Merengue is a music genre and a Dominican Republic icon. A trip to this country is not complete without experiencing this contagious music.
There are no records of the genre’s roots, but it is believed that it dates back to the 1850s, when it was popular among farmers. At the time, the higher class considered this type of music as for the lower classes.
It wasn’t until 1930, when dictator Rafael Trujillo expanded the genre to all classes, that the music began to be played at parties among politicians and members of high society. Since then, it has remained the most representative music of this Caribbean country.
There are different subcategories of the music, as well, such as Perico ripiao and cibaeño. The main instruments used to play it are the güira, the drum, the accordion and the trumpet.
One of the greatest ambassadors of Dominican music is Juan Luis Guerra. The singer, with his group, 4.40, has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and has won two Grammy Awards and 17 Latin Grammy Awards. In his music, he combines the rhythms of merengue, bachata and jazz. Some of his songs, such as “El Costo de La Vida” and “El Niágara en Bicicleta,” not only demonstrate the typical merengue style, but send a strong social message as well.
If you haven’t danced “El Baile del Perrito” or “Abusadora” of Wilfrido Vargas yet, then you haven’t witnessed the complete merengue experience. He is one of the most famous Dominican singers and the one who helped the most to internationalize this type of music.
Another big star, Puerto Rico’s Olga Tañón, is one of the most recognized female singers of this genre. She has won two Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards, and her songs have been on the top of the Billboard list. “Es Mentiroso,” “Basta Ya” and “Sola” are among her most popular songs.
How to Dance it
Be careful, this is an extremely contagious rhythm — as soon as you listen to it, your legs won’t stop moving. It may look difficult to dance at first, but everyone can do it. You only have to learn the basic steps for beginners.
There is always one leader, and you should remain close to your partner during the entire song. The leader must hold the partner’s waist with his right hand while holding the partner’s right hand with his left one. Bend your knees slightly, move to the left, then to the right, then take one step back and one step forward. The most important thing is to move your hips with the rhythm. Are you enjoying it?
Where to Dance and Listen to Music in the Dominican Republic
One of the most famous places in Santo Domingo is the Jet Set Club, where you can dance to different types of Latin music. For a live experience, check out the Merengue Bar & Lounge at the Renaissance Jaragua Hotel and Casino and the Café Concierto Bachata Rosa.
Remember that to dance the merengue, you only need to practice and be ready to have fun!
Photo by Silvia Lucero.