by Alberto Paz
Copyright (c) 1998-2009, Planet Tango. All Rights Reserved
On June 12, 1998 the tango people of Buenos Aires packed Salon El Pial to honor Mingo Pugliese’s golden anniversary as a bailarin de tango. That is how the great master humbly defines himself, a tango dancer. The gala event started at 10:30 PM and lasted past 5 AM of the following morning. During the celebration Mingo was honored by many of his students who played, sung and danced tango and folklore numbers. There were people from neighbor countries Uruguay and Brazil, including several distinguished members of the Rio de Janeiro’s Jaime Aroxa Center for Dance and Sao Pablo’s Victor Costa Group. One of the most emotional presentations of the night was a surprise tribute by two of Mingo’s most talented and grateful disciples, son Pablo and daughter Marisa, who acknowledged their father’s enormous influence in the quality of their artistic and personal lives.
In sharp contrast with a common Buenos Aires practice of attracting customers for windfall profits by staging fake “homenajes” to both local and foreign individuals, the gigantic party was underwritten by the Pugliese family and admission was free. Long lines formed outside Salon El Pial as most of the evening, the salon’s capacity was largely exceeded. At the end more than 700 people have come to celebrate and joined those who admire and respect the son of Italian immigrants who started dancing in 1948.
Mingo Pugliese was born in the neighborhood of Villa Devoto. His father arrived to Buenos Aires in 1905 and first lived in a high crime area, by the Arroyo Maldonado, the creek that today flows under Juan B. Justo Avenue. In 1922 Gregorio Pugliese marry seventeen year old Maria Pugliese (no relationship), an Italian girl from Cozenza, Italy. They had three sons. Mingo is the youngest.
The arts claimed Mingo Pugliese’s attention at an early age but he never graduated from Fine Arts School because of political reasons. He was thrown out of school because his ideas clashed with the Peronist regime. It was around 1953-54. He had dissenting political views at a time when asking the wrong questions could get people in a lot of trouble.
By the time Mingo started dancing there was already a process of transformation in the way the tango was being danced. Two distinctive styles mixed in the dance halls. There were those who danced in the old way (an always illusive and subjective way to define something that has not way to be backed by credible evidence) and those who already were being part of the musical and dancing transformation.
In the early days (another fit all pair of words tossed around when there is no concrete evidence as to a real date), the tango appeared to have a 2 by 4 time signature, very much like a march . Around the turn of the twentieth century, a primitive tango hybrid derived a from other musical expressions, like the Habanera, the Candombe and the Fandango ws being heard and recorded acustically. The tango lacked musical arrangements until the appearance of Juan Carlos Cobian in the 1920s.
In 1940, a group of dancers led by Carlos Alberto Estevez, a.k.a. Petroleo and Salvador Sciana, a.k.a. El Negro Lavandina, were part of a new generation that was replacing the old dancing from the outskirts. According to Mingo, there has always been only two types of tango: salon and orillero. Salon was the tango that danced at the city salons. Orillero was the tango danced on the fringes of the city. Originally the fringes were the territory of scoundrels and rogues. Later the fringes became the neighborhood clubs. In other words, in the center of the city there were the salons and in the barrios there were the clubs. The tango salon was danced walking in a very simple way, plain, unadorned. The tango orillero was danced with steps (elaborated figures and patterns). This is the way it has always been.
Mingo lived through that period at an early age because he was lucky that being so young, the older guys accepted him in their circles. He entered in the dance circles by the hand of a person that was loved and respected but nowadays is one of the many forgotten people of tango, El Negro Lavandina, whose real name was Salvador Sciana, the name the Puglieses chose to name their tango school.
Eight years after the transformation of tango dancing had begun, Mingo joined a prestigious circle of dancers integrated among others by Petroleo and Salvador Sciana. This transformation and the movements that were being incorporated in the tango continued until 1953-54. Among the people of that era, there were still a few that mixed new and old dancing movements, that is why what Mingo teaches and the way he dances incorporates many principles that were utilized in the old style of dancing. The way to place the feet without raising the heels, for example.
Many dancers around the world have been “touched” by the impressive knowledge and clear teaching method of Mingo Pugliese. His knowledge has been passed to the new generation through the talent of his only son, Pablo Pugliese, who is just turning eighteen next month. Pablo and mother Esther have been regular touring teachers in the US since 1996 when Pablo became the youngest ever faculty member of Stanford University’s now defunct Tango Week. Some notables who publicly have listed Mingo Pugliese as an inspirational master include Lorena Ermocida, Osvaldo Zotto, Cecilia Gonzalez, Gachi Fernandez, Sergio Cortazo, Natalia Games and Gabriel Angio. There are bonafide witnesses who can also remember Pablo Veron, after Tango Argentino, spending countless hours under closed doors with Mingo (what they did there is not public domain, but the inference by members of the family who witnessed the encounters is that shop talk formed part of the reunions), a fact vehemently denied by Veron himself, who claims to be his own teacher. Many other names escape this writer’s memory but their images going up and down the old Naval Museum turned dance studio on Avenida Caseros in Parque Patricios are as fresh today as they were when we climbed those stairs during a month that forever changed our lives, our love and respect for the dancing, and the quality of our teaching.