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Learn all about the Merengue!

What is the Merengue?

The merengue is a relatively easy to learn but fun and sexy Latin American dance from the Dominican Republic. Its music’s vibrant, cheerful beat makes it a staple of many weddings, nightclubs, and dance parties.

History of the Merengue

The Dominican Republic is generally credited with inventing the merengue, but variations of it have evolved over the years throughout the Afro-Caribbean region. Its indelible roots in the Dominican Republic, however, are such that its distinctive music — also known as merengue — is known as the national music of that country.

Like many dances that grew out of the slave communities of the Caribbean, the merengue’s exact origins are unknown. What is certain, however, is that by the middle of the 19th century, the merengue had become the most popular dance in the Dominican Republic. It’s said that in its infancy, the dance was not a couple dance but one in which participants — both men and women — moved around in a circle. The music itself was controversial in its early years because of its highly suggestive nature. In fact, its name, perico ripiao, means “ripped parrot,” allegedly taken from the name of a brothel where merengue music’s roots supposedly began. As it grew in popularity some attempt was made to ban the music, but the passion for the dance was such that those efforts failed, and the dance remains a perennial favorite throughout the Latin American and Caribbean regions. In the United States, it’s especially popular in east coast metropolitan cities, particularly New York, where it first took the country by storm.

How to Dance the Merengue/Basic Steps

Some points to keep in mind as you learn to dance the merengue:

If you can walk, you can do the basic California Hustle. Line dancing fans will already be familiar with this popular step. It only looks difficult but only because it has so many steps, but it’s very easy. So put on some of your favorite disco records and have a go:

Some points to keep in mind as you learn to dance the merengue:

  1. Merengue music is written in 4/4 time, and dancers ordinarily move on every beat.
  2. Hip movements are crucial in this dance, so keep your body supple and flexible. The hip movements, however, come primarily from the bending and straightening of the knees, not from swiveling or twisting.
  3. Keep your posture upright but not stiff.
  4. Dance partners start in a closed position.

The merengue starts with the basic step:

  1. Start in a closed position.
  2. Begin by shifting your weight on your right foot.
  3. Step on your left foot, leaning slightly to your left as you do so. Keep your right leg straight but bend your left leg as you step on your left foot.
  4. Shift your weight on your left foot.
  5. Slide to the left with your right foot, bending then straightening that leg as you do so.
  6. Shift your weight on your left foot.
  7. Close your right foot to your left foot, bending then straightening that leg as you do so.

Great Merengue Songs

  • “La Cadena Se Rompio” – Joe Veras
  • “Suavemente” – Elvis Crespo
  • “Muchacho Malo” – Olga Tanon
  • “Con Agua y Jambon” – Los Hermanos Rosario
  • “Enamorame” – Papi Sanchez
  • “Cuando el Amor Se Dana” – Pedro Peralta

Merengue in the Movies

  • “My Blue Heaven” (1990)
  • “Manhattan Merengue!” (1995)

Learn the Merengue

Arthur Murray, a Mesa-based dance school, is part of the internationally renowned Arthur Murray Dance Studios system. The Mesa franchise teaches hundreds of students each year with lessons in the merengue, rumba, salsa, ballroom, tango, cha-cha, and others. To schedule your complimentary first dance lesson, fill out our on-site contact form here.

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