How to dance the merengue

Merengue Dance Lessons Mesa AZ - Merengue Dance Classes Mesa Gilbert

Learn all about the Merengue!

What is the Merengue?

The merengue is a relatively easy to learn but fun and sexy Latin American dance from the Dominican Republic. Its music’s vibrant, cheerful beat makes it a staple of many weddings, nightclubs, and dance parties.

History of the Merengue

The Dominican Republic is generally credited with inventing the merengue, but variations of it have evolved over the years throughout the Afro-Caribbean region. Its indelible roots in the Dominican Republic, however, are such that its distinctive music — also known as merengue — is known as the national music of that country.

Like many dances that grew out of the slave communities of the Caribbean, the merengue’s exact origins are unknown. What is certain, however, is that by the middle of the 19th century, the merengue had become the most popular dance in the Dominican Republic. It’s said that in its infancy, the dance was not a couple dance but one in which participants — both men and women — moved around in a circle. The music itself was controversial in its early years because of its highly suggestive nature. In fact, its name, perico ripiao, means “ripped parrot,” allegedly taken from the name of a brothel where merengue music’s roots supposedly began. As it grew in popularity some attempt was made to ban the music, but the passion for the dance was such that those efforts failed, and the dance remains a perennial favorite throughout the Latin American and Caribbean regions. In the United States, it’s especially popular in east coast metropolitan cities, particularly New York, where it first took the country by storm.

How to Dance the Merengue/Basic Steps

Some points to keep in mind as you learn to dance the merengue:

If you can walk, you can do the basic California Hustle. Line dancing fans will already be familiar with this popular step. It only looks difficult but only because it has so many steps, but it’s very easy. So put on some of your favorite disco records and have a go:

Some points to keep in mind as you learn to dance the merengue:

  1. Merengue music is written in 4/4 time, and dancers ordinarily move on every beat.
  2. Hip movements are crucial in this dance, so keep your body supple and flexible. The hip movements, however, come primarily from the bending and straightening of the knees, not from swiveling or twisting.
  3. Keep your posture upright but not stiff.
  4. Dance partners start in a closed position.

The merengue starts with the basic step:

  1. Start in a closed position.
  2. Begin by shifting your weight on your right foot.
  3. Step on your left foot, leaning slightly to your left as you do so. Keep your right leg straight but bend your left leg as you step on your left foot.
  4. Shift your weight on your left foot.
  5. Slide to the left with your right foot, bending then straightening that leg as you do so.
  6. Shift your weight on your left foot.
  7. Close your right foot to your left foot, bending then straightening that leg as you do so.

Great Merengue Songs

  • “La Cadena Se Rompio” – Joe Veras
  • “Suavemente” – Elvis Crespo
  • “Muchacho Malo” – Olga Tanon
  • “Con Agua y Jambon” – Los Hermanos Rosario
  • “Enamorame” – Papi Sanchez
  • “Cuando el Amor Se Dana” – Pedro Peralta

Merengue in the Movies

  • “My Blue Heaven” (1990)
  • “Manhattan Merengue!” (1995)

Learn the Merengue

Arthur Murray, a Mesa-based dance school, is part of the internationally renowned Arthur Murray Dance Studios system. The Mesa franchise teaches hundreds of students each year with lessons in the merengue, rumba, salsa, ballroom, tango, cha-cha, and others. To schedule your complimentary first dance lesson, fill out our on-site contact form here.

Learn other dance styles!

How to Dance Merengue: A Beginner Dance Guide

Do you want to learn how to dance Merengue?

Merengue by Javier

The Merengue is a sensual Latin dance with a history dating back to the African slaves of the nineteenth century.

It is fair to say that Merengue doesn’t have as much as a following of other Latin dances for a very outdated reason.

Even though it is now considered a popular social dance in the Caribbean, for a long time it had a stigma attached to it.

The African-inspired drumbeat of the Merengue music meant it was viewed as improper.

Table of Contents


How to Dance Merengue

With risqué lyrics, Merengue only became popular due to the west becoming more secular with its ideals.

