Merengue is a type of lively, joyful music and dance that comes from the Dominican Republic.
Origins are still disputed and traced to the second half of 18th century.
The ballroom version of merengue (merengue de salón), in its easiest form looks as follows.
With monotonous thumping 1-2-3-4 bass drum beat, all steps are on one beat and have a characteristic limping appearance.
Sometimes this step is called "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 polite (or clueless) public imitated
Partners hold each other in closed position and do walks sideways or circle each other, in small steps. They can further switch to a double handhold position and do separate turns never letting go each other's hands. During these turns they may twist and tie their handhold
into intricate pretzels. Other choreography is possible.
Although the tempo of the music may be frantic, the upper body is kept majestic and turns are slow, typically four beats/steps
per complete turn.
In the social dancing of the USA 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).
Club merengue evolved significantly from "formal" ballroom style. The main differences are much more erotic, suggestive
way of dancing and much less serious attitude. All "ballroom" figures are danced, in addition dancers may dance in separation,
similarly to Shines known in Salsa. Merengue shines are much more suggestive or silly.
The basic step may be different from the ballroom "empalizada" or "Cuban" versions. Some do it in the Mashed Potato style. Others employ rotational movement of hips that comes from knees.
Folk merengue is still preserved in Dominican rural areas. There's a tendency to move the hips in full circles.