Angel Ortiz: Then and Now
A Bird’s Eye View
By Natalie J. Maniscalco & Photos by Chasi Annexy
From South America, Puerto Rico to Europe and Asia, Angel Ortiz, one of the first professional salsa dancers to travel overseas almost 20 years ago has taught and performed in more than 114 cities and 27 different countries. As one of Eddie Torres’ principal dancers from the early 90’s, Angel experienced a monumental moment in the history of Latin music when he performed for Tito Puente’s 100th Album concert celebrations in Puerto Rico and South America, an inspiring occasion that would take his dance and more so, the concept of traveling for Salsa to a whole new level.
Born and raised in East Harlem, Angel grew up with very little money, but with an innate desire to excel. “I would sit at my window sill, and watch people on the street,” he says. “I didn’t have direction, but I would think, ‘How am I going to get out of my neighborhood?’” Fortunately, school kept him on track. He was given the opportunity to attend Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan, the number one business school in the city at the time, where everyone was serious about getting an education. “We had to wear business attire and read the New York Times every day. The positive influences were tremendous and I owe a lot to my experience.” His childhood memories also lead back to hanging out with Marc Anthony and his family, and remembers the day Marc shared his first recording with him and thought, ‘This guy is going to be a star!’ “Months later I saw Marc’s face on his first platinum album and his career took off from there. I was inspired to want to make something of myself.”
Angel’s love for salsa peaked during his late 20’s, but wasn’t his first formal dance training. He started with the hustle during the late 70’s, and continued on with ballet, jazz and even obtained a black belt in martial arts. He needed a change and the Copacabana was it! “Bam! The atmosphere alone,” he gleams. “The men in suits and ties, and the women looked fantastic. I thought, ‘This is the crowd I want to be in.’” In the summer of 1989, percussionist and dancer Robin Lobe introduced Angel to Eddie Torres. “I went to his first class, sat down and thought ‘That’s how I want to dance,’” says Angel. “I sat down with Eddie and he asked me, ‘What do you want to do with dance?’ I told him ‘I want to go all the way with it.’ He said I could start with private classes and then work up to his Tuesday group class.” In six months, Angel became a part of Eddie’s dance company opening up more opportunities to perform, travel and later on to teach. “It was incredible to be a part of the team,” he says. “The training was phenomenal. I started traveling and saw the world. It was a total education and completely changed me.”
At the time, many dancers were not accustomed to traveling abroad. However, in 1997, Puerto Rico launched the first World Salsa Congress changing the entire climate of the Salsa scene. It opened the door for dancers to reach other parts of the world and to share their style of dance. The Congress also provided a “show all” platform. “This is where I can be a star now. Everyone can see me,” says Angel, referring to the growing mentality of performers. “We did our best to put on a show. It was all good healthy competition that caused the little changes along the way.”
In between all the events and traveling, Angel made his mark dancing in some of New York City’s hot spots including the infamous Side Street in the Bronx. “I was living in Queens at the time, but I would get into my car with such excitement to dance at Side Street,” he reminisces. “It was so fulfilling at the time. The style of dance was different and it added to the whole aura of the scene.” He was among the community of people who had regular day jobs, but by night, it was all about the dance. From the Palladium, Copa, Barney Googles to the Corso, the Cheetah, and Casa Blanca, New York Salsa electrified the city, and although the Salsa scene has gained tremendous traction over the years, many are concerned with how the dance has evolved. “People bring the show into the social scene when it should be left for the stage. There is a place for the shows and there is a place for tricks and a place to social dance,” Angel explains. “We’re a bit lost now. We don’t have a lot of veterans dancing anymore and the leadership needs to step forward. There’s not enough being done to bring people back to the core and to start bringing awareness to the new crowd.”
In attempt to reinforce the traditions of the mambo dance and music to today’s salsa, Angel launched The Mambo Social, a series of monthly parties in New York City. “The positives of today’s culture, is that we all have talent and we all make a lot of contributions to the salsa scene,” he says. “We need to share and support each other while keeping the place of both the music and the dance.” Angel continues to make his contribution to salsa via traveling and teaching. His goal? To become the best he can be at his craft and continue to support salsa music and dance around the globe.
For more information on Angel Ortiz visit www.angelortiz.com