Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, it may be related to a similar dance known in Haiti as Meringue). The dance is said to have originated from slaves mimicking the French minuet dances, however, the country of origin is still argued today by historians. Over time, these slaves added an upbeat to make the dance more lively, which provided a hop or skip. There are two prominent stories to how the dragged feet movement came about within this dance. The first is that it was to the African slaves dragging their feet while chained together and later became a strong representation of community recognition. The other claims the dance is depicting a war hero (in some cases a soldier) who had a limp and the dancers honored him in mimicry. This dance gained great popularity in the late 1800s when another dance known as Rumba was decreasing in status.
The exact origin of the music is unknown but musical instruments frequently used for Merengue music are the accordion, bass guitar, saxophone, tambora drum, trumpet, trombone and tuba. The music is a 2/4 rhythm and is often counted 1,2,1,2 or 1,2, 3,4 with a marching style music with dancers doing one weighted step per beat of music.
Originally, the Merengue was danced in a circle with people at arms length from each other and little or no hip action. In contemporary context, this partner dance spread in the United States when the social ballroom dance studios began teaching it in as an American rhythm (Latin) social dance. Ballroom dance studios taught it along with the other Latin dances including Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba, Salsa, Bachata and Mambo. It used to be danced with one leg kept in a straightened position and accents on count 1 and 5 but in recent years is done with Cuban motion like the Cha Cha, Mambo and Rumba. Its popularity increased along with the Salsa in the 1970's and spread from dance studios to Latin dance venues and nightclubs.
The contemporary version uses all the social ballroom dance positions and handholds including closed basic, one-hand, two-hand, handshake and cross hand position. The basic step is usually taught as a side-close, side-close, but it also moves forward, backward and circular plus partners moving toward each other and away. Almost every imaginable movement that is used in swing, hustle, nightclub dancing is also used in Merengue like wraps, cuddles, walk arounds, underarm turns, pivots, hammerlocks and many more variations of dance elements.
The Merengue is danced with the upper body remaining level, subsequently sway is uncommon in Merengue. This emphasizes the hip and knee action necessary to accomplish Cuban motion. The ribcage and hips work in synchrony to achieve a rhythmic Cuban action with the ribcage initiating the movement and the hip following. The footwork is generally ball-flat, although forward walks may be done with heel leads, for instance, the person walking forward in a circular movement.
Merengue is very popular in Southern California with its love of Latin-style music and dance. San Diego, California has a large, flourishing Latin dance community with a great variety of Latin and Salsa dance venues for Latin dancers to dance every night of the week. The Latin dance venues include Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha and Merengue in their music selections. Also, there are a considerable number of dance studios that offer American-style Latin dance instruction in Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha, Samba, Mambo, Rumba, Bolero and Merengue. The premier San Diego Latin dance studio is the Pattie Wells' Dancetime Center in the heart of San Diego near Mission Bay. They offer all forms of Latin dance including Merengue!