(Meringue, Dominican One Step)
(1953 - Present)
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.
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].
- Stand erect, lift the heels, one after the other, and tap them on the floor.
- Continue this and bend the knees slightly without dipping forward.
- Swing the hips from side to side following the tempo set by the drum... to the left when the weight of the body rests on the left leg; and to the right when the weight shifts to the right leg.
- The partners will be in close harmony while dancing only when they swing their hips together without moving their shoulders [JT57].
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].
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:
- Side Basic: A repeated side, close to the Lead's left [HD47, PB55, VB55, AB55, MS55, DG56, BF56, IW56, GB57, JT57, AM58, BW58, AW58, AM59b]. This can also be done to the Lead's right (after holding the weight on the left foot for an extra count) [DG56, JT57, BW58]. One source describes a "fancy" variation in which you alternate which way you're looking with every step (look left when stepping on left foot and right when stepping on right). This source notes that "it is not necessary to repeat this continually" [JT57].
- Sterney Side Step: Side, close, side, close, then four steps in place. Repeat [MS55].
- Sterney Side Step (Short Version): Side, close, then two steps in place. Repeat [MS55].
- Promenade: Side, cross through, side, close [IW56, FA59].
- Crossover Step: Side, cross through, touch side, touch closed (one movement per beat, but only two weight changes, on 1, 2). Repeat [BF56].
- The Point: Side, cross through, point side without weight, then close that to supporting foot. Repeat opposite. Both partners cross in front [DG56].
- Crossfront Step: Side, cross through (to hands), cross through (to elbows), cross through (to hands) [BF56].
- Promenade Rock: Promenade three steps, and bring right toward left without closing, then rock step (as in Swing), perhaps in half closed position. Repeat the side, toward, and rock step [AB55, DG56]. This can also be done to the other side [DG56].
- Forward Lift: Promenade four steps, perhaps in half-closed position, kicking the first foot forward on the fourth step [DG56].
- Circle Turn: Dance the Side Basic around the circumference of a small circle, completing one rotation in eight steps. Dance a left-footed Side Basic around a clockwise circle, or a right-footed Side Basic around a counterclockwise circle [DG56 AW58].
- Rueda Turn: Walk forward around each other, clockwise or counterclockwise. In the clockwise turn, the Lead steps side, cross, while the Follow steps cross, side. In the counterclockwise turn, the Lead steps cross, side, while the Follow steps side, cross [BW58].
- Spot Turn: Keeping right feet on the spot, the partners alternate paddling around with the left turn, making a complete rotation in eight steps. This can also be done with the opposite feet, to turn to the left [AB55, DG56, BF56].
- Santo Domingo Circulo: Link right elbows and walk eight steps forward around each other, circling clockwise, then switch to left elbow and circle eight steps counterclockwise [HD47].
- Side to Side Step: Side, close, side, touch closed without weight, and repeat opposite [JT57, BW58, AW58].
- Yoyo: Side, close without weight, side, close without weight [JT57].
- Marcando: Three steps in place, then hold, and repeat opposite [HD47].
- Grapevine: Step side, cross through, side, cross behind . Both partners do the same crosses, both in front, then both behind. This can also be done to the Lead's right, starting with the cross in front [DG56].
- Sterney Glide: Side, cross through, side close, then side, cross behind, side close [MS55].
- Rock and Glide: Similar to the Sterney Glide, but the first two steps are replaced by a rock step (as in Swing) [MS55].
- The Twist: Step in place as the Lead rotates the Follow back and forth between Promenade position and Yale position at his right side [BW58].
- Back Snap: Take four steps in place, kicking the first foot back from the knee on the fourth step [DG56]. This can also be done by backing the Follow three steps, turning to the right with each step, then kicking the first foot back on the fourth step [DG56].
The following variations involve a break step (forward, back, or back, forward):
- Forward Basic: Back the Follow with small walking steps [MS55, AM59b]. One source specifies that the odd steps are longer than the even steps [AM59b].
- Left Turn: Back the Follow in a small counterclockwise circle [MS55, FA59, AM59a, AM59b].
- Left Turn with Open Break: Five steps of the left turn, then step closed, and rock step away from partner with left-to-right hands [AM59b].
- Right Turn: Back the Follow in a small clockwise circle [MS55, JT57].
