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Introduction to Merengue

Peg & John Kincaid

There are 2 stories about the origination of Merengue. The most popular version relates to a great hero of the revolution, General Maringie, who had been crippled in one leg during the war. It is said that he loved to dance, but after the injury, when he danced he could only step with one leg and drag the other. Not wishing to offend the great hero, the other dancers did the same thing.

Merengue is probably the easiest dance to learn because of its timing. Merengue is written in 4/4 time (4 beats to a bar of music, and four dance steps to a bar of music). The main characteristic of the basic step is described as stepping side and dragging the other leg to close. It is also known as a “lame duck” motion. Walking steps and side steps make up the basic components of Merengue. The main focus is in the legs, keeping the upper body erect and as still as possible. There is no intentional hip movement in any of the Latin dances, and Merengue is no different. The hip action comes from changing weight from one foot to the other. In Latin dancing whenever one leg is straight, the other should be bent. Walking backwards is a good demonstration of this action. The foot action in Merengue is described as a “foot roll”. It is accomplished by stepping onto the inside ball of the foot where the big toe is and rolling the foot over to the little toe, and then lowering the heel as if you were squashing a grape. Then place the foot flatly onto the floor straightening the leg. It sounds a little like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time, but it looks great once it has been mastered.

For our purposes, to introduce Merengue to phase II/III dancers, we selected steps that they should already be familiar with from other rhythms. We use Merengue music and incorporate these steps into a routine. Some slight modifications may be necessary to fit the music, or to fit the timing, but the basic steps remain the same. It is often introduced as a marching dance. When the dancers are comfortable doing the steps to Merengue music, you can add some styling tips. We have listed some of the more familiar phase II and phase III steps that can be used to teach Merengue.

  • side close
  • chasse
  • twrl to tamara, wheel, & unwrap
  • stair steps
  • underarm trn to lariat
  • side two step
  • bk away and together
  • wheel
  • twirl
  • vines
  • hip rks

In this session we plan to demonstrate how you can introduce Merengue to your dancers by using familiar steps with appropriate Merengue music. Most Samba music can be adapted for Merengue.

Side close is a familiar 2 step figure. A Merengue basic is two side closes.

Side 2 step (sd cl sd tch) in both directions is a good introduction to the Conga walks left and right. Vines can also be used to teach Conga walks left and right ( sd beh sd tch). By modifying the vine action to cross in front instead of behind, you accomplish the actual footwork of the Conga walks (sd XIF sd tch).

Back away 3 touch, and together 3 touch is a combination found in many 2 step dances. Dance this combination to Merengue music. Then you can have the lady put her hands on the man’s shoulders and perform the same foot action while sliding her hands down the Man’s arms as they back away from each other. (arm slide) A different modification can result in conga walks forward and back. Have the man go forward when the lady goes back, and when the man goes back the lady goes forward. You can add a shoulder shake or two for styling and fun.

Twirl is a familiar step in several rhythms. For use in Merengue it needs to be a twirl 2 with a side close (4 beats of music) or twirl 4. The twirl 2 with a side close is easier for the dancers.

Twirl to tamara, wheel, & unwrap is a familiar Rumba combination. It fits very well into Merengue with a 4 count twirl, an 8 count wheel, and a 4 count unwrap.

  • Here is a practice amalgamation that you can use, or make your own:
  • Side close twice [merengue basic]; twirl 2 side close;
  • Side close twice [merengue basic]; twirl 2 side close;
  • Side front side touch [conga walk left];
  • Side front side touch [conga walk right];
  • Back away 3 touch; together 3 touch;
  • Side close twice [merengue basic]; twirl to tamara;
  • Wheel 8;; unwrap; side close twice [merengue basic];
  • Side front side touch [conga walk left];
  • Side front side touch [conga walk right];

Merengue is an exciting rhythm and the music is infectious. Whether you teach it plain vanilla or add some styling, we hope you will expose your dancers to this fun rhythm.