Merengue is the Dominican national music and dance. In Haiti, they have a similar dance called Meringue or Mereng.
There is debate as to where the name came from. Some say it is named after meringue, like whipped egg whites and sugar, because of it light, frothy nature.
The origins of the dance are uncertain. One story is that locals imitated the formal closed-hold European dance styles they saw, then livened them up with Afro-Caribbean beats.
Another story is based on the foot drag motion in merengue, where a community tried to comfort a limping returned soldier by dancing with a limp themselves. It could also have been that the foot drag came from sugar pickers who danced with a foot in chains.
The three instruments of the merengue band, called a conjunto tipico, speak of the three strands of Dominican identity: the Taino guira, the African tambora drum, and the Spanish accordian.
The guira is a metal cylinder with holes that is brushed up and down.
Tempo is very important in merengue. Many enjoy a slow, bolero start that builds and builds until it is lightning-quick at the end. The fast, upbeat nature of merengue might be reminiscent of a jive, but with way more Latin hip movement!
Check out ‘Ta Buena’ by El Prodigio y Su Banda Typica, ‘Los Algodones’ by Banda Real, and ‘Yo Quiero a Ti’ by La Kerubanda.