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  Catherine Angel Photography 
 
 
 
 
The Embrace of Tango



VISION Magazine
Beijing, China
August 2010

The Embrace of Tango, Photography of Catherine Angel

By: Maya Wang
Translated by Andy Liaw

The passion of Latin has always been ignited from the white flames of love and the darkness of sorrows.
The sudden stop of rhythms has a unique mixture of African, Indian, Spanish, and Latin music cutting in.
With flaming passion and sharp expression in one’s eyes, along with a serious facial expression, between
the two dancers there is no stopping the nervousness of pressure shifting, time that bodies need with close sentimental postures and a strong foot step, this is called Tango.

The quintessence of Tango started from Buenos Aires (the capital of Argentina), Tango was first known
as “milonga”. It is hard to have an extraordinary dance while having a complicated desire, dignified,
modest and personal dance step. Tango is like a volunteered combat between people to people or between
male and female. The strength for this combat is to clear up the mist until you find the deepest part of the
soul, until then people can’t understand each other. The feeling of love and hate lingers at close quarters
between two people. The tension of Tango has always been like a flame, the complicated emotions are
tender and hard to resist. People’s souls that are captured by Tango are hard to resist and turn back. The
female photographer Catherine Angel is one of them.

The time when dancing came to Angel was when she was 5 years old. As a child, when she was still unable to walk straight, her mom brought her to dancing lessons. When she was all grown up, as a Fine Arts Professor in University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has never lost the passion of dancing. When she saw the movie Tango, she was immediately attracted to it and said to herself “Oh my god! I want to dance that!”

So, she went to Argentina to learn more about Tango. Tango let Angel feel like she lost herself in some
kind of art. Therefore the search of Tango just kept growing on her. Some people teach the technique
of relaxing their shoulder, some teach holding each other tightly, some focus on their foot step, some
emphasizes the emotions while dancing, and all these details attracted her more deeply. Later on she
went back to Buenos Aires four times to study and research about how the society of Argentina in the
19th century effected the development of Tango. Also how a traditional dance of Tango satisfied different
people, for example: youngster whose cultures are at the edge, middle class couples, and the needs of the
elders.

Within the 20th century, for about 40 to 50 years is the golden age of Tango. The music of tango is all about loves that are lost, feeling of homesick, and the eager of finding the other half. Buenos Aires, which is the source of Tango made Angel fall quickly into their tradition and culture. In this city, not only did she researched about the source of Tango, she also started the journey of searching the inner truth of herself. “The wooden dance floors in the dancing room had millions of tangos danced on it before I arrived. Every time I dance, I always feel like I’m not only dancing with my partner but also with the history that’s been around for ages. If each partner could open up their heart, they could understand each other. One time I was dancing with a 70 year old dancer, I felt like somehow I could feel how he was in his 20s, 30s, 40s…when dancing tango it is the time to open your heart with no resistance. That’s what I have been trying to do, to realize.”

This kind of dance that needs strength and softness makes the dancers concentrate and focus which makes their partner and themselves open, when the dancers start to dance tango, that becomes the dancer’s life. Tango is part of Angel’s life. “Dance makes my life complete and fulfilling, as an artist, this is my goal every day.” Hugo Latorre, a friend and also her tango teacher made a suggestion to her which made her start photographing Tango – full of sexuality, mystery but serious dance.

Photography isn’t the final goal for Angel, but we can sense the message of passion from Angel through
the photographs of dancers of Tango in the dancing room. The real attraction of Tango comes from the
question that comes up in the dancer’s mind. Who am I now? What is this kind of music? What kind of person is my partner? Tango never lies. What kind of person would have what kind of Tango? Tango is like a mirror, like life when the music starts, the wall between two dancers starts to melt, from here we can open up the wall and see the person deep within.

Starting from 2006, September, everyday starting from midnight, Angel would stay at Buenos Aires’s
tango dance rooms and start her photograph. Sitting in the dance room watching dancers one by one
walking by her, in this 3, 4 hours the power of tango has grown over the loneliness.

3:58 am, in Buenos Aires’s Milongas dance studio, a woman dressed in black hugged her partner, their
bodies stuck together tightly her face seems like looking to her partners, but her facial emotion seemed
empty, far away, sad, and serious made her look like she was somewhere else. In this photograph, this face full with confusion made the women look like she was from some other world. No matter how her life was before, at that moment she had fallen deeply into the dance: her past, present, her pain, her victory, her happiness…all seem to be shown and told in her dance.

5:32am, the empty dance studio which is full with memories, love, loneliness, dancers and shadows, in
the dance, an elder dancing partner seemed to start to dance; the lighting seems to be like drawing pens,
illustrating their faces. A woman danced with her eyes closed holding her partner tight lost in the love of
dance, the dancing movements on the dance floor seemed like tracks of souls….

