Merengue is often considered the national dance of the Dominican Republic and has strong African roots. The Dominican Merengue is sung in Spanish while the Haitian Mereng music is sung in Creole. It is also influenced by Cuban music and a dance called Upa Habanera, which makes Marengue a truly multicultural dance form. Merengue music was the favorite of Dominicans although its popularity in the Western world is recent. Some styles of the dance form are attributed to a war hero who had a wooden right leg, a style that was copied by the rest of the population on Dominican beaches.
The basic steps of the Merengue are a series of side steps to the left of the male partner, called the Chasse. The emphasis is on the patterns of the steps rather than drama and style with very few turns, which are usually casual walking steps rather than quick spins as seen in other dance forms like the Salsa. Partners hold each other in a closed position while the Leader holds the Follower’s waist with the right hand. The knees are bent slightly to the left and right to allow fluid movements of the hips left and right. The hips of both partners move in the same direction throughout the song while walking sideways or circling each other in small steps. The partners can do separate turns and switch to an open position without letting go of each other’s hands, twisting their handhold in intricate patterns.
In Merengue, the side step is called stick-fence step or paso de la empalizada while the steps are very small. To minimize the space used to allow other dancers freedom, partners must gently turn the side walking step or turn gently in one spot. Solo turns are done sparingly in Merengue and are usually gentle walking two-or one hand turns. One of the spectacular features is the complex figures that can be achieved in two-hand turns, also known as Merengue de figura.
The beauty of the Merengue lies in its simplicity. There is no exaggerated Cuban hip action involved in the authentic style when compared with Ballroom Merengue. The latter is more rules based where Cuban hip action is an integral part. The emphasis in the Ballroom variant is on posture and distance between partners when in a dance hold. Another popular form is nightclub Merengue, where couples dance in a very close embrace with complex patterns and dips added to the routine.
Should you have additional questions or want to signup for one of the dance classes, please call us at (212) 473-2623!