Praktika 8 & Milonga 10 - The perfect link between the traditional and the modern

By Ute Neumaier, published in the German magazine Tangodanza 1, 2010

Praktika 8 and Milonga 10 are two milongas with a spirit that is at once youthful, modern, and traditional, and they are as unconventional as their organizer: Hugo Pendziuch, a 31-year-old graphic designer. From the outside he looks like a young rebel, but on the inside he’s a traditionalist.

We meet at his favourite bar, La Peca, on the corner of Gascón and El Salvador streets, in the heart of the Villa Crespo neighborhood, which today is the heart of youth tango in Buenos Aires. With his dreadlocks and his laid back attitude, Hugo comes across as a new tango nuevo dancer; his idol is surely Chico Frumboli. But not at all: his idol is Osvaldo Pugliese. In 1933, Pugliese founded the Club Fulgor, in Villa Crespo, where today Hugo holds his milongas.

He debuted as a milonga organizer with Praktika 8. “Why 8?” I ask him. He smiles, lifts his baggy t-shirt, and shows the stomach for which he was nicknamed “Ocho” (Eight). Hugo loves numbers: Praktika 8 starts at 8 p.m.; tango is played in 2/4 time, which equals eight; eight beats make up a musical phrase; and the ocho step is indispensible in this dance.

Generally at Praktika 8 there are tango classes with different teachers, and then after 10 p.m. the place transforms into a milonga. Before long, the successful venture prompted Hugo to open Milonga 10. “10” because it starts at 10, of course. Hugo opens his heart to all porteños of his age who love tango as he does and don’t have the funds to pay an expensive entry fee. He adapts his prices accordingly: for those who wish just to practice for one or two hours, the entry is eight pesos; while for those who come at 10 p.m. and stay all night it is 10 pesos.

Hugo, his tango friends, and most of the other attendees are young and unconventional, and that’s how they relate amongst themselves. They wear what they like, they sit where they like, and if a guy wants to dance he gets up and goes to a table to ask a girl. The strict codes of the traditional milonga are not adhered to at Hugo’s. What does matter greatly to him is mutual respect. Acrobatics on the dance floor are not permitted. The space reserved for risky adornments is Praktika 8, before 10 p.m. Hugo is not a fundamentalist, but he does wish to maintain certain aspects of tradition. Most important to him is that dancers move in harmony with the other couples on the dance floor. Social tango. At his milongas people dance relaxed, calmly, with a lovely embrace – sometimes closed, sometimes a little more open.

Many of Hugo’s friends are professional dancers or musicians, but tango snobbery doesn’t exist here. Tango’s origins are in the neighborhoods of humble people, and Hugo wants to hold on to that spirit. So on this dance floor you see experts and beginners circulating peaceably.

There are nearly always shows by famous dancers and orchestras. Hugo recalls, with gratitude, that in their early days “Sexteto Milonguero” played for them twice for free. In the course of a night, Hugo takes care of everything: the organization, the cash register, and the music. The tandas are programmed on his computer and they’re traditional, but no less appreciated for it. You don’t hear electric tango at Hugo’s because, for him, it’s not tango.

His love for the traditions of tango is also reflected in the venue: a faded mosaic floor and cabinets filled with cups and photographs, more or less artistic, of Carlos Gardel and other celebrities. The Club Fulgor is a typical neighborhood club, a place with deep roots in tango. To the club’s landlords, Hugo’s idea seemed strange initially. “This youngster with that hairdo and that way of dressing, really wanted to organize a milonga? Could he have made a mistake?” With a certain amount of suspicion and very doubtful, in the end they said he could. Later they realised that Hugo feels the same respect as they do themselves towards “their” tango. Since then, they entrust this sacred establishment to him with a clear conscience.

How do you get there? It’s simple: you take the “milonguero buses”, the 168 and the 151, which travel from San Telmo to Palermo and pass by most of the city’s milongas. The buses, affectionately called “coles” by locals, run almost 24 hours, and take the youth of the milonguero world to their favourite dances and venues. In addition, in just a few minutes you can walk from Club Fulgor to La Viruta, Villa Malcolm, or Salón Caning.

The key to Hugo’s success is the perfect link between the traditional and the modern. For one of his events, using his creative skills, he designed a small stamp with the image of a saint, the kind that in Argentina you carry for protection against everything bad. The saint is Osvaldo Pugliese, his idol for having been an orchestral director who treated his musicians well and with respect, for knowing how to share what he earned, and for having had a profound social conscience. Hugo is convinced that since then, his milongas, and he himself, have come under the special protection of Osvaldo Pugliese.