Merengue

(Meringue, Dominican One Step)

(1953 - Present)



Introduction

Merengue is a couple dance from the island of Santo Domingo (i.e., The Dominican Republic and Haiti), which made its lasting debut on the worldwide stage when the new Dominican ambassador to the United States, General Manuel A. de Moya, and his wife introduced it at an embassy party in late December 1953 [PI53].* General descriptions of the dance—as an easy party dance with lots of hip movement—appeared in early 1954 [JE54]. Specific step descriptions came in 1955.

Early on, Merengue was sometimes spelled Meringue, the same as the delicious dessert. If Haitian dancer Jean-Léon Destiné (1918-2013) is to be believed, this seeming coincidence may not actually be a coincidence. In a letter to Dance Magazine in April 1955, he writes:

People here [in the U.S.] are familiar with Meringue Pie. But how many of them know that this name [the name of the dance] was taken from an old Haitian Legend? This legend tells of the time when enslaved Creoles were required by their masters to entertain with dance and song. The best entertainer was rewarded with a piece of characteristic French pastry. Naturally these dance improvisations became known as The Meringue. Much later, when the eastern part of the island of Haiti became the Dominican Republic, the Dominicans adopted The Meringue and gave it the Spanish name Merengue [JD55].
As attractive as this theory may be, neither I nor Douglas Harper of Etymonline have seen anything that corroborates it, so take it with a grain of salt (or sugar, as the case may be).

Whatever its exact origins may be, Merengue is still popular as an easy party dance today, with many Latin pop tunes still carrying the rhythm (particularly those performed by Pitbull).

* There were several other earlier attempts to introduce the Merengue to the United States [ER39, BE40, HD47, IC47, MN48]. For example, in 1947, a new ballroom dance called the Dominicana was introduced by Lita and Gabriel Cansinos. The Dominicana was said to be an "evolution of the Merengue, a folk dance of the Dominican Republic" [HD47]. The steps are consistent with the later Merengue (and as such, are included in the descriptions below), but at the time, the Dominicana didn't catch on.


The Dance

The Style

In a detailed description of the Merengue published in Haiti, Jerry Thomas describes the essential elements of Merengue style:

Some sources concur with the movement of the hips described above (i.e., the left hip pops out when stepping on the left) [PB55, AB55, MS55, DG56].

Most others, however, describe a "limping" style with "contrary hip movement": bend the stepping leg on the first step, then drag the free foot closed on the second step, straightening everything. This actually causes the hips to move in completely the opposite way (i.e., the right hip pops out when stepping on the left) [VB55, MS55, BF56, GB57, BW58, AW58, AM59a, AM59b]. This style gave rise to the legend that the dance was invented by a wounded warrior (or peg-legged pirate) [HD47, PB55, AB55, DG56, BF56]. Thomas describes this contrary hip movement as an "advanced variation" of the basic style he describes above [JT57].

Regardless of how the hips move, it's generally agreed that one should be careful not to exaggerate the movement of the hips [AB55, DG56, JT57].

The Steps

Unless otherwise noted, all of the following steps are performed with one step per beat (hence the nickname Dominican One Step). Merengue is generally considered a spot dance [AB55], but where there is travel, it follows LOD [MS55].

The first category of Merengue steps are those that travel to the side:

The next category of Merengue steps are those that back the Follow: The following variations involve a break step (forward, back, or back, forward): In addition to footwork variations, Merengue can incorporate turns for the Follow like in Swing: Finally, these steps are done in Challenge Position (no hands, facing partner):

The Music

Here's a sampling of early Merengue music:



And here are some popular Merengues today:


Sources


© 2018 Nick Enge


For more, including descriptions of 25 different waltzes and hundreds of variations thereof, see Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living a book by Richard Powers and Nick Enge.


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