Merengue Lessons

    Merengue has it's origins in the Dominican Republic, and since 1930 has been recognized as that country's national dance. The word Merengue, in Spanish means whipped egg whites and sugar, perhaps a reference to the dance's sweet and frothy character.

    As with many ballroom dances, exactly how Merengue originated may be up for debate. Two of the more popular folklore stories, in their historical context, are these:

1. In the late seventeenth century, Spain ceded a third of the island of Hispaniola to France. This French colony, Saint-Dominique, became the most productive agricultural colony in the Western Hemisphere largely due to the importation of huge numbers of slaves who were forced to labor in the fields.

    One story says that Merengue originated with these slaves of the French colony, who were chained together and out necessity forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of drums. Hence the motion of stepping with one leg and dragging the other leg to meet it.

2. A hundred years later tensions were boiling in Saint-Dominique among the oppressed slaves and in 1790 the slaves revolted. Both French and Spainish colonists fled in fear to Cuba and the independent nation of Haiti was established in 1804. The most popular story of the origin of Merengue centers around a great hero the revolution. He was welcomed home with a victory celebration. Although it was well know that the hero loved to dance, he had been severely crippled in one leg during the revolt. All he could do now was step with one leg and drag the other. Out of respect for him, all the people dancing at the celebration imitated him and the Merengue was born. However the Merengue was born, both stories create a picture of the Merengue motion, the stepping to the side and dragging the other foot to close.

    Merengue is a name used to describe the music as well as the dance. >From the middle of the 18th century, Merengue developed as rural music in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. As more educated musicians were introduced to the Merengue rhythm, the music started to be modified. In the 1930's the writing of more '"respectable" lyrics brought the music of Merengue to the urban classes and Merengue began to disseminate rapidly