A social dance form that is popular at most get-togethers, Merengue for a very long time was rejected by the bourgeois because of the African rhythm music that it was danced to and the racy lyrics. It was only when an upper class family asked Luis Alberti, a popular musician of the era to compose a song for their daughter's birthday, that the dance form gained some sort of social acceptance.
Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican Republic dictator who came to power in 1930 made Merengue, the official dance of the country. The simplicity of the dance steps makes it one of the easiest dance forms to learn. Dancing the Merengue is really simple and needs the partners to be in the closed hold position.
Merengue Dance Moves
The music to which Merengue is danced has a four beat music bar which means that every bar has four beats of music and thus, four steps for each bar. Two bars of music and eight steps make one basic dance step of Merengue. The male partner or the leader in the dance always starts the dance with his left leg and the weight of his body is on his right leg. The female partner or the follower always mirrors the leader and thus, always starts with her right leg.
Side Basic Step
In this step, the weight of the man's body is on his right side and at the first beat, he steps on his left foot. As half of the first beat gets over, the man drags the left foot inwards and shifts his weight to his left leg and keeps his right leg free to step on it on the second beat. By the third beat, the weight of the body is again shifted to his right leg and this continues for eight steps. The woman mirrors these steps, starting the routine with her body weight on her left leg, and the right leg free to do the step as the routine demands.
Forward Basic Step
The basic step of Merengue remains the side basic throughout the dance. It is only the formation that you make or your movement while doing the step that changes. In the forward basic, the leader while doing the side basic will start moving forwards. At the first beat, with his weight on the right side of the body, he will step to the left, moving forwards and then drag his feet inwards halfway towards the beat, shift weight to his left side and step on his right moving forwards again. This way the forward basic step allows you to move forward on the dance floor.
Backward Basic Step
Again one of the basic dance steps, this step is the exact opposite of the forward basic step, wherein the leader instead of moving forwards while doing the side basic, moves backwards. In the backward basic, the leader, on the first beat, steps on his left foot while taking it backwards. Then, halfway through the first beat, the leader will drag his feet inwards, shifting his weight to the left foot and then stepping backwards on the right leg. In both, the forward basic step and the backward basic step, the follower does the opposite step of what the leader is doing. Therefore, while the leader does the forward basic, the follower does the backward basic and vice versa.
Merengue is one of the easiest dance forms to master, mainly because of the simple basic step that it follows. The beauty of the dance form comes from the stylized elements many dancers add to the dance form and the Cuban hip movement, which is a natural result of the weight change that the dance step depends on. Turns in Merengue are performed very easily. If you want to do a single hand turn, then the leader can lead the follower under his right arm, his left arm, or even swivel her in position, all while both the partners are doing the side basic. If you are doing the double hold, then turn your partner under your left or right arm, while holding both her hands and then do the opposite of the turn to get back to your original position, with both your hands free for the next step.
Once you have mastered the basic steps, you can modify it to suit your needs or create more complicated routines with other Latin dance steps. The best part about Merengue is that any step from other Latin dance forms can be adapted to the Merengue. The other more advanced steps in Merengue are the promenade flick, where you cover the span of the room in small leaps and end with a pachanga heel tap, windmill, a dance step where the hands of both the partners are fanned out while turning at the spot.
Merengue is extremely easy to learn and master and anyone with a bit of rhythm can excel at the dance form. So, put on your dancing shoes and step it up.