Authentic Merengue is one of the simplest Latin dances to learn. The beat is clear and the rhythm constant. Merengue’s beauty is in its simple and ingenuous composition. Extravagant Cuban hip action is unnecessary (unlike other popular ballroom Latin dancers) when dancing the Merengue. As with Bachata, (the other popular Dominican dance) the emphasis is on simplicity in step
patterns rather than drama and style. Turns are not done in abundance, and when they are used, Merengue’s turns are casual walking steps rather than the spin turns seen in Salsa. Interestingly, the unhurried steps of Merengue allow dancers to perform more difficult pretzel-like patterns that would require much more training in a dance like Salsa or Swing.
Folklore and Legends surround the origins of this dance, which is sometimes referred to as the national dance of the Dominican Republic. The basic dance step appears as if one has a limp, or has a stiff leg that is being dragged to meet the other. While there are many interpretations of how the dance started, these two versions are the most common: One is that the dance began with slaves whose feet were chained and they were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar cane to the beat of drums. The other is of a war hero who suffered from a leg wound, and when he was welcomed home with a victory celebration, everyone danced with a limp to honor him, as this was the only way he could dance.
The emphasis in Merengue is to go with the rhythm and mood of the music, the partnership, improvisation, and feel of the occasion, instead of focusing on flair and conventional patterns. The Merengue is generally danced in a closed hold and the rhythm is 4/4 time – with Merengue you move with every beat.