The Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic, and also to some extent, of Haiti, the neighbor sharing the island.
There are two popular versions of the of the origin of the Dominican national dance, the Merengue. One story alleges the dance originated with slaves who were chained together and, of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of drums. The second story alleges that a great hero was wounded in the leg during one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic. A party of villagers welcomed him home with a victory celebration and, out of sympathy, everyone dancing felt obliged to limp and drag one foot.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Merengue was very popular in the Dominican Republic. Not only is it used on every dancing occasion in the Republic, but it is very popular throughout the Caribbean and South America, and is one of the standard Latin American dances.
The Merengue was introduced in the United States in the New York area. However, it did not become well known until several years later.
The music style is festive and happy and the music tempo is about 120 to 160 beats per minute.
Merengue music essentially has the tempo and rhythm of marching music. This is appropriate for the even tempo left, right, left, right, step timing. The music and the basic step may be counted: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Counting to eight is also very popular. The basic step can be thought of as step, close, step, close, step, close, step, close. Most patterns require 4 beats or eight beats of music. Like disco music, merengue music has heavy down beats on every count.
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. 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 momentarily releasing one hand. During these turns they may twist and tie their handhold into intricate pretzels. Other choreographies are possible.
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.