Merengue is a popular dance form that originated in the Dominican Republic. It was introduced and started gaining popularity in our country around the mid 19th century. The dance form is influenced by ‘decema’ and ‘plena’, well known Spanish dance techniques. Another theory is that the Merengue is influenced by the ‘Meringue’ which has its origins in Haiti. The music is in Creole and it is a slower dance.
Originally Merengue was known as the "Merengue Tipico" and the music was played on the accordion, box bass, sax, a double ended drum and a guyano. It was an explicit dance with a lot of sensuality and the lyrics often carried overt sexual and political statements. It was a way for people of the lower class to express themselves and it was shunned by the upper classes. The Merengue has come far since those rebellious days.
There are many stories about the origins of this dance, some of them quite strange like the one about the man with a limp having started it. He danced in awkward leaps and bounds but with such joy and abundance that the sheer energy and rhythm caught people’s attention. Some believe that was how Merengue started. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. But Merengue is here to stay.
Merengue and the Dominican Republic
It is the official dance of the Dominican Republic. They have an annual Merengue Festival in July. There are parades and people dress in colorful, fabulous clothes as they walk down the street, dancing the Merengue in tune with live bands.
Form of the Merengue
This dance form is fast paced with a lot of energy and very quick movements. The movements are concentrated on the lower part of the body and the upper body hardly moves at all. So it is a combination of speed and calm as the lower part of the body gyrates furiously to the music and the upper body stays motionless. Rafael Turjillo, a former President of the country made the art form popular during his run for presidency by using it for his political rally. It lost its appeal after he died, but came into its own when the first internationally well-known musician from the Dominican Republic, Johnny Ventura, started promoting the dance form.
Merengue catches on in New York
New York, the great melting pot of cultures where all kinds of art forms are first introduced to, and then spread out was where the Merengue first caught the attention of the American public. It was with the influx of people from the Dominican Republic that it gained popularity.
This dance form is quite the craze now. If you are born into a family of Dominican origin, the dance is almost a rite of passage. But if you aren’t, don’t worry. You can still learn the Merengue as the dance has become popular not only for its movement and music but is now taken up as a great and fun way to stay fit. There are dance classes and choreography schools all over the Bay Area and after a stressful day, the sheer energy of the Merengue is sure to help you wind down.
There are artists who play music primarily for this dance form and you can pick up the albums, and dance to the beat in your own home at any time of the day, once you’ve mastered the dance.
Dance has a universal language and learning a new dance is always fun and interesting. Meeting people who share the same passion is an added attraction. Though the Merengue is a fast paced, gyrating dance, learning it in a disciplined, choreographed way will help you master this dance.