Folk dance and European dance
According to a tradition, the merengue was created by African slaves on the island of Hispaniola who took their cue from European colonists who danced together in a very slow and modest way. However, the complicated polyphony and multirhythmic chanting of African music also had an influence, changing this sincere dance style into something more fun and sincere for large groups of men and women dancing in a circle.
The One-Legged Dance
One story goes that slaves created merengue as a dance to perform while chained together. Another story tells of a hero of slave revolts who came home with an injured leg. The villagers celebrated their return with a dance that honored his victim with a unique dance step: one leg moved normally and the other dragged itself on the ground.
Merengue displaced the complicated thumb as the most popular dance in the Dominican Republic. The steps and positions of the merengue were easy to perform. In classic merengue, the partners held each other close together with outer hands held together at eye level. They moved to the side and turned in both directions. In some versions, the partners stayed together during the dance. In others, they separated but always held hands.
Dance in Cibao
The Cibao region of the Dominican Republic became the center of the dance’s popularity. Many new steps and styles were developed in Cibao. Due to the earthly lyrics and objects of the songs used for merengue dancing, it was always considered a dance in the lower classes.
In 1930, a candidate for president, Rafael L. Trujillo, used merengue music in his campaign stops, bringing music and dancing to new places across the country. The radio spreads merengue music, and when a wealthy family commissioned composer Luis Alberti to write a suitably modest song for his daughter’s fifteenth birthday, the traditional merengue people wrote, ‘Compadre Pedro Juan.’ When the dance was taken up by different social classes, two different styles of merengue emerged: folk and balm merengue. A style of merengue called pambiche was also created for American marines who occupied the Dominican Republic and who were not used to the fast laps of merengue dance. From the Dominican Republic, the dance traveled to the United States and across the Caribbean. Merengue is a popular dance in the Caribbean and South America. It was born on the island of Hispaniola, which is divided by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Merengue, the national dance of the Dominican Republic, has been traced to the dance styles of African slaves who worked the country’s sugar plantations during colonial times. But the exact origin of merengues is not clear and is carefully discussed by historians of Latin dance.