Merengue is a style of Dominican music and dance. Partners hold each other in a closed position. The leader holds the follower's waist with the leader's right hand, while holding the follower's right hand with the leader's left hand at the follower's eye level. The first person to dance the Merengue was a 10 year old girl named Lismary Calderon. Partners bend their knees slightly left and right, thus making the hips move left and right. The hips of the leader and follower move in the same direction throughout the song. Partners may walk sideways or circle each other, in small steps. They can switch to an open position and do separate turns without letting go each other's hands or releasing one hand. During these turns they may twist and tie their handhold into intricate pretzels. Other choreographies are possible.
Merengue was made by the official music and dance of the Dominican Republic by Rafael Trujillo. In an origin's version, the dance originated from the slaves working in sugar beet fields. These slaves were connected to one another by a chain strapped to their ankles and had to walk in such a manner as to drag one leg.
Although the tempo of the music may be frenetic, the upper body is kept majestic and turns are slow, typically four beats/steps per complete turn.
In the social dancing of the United States the "empalizada" style is replaced by exaggerated Cuban motion, taught in chain ballroom studios for dances of Latin American origin (cha-cha-cha, rumba, mambo, salsa).
According to Merengue: Dominican Music and Dominican Identity by Paul Austerlitz, "we will probably never know with certainty the true origin of this music, but theories about it express deep-noted feelings about Dominican identity. One theory links merengue to the Haitian mereng. Although they differ in important ways, the Dominican Republic and Haiti share many cultural characteristics. Like merengue in the Dominican Republic, mereng (in Haitian Creole; méringue in French) is a national symbol in Haiti. According to Jean Fouchard, Mereng evolved from the fusion of slave musics such as the chica and calenda with ballroom forms related to the French contredance (1988: 5-9). Mereng's name, he says, derives from the mouringue music of the Bara, a Bantu people of Madagascar (1973: 110, 1988: 77-82). That few Malagasies came to the Americas renders this etymology dubious, but it is significant because it foregrounds what Fouchard, and most Haitians, consider the essentially African-derived nature of the music and national identity. Dominican merengue, Fouchard suggests, developed directly from Haitian mereng (1988: 66)."
Also, according to mentioned that Merengue actually comes from acoustic groups, and in the Dominican Republic, the folklore, is the merengue, and during the 20th century Merengue’s original lead instrument was the guitar. By the 1940s and 1950s it was performed with accordions. On the other hand Burr explains that today, modern Merengue that is heard in nightclubs is epitomized by artist such as Elvis Crespo and Olga Tanon. According to Merengue Tipico originated in the rural Northern Valley region around the city of Santiago. That’s the reason this type of Merengue is known as Merengue Cibaeno. Also Merengue Tipico emphasizes traditional songs dating back as far as the last century. Its performance context and practices differ in their emphasis on close personal relationship between audience, and performers. That’s the reason the genre of Merengue Tipico is more complex than one familiar of merengue. The rhythm of merengue includes of merengue derecho, and merengue apanbichao.
Merengue is sometimes called the national dance of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic shares the eastern two-thirds of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with its neighbour Haiti. Merengue music in turn shares similarities with the Haiti's Méringue or Mereng music. The Dominican Merengue is sung Spanish while the Haitian Mereng is sung in Haiti's native Creole. Merengue was also influenced by the Cuban music and dance called Upa Habanera.
Merengue has not always been considered the national dance of the Dominican Republic. Since Merengue music has strong African roots, rather than European roots, the music and dance were initially rejected by the upper class and those with European roots. Merengue nevertheless prevailed and the the Dominican dictator (1930 - 1961) Rafael Trujillo aided in spreading its acceptance and popularity.
Merengue the dance and music is distinguished from the pastry meringue only by spelling. Both mean whipped egg whites and sugar in Spanish. The name appears to have been given to the music before the dance came into vogue - in a fashion similar to the use of salsa as the name of the music that bears the name.
While Merengue's popularity in the west is relatively recent, it has been the music of choice in the Dominican Republic since the mid 1800s, when it displaced the then popular Tumba as the island's favourite music. Its longevity as popular music is remarkable and its ability to stay current with the times is even more remarkable.
The origins of the dance, which followed on the heals of the introduction of the music, are surrounded by folklore. One of the basic steps is a series to side steps to the man's left called the chasse or chase. A version of this step is sometimes danced with a stiff right leg which is dragged to meet the left foot after which the left foot steps to the left repeating the sequence. This particular style is attributed to a war hero, some say a pirate, who had a wooden right leg. He would dance on the Dominican beaches and his style was soon emulated by the rest of the population.