What is Merengue?


This dance form is an example of a partnered dance. In classes a choreographed sequence is generally taught, but in practice it is an improvised dance. (Editor).


"Merengue is the national dance and music of the Dominican Republic. Traditional Merengue music is played on accordion, saxophone, tambora drum, box bass and güira (a sort of metal scraper). Dominican Republic dictator Rafael Trujillo promoted and expanded this traditional music as a symbol of national expression from the 1930’s onwards. This led to the development of larger Merengue orchestras, who played to more urban audiences in larger dancehalls. Nowadays Merengue has developed the use of more hi-tech electronic instruments and emphasises the role of the saxophone, which often gives the music more of a big band style. Tempos vary considerably, but this change in instrumental emphasis over time has not changed the basic Merengue rhythm of a 1-2-3-4 beat. Dominicans often prefer a tempo that quickens towards the end of a piece of music, so that the Merengue dance evolves into more of a fast Jive.

For the basic step, partners are in the closed position and step from side-to-side in what is known as ‘paso de la empalizada’. This, in turn, moves the hips accordingly. In Ballroom Merengue, a relatively slow tempo is maintained and small steps are taken by the couple, which enables them to circle each other and move around the dance floor. Figure Merengue then combines this basic step with other movements and individual turns by switching to the open hold, but never letting go completely. The steps are kept small and as a result turns should be slow and graceful.

Merengue is essentially an easy and fun dance to learn, which makes it a popular social dance. The ‘paso de la empalizada’ of Ballroom Merengue is sometimes replaced by an exaggerated Cuban hip motion in social dancing, which results in a more fluid leg movement. Social dancing, or ‘Club Merengue’, is consequently much more suggestive and less serious than the Ballroom variation." Nichola Manning

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