What is the Merengue?
The Merengue is often thought of as a Dominican-style dance, but history locates its origins, in the mid-1800’s, to multiple sites across the Caribbean. The merger of Continental style ensemble music with heavily syncopated rhythms creates a European-African hybridization (or creolization) evoking a dance with classical, ballroom closed positions and the pronounced hip actions created by the bending of the knees, left and right, to the pulsing cadence.
Origins of the Merengue
The Merengue is widely considered the Dominican Republic’s national dance, and an important social element within Dominican culture for many years. The Merengue, predominating in the Dominican Republic and Haiti since its early evolution, appears in many neighboring islands and South American coastal regions—maintaining its main pace while subtly adapting in various culture segments.
While many tales of the Merengue’s origin exist, a frequent narrative of the dance’s beginning often rests with a Dominican Republic soldier wounded on one leg. According to the tale, the soldier could shuffle one way, forcing most of his weight upon one side and maneuvering with a pronounced limp. The other soldiers, respectfully emulating their Dominican Republic hero, copied his movements into dance.
Meanwhile, alternative legends exist portraying dance delivered through sugar-field-shackled slaves chopping down sugar cane. Such slaves often took side steps while walking down rows—as to avoid stepping upon the crop. This dance apparently carried its origins across the Dominican Republic throughout the mid 1800’s, becoming increasingly defined through cultural exposure. While the provenance of the dance itself remains unclear within the United States, many have enjoyed its constant presence throughout the years.
Music of the Merengue
The Merengue is danced within a 2/4 timing, and it maintains two, clear and even beats throughout its song course. These even beats are played to the song’s bar, creating a marching rhythm for dance purposes.
Different Merengue styles have emerged—allowing a great variety of figures to interpret the beat of this driving rhythm. Dominican Music, expressing the Dominican identity well, has voiced deep-noted feelings for generations, and its companion Haitian Merengue has empowered a variety of smoother, even-spread beats.
Characteristics of the Merengue
The Merengue is considered a fun and energizing dance. This dance is incredibly easy for beginners, and its basic moves can be learned quickly. The Merengue’s basic movements are composed of simple side steps, progressing counter-clockwise, around the center floor. The Merengue may be danced with sensual Cuban motion hip alternations, making even beginner Merengue dancing both lively and flirtatious.
Dance lesson students exposed to Cuban hip motion often approach Merengue-style movements quickly, adapting to the Dominican “swaying” style. While traditional Merengue utilizes simple patterns and predictable music, several turning movements and rhythm changes are available, making the Merengue a happy, expressive, and dynamic “march” across the dance floor.