, as it was close to St. Petersburg. I worked there for four months and later travelled to Riga. Then Vilnius, where someone told me I had to dance with the best tango dancer in Lithuania. And this is how I met Brigita. I invited her for a dance...
... and you are still dancing, right?
Carlos: Yes! Actually, we started talking about working together immediately. It was December 2012, and a huge tango event was held. We danced a lot there. I asked Brigita to have dinner with me and proposed her to become my partner. I told her about my contacts around the world and presented my idea to travel and work around the world. And to go to Buenos Aires in July – she had never been there!
Brigita: I told him I had to think. I had three jobs at that time – I taught kids, I had my own tango school that had just opened a year ago, and I also worked as a choreographer in a theatre. But Carlos told me it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. So I said I'd tell him my answer in the morning. And I send him an email in the morning, stating I would travel with him, but I'd need a few months to take care of everything.
Carlos: And then we started to dance a lot.
Brigita: I understood my tango was very bad! My first teacher was Eduardo Gimenez, I worked with him for some ten years, and I was really the best in Lithuania.
Carlos: Brigita is the professional dancer in our couple. She studied for so many years, she is also a teacher, she understands how the body works because she studied it at the university.
Brigita: And Carlos is the master of tango.
Carlos: So, of course, our start was complicated – we had to balance two very different experiences. Little by little, we succeeded. This is our story! Now, we are trying to grow the tango community here in Kaunas.
And why Kaunas?
Carlos: We came back to Lithuania after travelling around the world for three years when we were ready to settle down. We married in Buenos Aires, and then our baby girl arrived. When in Lithuania, we couldn't find a decent apartment to rent in Vilnius! I offered Brigita to check out Kaunas – she never had this idea, actually. For me, a one hour distance seemed very short. And, after living in Buenos Aires, which is a 15-million people city, both Vilnius and Kaunas seem very small for me. I see no difference. So, we found a nice apartment in Kaunas and moved here. After settling in, we found a place to teach tango. This salon is our third location, and tango is its primary and single purpose.
Brigita: In fact, there wasn't any tango school in Kaunas before we opened one. Some teachers, yes, but not a school. We are still the only one, but there are more teachers at the moment.
How old is the community here in Kaunas?
Brigita: I think it's about ten years old – that's when the first people started to dance the tango here. Of course, the community in Vilnius is more prominent. Now, I think, we have about 50 dancers.
How many first-timers come back to your salon for more lessons?
Carlos: All of them! One of our groups is our first pupils here in Kaunas. Tango is a specific dance. When people come to us for the first time, we explain that we don't want only to teach them the tango steps. We also want to share our culture, and this is usually very interesting. It's meeting new people, making friends – it's a way of life. We spread the tango virus.
Usually, it's the woman who asks her husband or partner to learn the tango, but quite soon, after realising the man is the leader in tango, men become very excited. We give the power to the men, and the women learn how to follow their partner, and open up their feminine side. It's usually the women who lead the couples in contemporary society, and tango is entirely the opposite. The man breathes, and the woman breathes through the man. The man listens to the music, and the woman listens to the music through the man. Without a man, there's no tango, and he is responsible for the whole situation.
Carlos, did you start dancing the tango when you were a little boy? Are there more dancers in your family?
Carlos: Tango for us is life, particularly in Buenos Aires. The dance itself is just 5 per cent of the whole culture of Tango Argentino. Poets, dancers, musicians, teachers... There's even a peculiar dialect, a street slang used in tango culture – Lunfardo. I was born into this culture, so, yes, I started very young. My mother is a tango singer, and she is very passionate about it, she knows all the poets and the musicians, and my grandfather was a dancer.
Are there many Argentinians in Kaunas?
Carlos: I know only one – Esteban Colucci, he plays the guitar.
So what do you do when you miss Argentina?
Carlos: Well, we invite masters – dancers and musicians – from Buenos Aires – they share their knowledge with local dancers. Musicians, too. We make events in other cities, also – Klaipėda, for example. Every Friday, we organise a milonga here, in the salon – everyone's invited to dance and mingle.
Would you like to live in Buenos Aires at some point?
Brigita: It's nice to spend a few months there and then come back home. But to live? I don't know. The economic situation isn't the best at the moment, and, of course, it'd be much more difficult for us to work there.
What about Šiauliai?
Brigita: Maybe one day? For us, it's essential to have enough people that want to learn the tango. A year ago, we tried to gather a group in Šiauliai, but it didn't happen. Of course, nobody knows about us there, we need more promotion. When we first came to Kaunas, the 'Dancing Old Town' event took place, and we participated there – we danced the tango in Rotušės square. I was seven months pregnant at the time!
So your daughter started learning the tango very early!
Carlos: She does copy us when we work!
What kinds of people come to your salon?
Carlos: I'd say it's usually people above 40. This year, younger people joined us, and we're pleased about that. If they're students, we offer a special discount.
What does one have to bring if he decides to visit your salon?
Carlos: And money.
Brigita: Yes, the women's shoes are expensive. And one pair is never enough. In fact, I even started my own shoe line, because I couldn't find the perfect and most comfortable shoes for me! I also studied orthopaedic shoe design here in Kaunas.
Join the community: tangosalon.lt
Interview by Kotryna Lingienė and Kęstutis Lingys for Kaunas Full of Culture magazine. Photos by Teodoras Biliūnas.