- Walk and Close: Back the Follow three steps, and close on the fourth. Repeat, or repeat opposite to back the Lead [DG56].
- Turning Walk and Close: Using the Walk and Close step, back the Follow along a half circle to the left, then back the Lead along a half circle to the left. The path on the floor is like two humps of a camel, drawn from right to left [DG56]. This basic idea can be adapted to travel in a variety of different directions [DG56].
- Step and Close: A repeated forward, close [BF56, GB57]. This can also be done in circles, as in the Left and Right Turns above [GB57].
- Forward and Mark Time: Forward, close, in place, in place [BF56].
- Stair Step: Side, close, forward, close [BF56, GB57, FA59]. Or forward, close, side, close [AM59a, AM59b, AM59c].
- Rectangular Step: Side, close, back, close without weight, then side, close, forward, close without weight [JT57].
- Step Lift: An exception to the one step per beat rule: forward, close, forward, close, forward, lift, forward, lift [MS55].
- Quarter Turns: Another exception: diagonally forward left and close right without weight, then diagonally forward right and close left without weight [JT57].
- Forward and Back Balance: Forward, close, back, close [JT57, BW58]. This can also be done turning to the left [BW58].
- Pendulum Step: Diagonally forward, close, diagonally back, close, and repeat, always traveling to Lead's left. Accent the first step of the pattern (the diagonal forward step) [AM59b].
- Long Forward and Back Balance: Forward, close, then two steps in place, followed by back, close, then two steps in place [MS55].
- Ibo Variation: Back the Follow four steps, then back the Lead four steps. The second step is longer than the others [JT57].
- Carabinier Variation: Forward, back, back, back, then a long, hard step forward [JT57].
- 331 Step: An exception to the one step per beat rule: forward, forward, forward, back, back, back, tap to side, and hold [MS55].
In addition to footwork variations, Merengue can incorporate turns for the Follow like in Swing:
- Four Count: Forward, replace, side, close [MS55].
- Four Count Turn: Diagonally forward left, diagonally back right, side, close [AB55, DG56, MS55].
- Rocking Turn: A Four Count Turn without the side, close, i.e., a repeated diagonally rocking that turns to the left [BF56, BW58].
- Eight Count Turn: An exception to the one step per beat rule: diagonally forward left, diagonally back right, side, and close without weight, then diagonally back right, diagonally forward left, side, and close without weight [DG56].
- Six Count: Forward, replace, back, back, replace, forward, i.e., Mambo on 1 in even timing [MS55].
- Six Count Turn: Dance the Six Count, rotating slightly to the left on each step (a full turn in 12 steps) [MS55].
- El Bote: Forward, back, back, forward, mimicking the rocking of a boat in the waves [HD47, IC47, DG56, BF56, AW58]. One version twists to the right on the first half and to the left on the second half [DG56, AW58]. Another travels slightly to the Lead's right [HD47].
- The Pinwheel: As in the Six Count Turn, turn in place to the left in 12 steps, but this time using the footwork of The Swing [HD47, AB55, DG56, BF56].
- Sinking Step: Conceptually related to El Bote: vigorously shake the shoulders while "sink[ing] nearly to the floor by bending the knees" [IC47].
Finally, these steps are done in Challenge Position (no hands, facing partner):
- Arch Turn: The Follow turns left-to-right hands by walking in a small clockwise circle of eight steps as the Lead steps in place [MS55, DG56]. Or by doing a clockwise paddle turn of six steps (right foot in place, left foot paddling around) [JT57].
- Arch Turn to Follow's Left: Same as the paddling version of the above, but the Follow turns counterclockwise under right-to-left hands [JT57].
- Whirling: A faster version of the Arch Turn, without hip movement. Exact footwork is unspecified [JT57].
- Loop Turn: The Follow turns under left-to-right hands by walking in a small counterclockwise circle of eight steps as the Lead steps in place [MS55].
- Side to Side Walk: The Lead sends the Follow to his left side (with walking steps) to take open two hands, then Leads her walk back and forth between his left side to his right side. She takes four steps to get from one side to the other [BW58].
- Walk to Skaters Position: The basic concept above can be used to change between various dance positions, e.g., Skaters position [BW58].
- Facing and Backing: The Lead does the Side Basic as the Follow steps side, close, side (turning 180° to right to show back to the Lead), and brings left close to right without weight. The the Follow steps side, close, side (turning 180° to left to face the Lead), and brings the right close to the left. The leading hands stay connected the whole time, wrapping in front of the Follow like a one-armed Cradle position [AW58].
