Merengue (pronounced /məˈrɛŋɡeɪ/) is a style of Latin American music and danced with a two-step beat. Partners hold each other in a closed position. Using the right hand, the leader holds the follower’’s waist. The leader uses the left hand to hold the follower’s right 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 choreography is possible. Merengue was made the official music and dance of the Dominican Republic by Rafael Trujillo. Some say Merengue derived from the “paso de la empalizada” (pole-fence step). There are also legends about a limping war hero (or El Presidente of a banana republic himself, in some versions) who had to step in this way while dancing because of wounds and the polite (or clueless) public imitated him.

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).

In Popular Culture

Merengue was featured prominently in the Steve Martin comedy film “My Blue Heaven”.

Music Examples:

1. Suavemente by Elvis Crespo
2. Muchacho Malo by Olga Tanon
3. No Me Digas Que No by La Makina