Dominican culture is rich and vibrant, and from the moment you step off the plane your ears will be filled with the sounds of Dominican Merengue.
Merengue is considered by many as the official music and dance of the Dominican Republic. Merengue not only brings people together on the dance floor, it is also a large part of Dominican collective identity and soul.
No one is quite sure where merengue originally came from, while there are very few proven facts about its origins there are a couple of theories.
One theory is that the dance is modeled after a war hero who loved to dance but returned home from the war with a limp. Out of sympathy, everyone began to dance as he did, stepping one foot to the side and dragging the other.
Another theory is that the dance is modeled after African slaves who were chained together working in the sugar cane field, forced to limp to a drum beat because their legs were chained.
Dominican Merengue also shares a lot of similarities with Haitian méreng although there are important differences, such as the Dominican merengue is in Spanish, while the Haitian version is in Creole.
Whatever the origins, merengue is now deeply woven into the fabric of Dominican culture. But this wasn’t always the case. The original merengue was probably very European like in style, but it eventually gained a strong African influence, becoming the Cibaeño merengue called ‘perico ripiao’.
The upper class rejected merengue, but this changed when the then Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo used ‘perico ripiao’ in his presidential campaign. Trujillo later declared merengue the national music and dance, which made its popularity grow. Today, both the music and dance of merengue continue to be a staple of Dominican culture.
While you are on your Punta Cana vacation or taking a sightseeing tour in Santo Domingo, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn to dance merengue. If you are intimidated by learning Latin American dances like the salsa, you’re in luck, the merengue is known as one of the easiest dances to learn. The dance is simple with only two steps. The structure of the dance is simple, so that way the dancers can be expressive,meaning you can use as much or as little hip action as you want.
The merengue is a partner dance, and it is especially easy for women if they have a good lead (sorry gentlemen). The steps are kind of like a march, where you step side to side with your knees slightly bent. This sideways step is called the ‘paso de la empalizada’ or the stick fence step.
The goal is to sway and get your hips moving in the same direction as your partners, as you shift your weight from one leg to the other. The great thing about merengue is that is as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. You can continue with the marching step or throw in some fancy turns if you feel ready.
There is a lot of variation to Merengue music, some faster and longer, while other songs have a slow pace similar to a bolero, all of it fun to listen to. Some of the Dominican Republic’s best merengue, some famous merengue singers include: Juan Luis Guerra, Johnny Ventura, Los Hermanos Rosario, Miriam Cruz y Las Chicas del Can, and many more. Once you hear that merengue music you’ll be dancing in no time!