The Merengue always has festive party appeal and is essential for dancing at a Latin Club or in preparation for a tropical vacation destination. Merengue is also a terrific foundation Latin dance which develops the “cuban motion” body action essential for all Latin dancing. Its uncomplicated timing makes it easy to feel the music and adapt to any partner.
Merengue is the simplest dance to learn. Its uncomplicated timing makes it easy to feel the music.
- Basic Movement–Grounded Movement: “Piston” leg action into the floor
- Advanced Motion–Cuban Motion
- Movement Isolation–Leg and Hip action without and with body action
- Leading Action–Body, shoulder, arms, hand and visual
- Timing Variety–Half time, double time or syncopated rhythm
- Tempo Interpretation–Movement variation to accent music or play with it
- Compare/Contrast–Fox Trot, Rumba, Hustle
The word “merengue” in Spanish means just what it does in English, that is, a whipped dessert topping of egg whites and sugar. In English however the dance is pronounced phonetically as “mer-eng-gay” while the dessert as “mer-ang”. There is some speculation that the name was applied to the dance because of its light and fun character from the dessert not unlike the food association in the name for the dance of “salsa”, also the spanish word for (hot) “sauce”.
The exact origins of Merengue are unclear. There are some fanciful theories with little historical basis such as the African slaves having to dance the simple rhythm because of the chain tied to one of their legs. Another mentions a returning war hero, a General Maringie, who danced dragging an injured leg. Supposedly everyone copied him out of a sign of respect, it caught on because people liked dancing it, and the Merengue was born.
Merengue may have derived from a Haitian dance called “meringue” which is somewhat similar but very guitar based (which Merengue is not). Music called “upa” is Cuban based and arrived in the Dominican Republic in late 1800’s and it does have a section sometimes called “merengue”. Other influences have been noted such as the “danza” (the Cuban national dance of the 1800’s), and the fact that Germany was a major trading partner giving the Merengue its accordion musical influence.
What is known is that by the first two decades of the 1900’s Merengue was danced by the working classes in the Dominican Republic and was suppressed in favour of a more elite form of music and dance known as “tumba”. That all changed when dictator Rafael Trujillo took power in 1931 using the Merengue as part of his propoganda campaign to emphasize his stance for the “common man”. He was in power for 30 years over which time the dance became hugely popular all over Latin America and from there made its way through immigration to North America and around the world.
At least partly because of its simple, easy to learn structure and its fun lively music it has since achieved ‘pan-latin’ dance status as one of the staple latin dances for all Latin America.
Merengue music is written in 2/4, 4/4 or 6/8 time. The rhythmical accent will occur on the first beat of each measure. The tempo is most often very fast at latin clubs for this dance, up around 40 bpm (bars per minute) at times, but for teaching and practice purposes it is recommended to keep it a slower at 29 to 32 bpm. Most pro-am competitions will play the slower tempo also.
The style of music is most often very upbeat with a ‘party’ feel.
Because of its initial simple structure Merengue is a dance you can start dancing the very first time you learn it. Walking steps and side steps (chasse) are the basic components of Merengue. This dance is introduced as a “marching” type of dance and can provide great rhythm training for those who initially have trouble finding the beat in music.
Also because if its simple rhythm structure it is a great dance for the man to develop his leads of turns and elaborate material since he doesn’t really have to worry about the step pattern so much. This dance can allow him to develop the shaping and other subtleties necessary for good leading in any dance. Working on Merengue achieves a similar skill for the woman, allowing her to follow spontaneously and respond to his leading without worrying about where she is stepping.
Merengue can be developed into a very rhythmical dance where, because of its simple structure, great detail can be added in the requisite “Cuban Motion” — a movement essential to this dance and to all Latin dances. Isolation training can produce animated body movement critical to making all rhythmical dances look and ultimately feel natural.
Merengue is a “must learn” for anyone who wants to travel to Latin America or go out dancing to a latin dance club. Because of the fun, up-tempo music to which it is danced and its twists and turns and fun patterning the Merengue gives a festive party appeal.
Merengue songs and artists include:
- Hot, Hot, Hot – Buster Poindexter
- Jump in the Line – Harry Belafonte
- Cuban Pete – Jim Carey