A look at Merengue, Dominican Republic’s national dance with its unique origins

Stephen Nartey October 11, 2022
Dominican merengue dancing. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Javier10

The Dominican Republic is home to several cultural dances of African ancestry. It is unusual to visit a social gathering or walk the streets of the island community without witnessing a display of gestures characteristic of the traditions of the people.  

The cocktail of the rich cultural dances in the Dominican Republic is not the focus of this article, but,  the origins of Merengue, the national dance of the Dominican region. There are conflicting histories of how Merengue originated to become a much-loved dance by the people of the island city. One fact that cannot however be challenged is Merengue is part of the national identity of the Dominican Republic, according to flodance.

Oral history has it that the genesis of the Merengue can be traced to the enslaved who lived in the region in 1700. Historians claim that the basics of the dance were an adaptation of African and French minuet. 
It was developed through the ingenuity of the enslaved who were enthralled by the ballroom dances of their owners during festive periods. An attempt to mirror the ballroom dance and regular practice of its movement gave birth to the Merengue. 

Parts where their owners were rigid and boring in their dance moves, they made fun and flexible. They fast-tracked the rhythms to make the dance exciting and danceable. Traditionally, Merengue focuses on groups rather than placing emphasis on individual participation in the dancing. It is choreographed with dancers forming a round-like arc with their arms locked and dancing facing each other. 

Another school of thought on the origins of the traditional dance holds that Merengue came about following a war veteran who had been maimed in one leg after a battle. In recognition of his heroic exploits while he was returning home, the townsfolk danced dragging one leg reminiscent of the reality that had befallen him as a result of the war.

Another origin of Merengue that has come up strongly in the Dominican Republic is that the dance came about as a result of slaves trying to get familiar with the chains on their legs on slave plantations and ended up developing a rhythm while dancing. They used the cane sticks for the drumbeats as they cut them on the sugar plantations, but, that camaraderie developed into the dance that evolved to be known as Merengue.

It is easy to follow the dance moves of Merengue because of its popularity among the people. According to UNESCO, Merengue is woven into the identity of the Dominican Republic’s social fiber. From the streets to schools and social gatherings, people incorporate the traditional dance into these events.
On November 26, 2005, the Merengue became recognized as the national dance of the Dominican community. In communities such as Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata, the traditional dance has festivals where it is displayed as part of efforts to nationalize it.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 12, 2022


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