The History of the Merengue Dance

By J. Lynn Patten
The merengue is the lively national dance of the Dominican Republic.

The merengue is a lively, upbeat dance that displays the common Latin flair of hip isolations, twists and twirls. While it is now a partner dance, the merengue originated as a circle or a group dance performed by the people of the Dominican Republic.

Geography

The Dominican Republic is considered the home of the merengue, where it receives the honor of being considered the country's national dance. The dance is also closely associated with its neighboring country, Haiti.

Time Frame

The merengue dates to the beginning of the Dominican Republic, in the mid-1800s. It reached the United States in the next century.

Possible Origins

As with most dances, the actual origin of the merengue is uncertain. However, popular stories abound of the possible origin. In one, the dance originated out of the slaves working in sugar beet fields. These slaves were connected to one another by a chain strapped to their ankles and had to walk in such a manner as to drag one leg. This story also indicates that they did their work to the beat of a drum. The other popular story tells of a great war hero whose leg was badly wounded in battle. Upon his return, the town threw him a dance celebration, and everyone danced with a limp in one leg out of sympathy for their hero.

Identification/Features

This dance is now a partner dance in which the partners never lose a connection with one another, but may vary their distances from one another. The dance is lively and upbeat consisting of walking steps and chasses conducted in a syncopated rhythm. Weight is constantly shifted from side to side in the hips, as the dancer is moving his or her ribcage in opposition. The merengue is first taught as a marching dance with flat-footed steps lifting the knees upwards, and its steps can become more fluid with practice.

Fun Fact

The name "merengue" might have come from the similar word "meringue," the sugar and egg white confection. It is possible that this connection was made because of the light feeling associated with the dance, similar to the light and airy texture of meringue.

About the Author

J. Lynn Patten has her bachelor's degree in psychology from Central Michigan University and is working on her master's in drama from Texas Woman's University. She has worked with the young for more than eight years, in educational, social and artistic venues.