Angel watched the dancers dancing, and took photographs of them, feeling their love, addiction, mystery,
emotions which were all remembered in the heart, dancers dancing for their partners, from two to become one, feeling and looking for the heart from each other. The people in the photographs, seemed like they could not let go their passion, they connect to each other strongly, listening to the music like going to another world. Their passion has broken and passed the walls of the studio, communicating with each other far away. This is Angel and the music of Tango, the hugs between partners and communicates without words which make one remarkable answer. They held hands together, listen to the music and dance like one person, this is the tango that brought her the hug and love.

The studio was full with bright light, but Angel produces the photographs to a soft tone of darkness to
show a dark golden photograph, to show her own strong passion that she felt. Her legs were tired but her
mind was clear, the calmness of her heart seem to have taken away the sorrow and tiresome. She used her photography to find the answers of “Who am I? Why is this mysterious dance feel like falling in love with someone who holds my soul?


 

 

Las Vegas Sun
July 10, 2007

Entranced by a Dance
Together yet apart, tango dancers escape to another world

By Kristen Peterson

A particularly engaging photograph in Catherine Angel's "Embrace of Tango" exhibition shows a woman in a dark dress embracing her partner, her hand flat on his back. It's 3:58 am in a dance hall in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and their bodies are tightly connected. Her face is pressed to his. But she is somewhere else, somewhere other than Nino Bien in the early morning. Her vacant, distant, sad and solemn look says so. "It's a really complex photograph," Angel says. "She is so solid and secure. But there is a look and it's not exactly despair. It's otherworldly. She is so lost in whatever that moment was to her. The possibility of whatever life is to her is there." It's as if this image captures her whole life. Her past, her present. Her heartache. Her triumph. Her joy. She is transparent.

Although seemingly voyeuristic, Angel's photographs on display through Aug. 3rd in the Jessie Metcalf Gallery are not designed to capture the intimate lives of others dancing across wood floors in Buenos Aires dance halls. Rather, they are Angel's attempts to capture her experience of tango through others. "The photographs are really an expression of what it feels like when I dance tango," says Angel, a Las Vegas photographer and UNLV Professor. "This dance does not lie. I am how I dance tango."

It's pretty heavy stuff for a woman who has been dancing Argentine tango for only two years. But Angel, a former ballet dancer who grew up in central Florida, says she is lured to the dance in all facets of her life. She is hooked. She's been to Buenos Aires four times. Even in Las Vegas, there are discussions about how tango should be danced in the social Argentine style that developed in late 19th-century Buenos Aires. "I wanted to see for myself. " What she found in Buenos Aires were assortments of traditional dance clubs known as milongas that catered to different crowds - hip, edgy twentysomethings, middle-aged couples of the middle class and those much older.

What you see in her images is uninhibited emotion: bodies holding each other, dancers listening to music as they drift into another world, making a connection to life that goes beyond the walls and sounds of a dance hall. Normally Buenos Aires dance halls are brightly lit, but Angel manipulated the images to create the deep golden hues and soft lights in darkened rooms as a way to capture the intensity of the emotions she feels.

Angel, who teaches art, normally shoots black-and-white large-format photographs. She didn't set out to photograph the dancers; she didn't want to be intrusive or remove herself. Then one time she pulled out a point-and-shoot camera and realized she had something. She returned with a digital Leica and shot in black and white, but found it was too nostalgic for a dance that she sees as being in the moment. This solemn dance is what you see through Angel's lens. A photo taken at 5:32 am of an empty dance hall, vacant chairs and tables, captures the room haunted by memories, love, loneliness, movement and shadows. In another image there is an older couple, in motion and slightly blurred. The light falls on them like a painting. Another portrays a woman with her eyes closed, feeling love as she holds her partner close. The bodies move across the dance floor like spirits.

The exhibit includes lyrics, most from the 1940s and '50s - the golden age of a dance that began mainly in the bordellos, particularly among African and European immigrants who had arrived alone in the port city. The songs are about lost love, longing for home, for community. Tango is where Angel goes to find herself. "I'm dancing on the same wooden floors that thousands have danced on before me not just with a man but also with the history of tango," she says. "If the man is emotionally open and you are emotionally open, you know who that person is. One night I danced with a man in his 70s and I felt like I knew him then and when he was in his 20s, 30s, 40s and so on. "Hopefully I am open, vulnerable and transparent in my energy in this dance of tango and in my life."


 

Las Vegas Review-Journal
July 20, 2007

Embracing Color
Argentine Tango moves photographer Catherine Angel to take up another medium

By Ken White

For years, Catherine Angel had been dancing salsa, but one look at the movie "Tango," and the artist was hooked. "I thought, Oh, my God, I want to dance like that,” says Angel, a Professor of Art at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She took a year of Argentine Tango lessons in Las Vegas, then journeyed to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where tango originated. "Argentine tango is nothing like ballroom tango or the kind you see on Dancing with the Stars" Angel says. "It shows the beauty between two people. It's very masculine-feminine. You have to pay attention to what's going on, to be in the moment. It's not an easy dance. For people who dance tango, it becomes a way of life."

