Merengue is a Latin American dance that originated from the Dominican Republic. Merengue is danced to a 2 step beat and the partners stand in a closed position. Like many Latin dances, merengue hinges on hip motions created by bending and straightening the knees. In the merengue, partners may dance in a circular motion or by walking side to side. The tempo of the dance may seem high, but the upper body is kept still and turning is not quick. Merengue is an easy dance to learn and is often performed by beginning ballroom dance students. Couples dancing the merengue can travel in nearly any direction as the dance itself encourages creativity and is intended to be fast, fun and creative.
The merengue is the official dance of the Dominican Republic. However, although the dance is attributed to the Dominican Republic, the origins of the dance remain unclear. One theory suggests that the dance came to the Dominican Republic through Haiti, where it originated. Despite various theories surrounding the dance’s origins, it is clear that the dance embodies the culture of the Dominican Republic.
Surprisingly, there was significant resistance to adoption of the merengue as an appropriate dance due to the crude lyrics that were associated with the dance and the dance’s origins as derived from poor areas. This negative attitude towards the merengue changed in the 1930’s when the country’s soon-to-be dictator Rafael Trujillo used it for his election campaign. This brought merengue to the masses including new locations where the dance was had not been previously heard. Even so, there was still some resistance until a prominent Dominican family requested a clean merengue song to be written for their daughter’s quinceañera.
The merengue was brought over to the United States by Dominican immigrants settling in New York beginning in the early 1900’s. Although their travel was limited by the country’ dictatorship, immigration increased after the fall of the regime in the early 1960’s. This brought a larger exchange of dance and music to the United States from the Dominican Republic.
The merengue is danced with the partners facing one another and stepping to their sides together. Unlike some other versions of the merengue, in the ballroom dancing version of the merengue, the partners never separate and perform the movements together. The hips should move up and down like in other dances. This is accomplished by bending and straightening the knees.
The merengue is a favorite dance of ballroom students. This is most likely due to the creative nature of the dance and fun, rhythmic movements that make for a slightly spectacle. Like many Latin dances, dance students can wear bright and colorful costumes that accentuation their movements and enhance the show element of the merengue.