- Country Dance: This is described as a fusion of the French Quadrille and the Haitian Merengue. Facing partner with hands at sides (Lady holding dress): side, cross through, side, and lift across with a hop. Repeat opposite [MS55].
- The Slide: Starting left foot, three steps in place, then slide diagonally forward left (Follow backward right) on both feet. Repeat, starting right foot and sliding diagonally forward right [DG56].
Here's a sampling of early Merengue music:
And here are some popular Merengues today:
- ER39 — Edward Reid. (1939, May 20). "Let's Go to the Fair." Brooklyn Eagle (Brooklyn, NY).
- BE40 — Brooklyn Eagle. (1940, February 4). "Line Introduces Dominican Dance." Brooklyn Eagle (Brooklyn, NY).
- HD47 — Helen Dzhermolinska. (1947, September). "The Merengue Becomes La Dominicana." Dance Magazine. New York.
- IC47 — Iowa City Press-Citizen. (1947, November 26). "Mrs. Rogler Gives Hints on South-of-the-Border Dances." Iowa City Press-Citizen (Iowa City, IA).
- MN48 — Miami Daily News. (1948, February 24). "Gomez to Introduce New 'Merengue' Dance." Miami Daily News (Miami, FL).
- PI53 — Philadelphia Inquirer. (1953, December 31). "Little People Miss Big Capital Headlines." The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, PN).
- JE54 — Jane Eads. (1954, January 30). "New Dominican Dance Popular in Washington." The Index-Journal (Greenwood, SC) [and many other newspapers].
- PB55 — Phyllis Battelle (quoting Arthur Murray). (1955, May 24). "It's An Agile Hip, Lazy Foot Dance." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO) [and many other newspapers].
- VB55 — Vivian Brown. (1955, April 8). "Merengue is Imported from Caribbean Island." The Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, MI) [and many other newspapers].
- AB55 — Albert and Josephine Butler. (1955, March). "The Merengue." Dance Magazine. New York.
- JD55 — Jean-Léon Destiné. (1955, April). "Letter to the Editor." Dance Magazine. New York.
- MS55 — Martin Sterney. (1955). How to Merengue. Brooklyn.
- DG56 — Dance Guild, Inc. (1956). Merengue Made Easy. New York.
- BF56 — Beale Fletcher. (1956). How to Improve Your Social Dancing with the Fletcher Count System. New York.
- IW56 — I. F. Waglow. (1956, September). "The Cha Cha Cha and the Merengue." Journal of Health - Physical Education - Recreation. Washington, DC.
- GB57 — Guy Barry. (1957). How To Dance the Cha-Cha-Cha and Other Latin American Dances. New York.
- JT57 — Jerry C. Thomas. (c. 1957). It's Fun to Dance the Haitian Meringue. Haiti.
- AM58 — Arthur Murray. (1958). Arthur Murray's Music for Dancing [Instructions on Back of Record Sleeve]. New York.
- BW58 — Betty White. (1958). Betty White's Latin-American Dance Book. New York.
- AW58 — Anita Peters Wright, Dexter Wright. (1958). How to Dance (New and Enlarged Edition). New York.
- FA59 — Fred Astaire Dance Studios. (1959). How to Dance the Mambo and Merengue accompanying vinyl record Mambos and Merengues. New York.
- AM59a — Arthur Murray. (1959). Ballroom Dancing. New York.
- AM59b — Arthur Murray. (1959). How To Become A Good Dancer (Completely Revised Edition), with Dance Secrets by Kathryn Murray. New York.
- AM59c — Arthur Murray. (c. 1959). Arthur Murray's Music for Dancing Mambo, Rumba, Samba, Tango, Merengue [Instructions on Back of Record Sleeve]. New York.
© 2018 Nick Enge
If you or your community is interested in learning Merengue, .
For more dance descriptions, see our three books on dancing:
The Book of Mixers: 100 Easy-Teach Dances for Getting Acquainted (2022) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge,
Cross-Step Waltz: A Dancer's Guide (2019) by Richard Powers and Nick & Melissa Enge, and
Waltzing: A Manual for Dancing and Living (2013) by Richard Powers and Nick Enge.
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