Angel was so taken with the dance that, after two trips to Buenos Aires and with the urging of her friend and tango teacher Hugo Latorre, she began photographing it. The results can be seen in her exhibit, "The Embrace of Tango: Recent Photographs by Catherine Angel," on view through Aug. 17 in the Jessie Metcalf Gallery, located on the second floor of the Richard Tam Alumni Center at UNLV. What captured her interest was the dance's transparency. "You really feel who the person is," she says. "If the person is hiding, you can feel it. It's like there's a wall there." The dance often is misunderstood, the artist says. "It's sensual and intimate, but very respectful.”
"This is much different work than what she's known for," says Jerry Schefcik, director of the Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery and the Jessie Metcalf Gallery. "Black and white is what her reputation is built on." Angel, who earned a Master's degree in Photography from Indiana University in 1988 and a Bachelor's degree in Photography and Drawing from the University of Oklahoma in 1985, usually works with a large format camera in black and white and in mixed media collage. Even the mixed media works that used color featured only black and white photos.
At first, Angel photographed Argentine Tango in black and white, but found it looked "too nostalgic, too old-fashioned." She also took some digital photos in color and found the dance came alive. "It needed the color," Angel says. "And you have more control (of the image) with digital." She learned to use Photoshop software to manipulate the images. "This is the first body of work I've done in color. I darkened the images and color-shifted them to create the mood I'm looking for. They're not documentary photos. I'm showing what I'm feeling about tango."
Angel still goes to local tango dances, and she plans to travel to Buenos Aires with her three teenage daughters next month to photograph and dance again. "I think they think it's pretty cool that I have interests of my own," Angel says of her children, but they don't dance tango. The trip will be a learning experience for them in many ways.
For Angel, the dance is a part of her life. "It's important to live fully and completely, to be truly be alive," she says. "As an artist that’s what I strive to do daily"


 

 

Las Vegas City Life
July 12, 2007

Taking the lead
Photographer Catherine Angel escorts viewers into the art of Argentine Tango


By Jarret Keene

For those too tough to dance, Argentine tango comprises sensual, elegant and intimate movements. Photographing these movements sounds misguided until you take a moment to examine the romantic, deeply expressive photographs of UNLV Professor Catherine Angel. Her new exhibit at the campus Jessie Metcalf Gallery is called “The Embrace of Tango”, and connects with you, chest-to-chest, before guiding you through the milongas (dance clubs) of Buenos Aires.

Angel had been dancing salsa here in Las Vegas because she wanted something to do on Friday and Saturday nights. This led her to explore other dance forms, and after watching an Argentine-Spanish film production, Tango, she made it her mission to master another dance.

“I just fell in love with Argentine Tango as an art form,” she says, during a recent phone conversation. “There is always a lot of discussion about how tango should be danced, some teach it with an open embrace, others with a closed embrace. Some teach the steps only, while others emphasize the emotional aspects. But I wanted to go to Argentina and visit the source.” So Angel packed her bags and headed to Buenos Aires, where she quickly immersed herself in the culture and tradition of tango. She went out nightly, searching for the city’s most authentic and obscure milongas, sometimes discovering as many as 10 in a single evening.

“I had no intention of taking any photos,” she says. “It was my tango teacher here in Las Vegas, Hugo Latorre who had encouraged me to shoot pictures at the milongas.” In the beginning all she brought was a point-and-shoot digital camera. After snapping a few images, she thought to herself: “Why am I not seriously taking photos of these amazing dancers?” For the next couple of trips, she shot with black-and-white film. However, she found the results too nostalgic. She eventually determined that, with a digital camera, she had more control over what her images looked like than by relying on a traditional darkroom. It ended up being a pivotal photo series for Angel: It’s her first body of work in color in 25 years, and her first body of work shot digitally.

Some of the images are deeply romantic; others are tinged with melancholy. But Angel stresses that her photos express what it feels like for her and her alone to dance tango. “I’m not trying to document tango,” she insists. “I’m not saying these images reveal any truths. For me, this series is about that in-the-moment feeling I experience when dancing to music that people have been dancing to since the 20s. It’s about the questions you may ask yourself while dancing: Who are you at that moment? What is this music? Who is your partner? This is the magical quality of dancing tango.”

Angel included the printed lyrics to certain tango songs as a way of “letting the viewer into the photos in another way other than visually.” She had danced tango for a year before she knew what the songs were about, experiencing the music only musically and physically at first. After perusing a website that translated Argentine music, she discovered that the lyrics were “beautiful poetry.” Angel’s opening reception on June 28 also incorporated live tango dancing, setting up the gallery like a milonga complete with tables, candles and tango music. More than 150 of Angel’s friends from both the Vegas art scene and the local dance community showed up.

“Most of the tango dancers had never been to an art opening, and most of the art people had never experienced tango. For me, the event was about bringing together the separate parts of my life. I have a life as a mom, a teacher/artist and as a dancer; everyone from these different parts of my life was there. “More important than the photographs was having the people who are intimate and dear in my life come together and embrace who I am.”