Merengue is danced as a couple. Every tact blow is set uniform with a step forwards, behind or to the side. Characteristic for the dance style is a hip sway in every step. By this Merengue receives a strongly sensual component. This is supported by an accentuated close dance manner – an open dance posture is the exception. An important roll in the rotations is played by the dancers arms, which can perform single, but very extensive figures and combinations.
Merengue is danced in 2/4-time or 4/4-time. Every tact blow is emphasized clearly by a drum blow, what makes the rhythm catchy and simple. The speed varies from 60 to 90 beats per minute.
Past and Present
Merengue is the most expressive form of creative Dominican self-representation and their expression of national self-confidence. The origin of Merengue is controversial. Some say Juan Babtista Alfonseca is the "father" of Merengue. Others see its evolution in the spontaneous joy at the victory against the Haitians after the battle of Talanquera. Later on it was said that it was derived from Taino traditions, mixed with colonial Spanish and African elements.
A very popular explanation says Merengue was developed at a fiesta, when an official guest with a clubfoot tried to dance. In order not to snub the handicapped all of the guests adopted his stiff-legged shuffle - and Merengue was born. Some discuss the connection to the disreputable pirate of "La Tortuga", as - pirates often have wooden legs.
The name "Merengue" remains mysterious too. Is it derived from the well known sweet made from eggs and sugar or does it come from an African language? Merengue had been present in the area of Cibao about 1850 and quickly found followers among the country dwellers. Whereas the members of society in the cities dance halls turned up their noses at this peasant dance. First during the era Trujillo it was accepted by all sections of the population. Trujillo had noticed the meaning of Merengue as a propaganda instrument and used it as an ideological "cargo ship" to the farest nooks of his little empire.
At the dictators "request" the local radio stations included Merengue in their programs. The record industry followed and with it Merengue festivals were re-valued as a "component of the national cultural heritage". After the end of the Trujillo regime, in 1961, Merengue got back to its roots and again became the peoples voice. Moreover it integrated new kinds of music, enlarged instrumentation and finally spread to other Caribbean islands and to America.
Today the sound of Merengue accompanies the Dominicans wherever they go. Radio stations play it around the clock. People on the street move to the omnipresent beat of the music, resounding from cassette players or the roof boxes in colmados and restaurants. One of the highlights for every Merenguero is the festival of Merengue, taking place in the Dominican Republic every year in the third week of July. Thousands of Dominicans and tourists push their way on Av. George Washington along Malecon, the beach promenade of St. Domingo, and dance to the rhythms of combos stimulating the crowd.