It became the official dance of the Dominican Republic, but why did it beat Bachata to become the official dance?

History of Merengue

Of the two popular stories as to how Merengue began, the most popular is rooted in the history of slavery.

Allegedly, the dance originated with the leg dragging due to slaves being in chains as they cut sugar to the beat of drums.

Merengue exhibit by timsackton (CC BY-SA)

Another story about the origins of the dance is that a great hero of a Dominican Republic revolution had been wounded in the leg.

During celebrations, his dancing involved a dragging leg, which other citizens decided to imitate out of sympathy.

Merengue is in fact named after the sweet dessert food due to the light and frothy character of the dance and its short and precise rhythms.

In Haiti, it’s also known as Mereng, where it’s also considered a staple in its culture and history.

Many Dominicans never cite the aforementioned stories as the origin of Merengue but from a program shown on TV known as “SANTO DOMINGO INVITA”.

It’s most likely true that many Dominicans were exposed to the dance through this well-known TV show, but the origins date back further than many Dominicans realize.

Merengue is basically a combination of two dances; an African tribal dance and the French Minuet, from the late 1700’s – early 1800’s.

The African slaves were influenced by the aristocratic dances they were exposed to whilst working on plantations and imitated some of the moves performed by their masters.

They provided their own knowledge of dancing and performed what could be viewed as a more enjoyable and fun translation of high society dancing. Learn from this book to get the full story!

How to Dance The Merengue

The original Merengue was not danced by individual couples but was a circle dance, each man and woman faced each other and holding hands – at arm’s length.

Africans in Dominican Republic

They did not hold each other closely and the original movements of this dance were only the shaking of the shoulders and swift movement of the feet.

How to Dance The Merengue: Solo

March in place on every beat. If you’re following, start marching with your right foot.

If you’re leading, start marching with your left. For every count of the beat, march 1 step.

You don’t need to pick your feet up very high—about 2 to 3 inches (5.1 to 7.6 cm) is all you need to march in place.

Bend both knees slightly as you pick your feet up. To give yourself a little bounce, keep your knees bent as you make each movement.

Try not to lock your knees up, or you might look stiff. The merengue is all about fluid, even motion. Keeping your knees bent will also help you keep your steps going in one fluid motion.

Shift your weight to the foot you’re stepping down on. For each step that you take, naturally, let your hip fall down in time with your feet as you shift your weight.

Merengue danceroom by COD Newsroom (CC BY)

You don’t need an excessive hip shaking or gyrating—just that natural hip movement that takes place when you shift weight. Your hips may move slightly up and down as you sway back and forth.

This motion will come naturally to you as you practice the movements more.

Listen to merengue music to feel the rhythm. Merengue music is all in 4/4 time, so it’s easy to apply to almost any song.

Fernando Villalona, Juan Luis Guerra, Eddy Herrera, and Toño Rosario are all artists with great merengue music you can listen to and practice with.

You can also find merengue mixes on YouTube with hours and hours of songs playing continuously.

How to Dance The Merengue: With Partner

Face your partner and stand about 3 inches (7.6 cm) apart. The merengue is a pretty intimate dance, so you’ll want to start out with someone you know pretty well.

Start by facing each other and then move in closer so there isn’t much distance between the two of you.

Put your hand on your partner’s shoulder blade. Lift both of your arms up to about shoulder-height.

If you’re the leader, put your right hand on your partner’s left shoulder blade, and if you’re the follower, put your left hand on your partner’s right shoulder blade.

Grab your partner’s freehand with your other hand. Now, put your free arm up in an L shape at about shoulder-height.

Grasp your partner’s free hand in yours for a secure hold.

Merengue College Dance by COD Newsroom (CC BY)

If you’re the leading partner, you’ll raise your left hand. If you’re the follower, you’ll raise your right hand.

Travel across the floor in a circle. With this basic marching step, start moving back and forth, left and right.

If you’re the leading partner, rotate slowly in a 360-degree turn.

Take a full 8 beats to do the turn, and try not to rush your movements.

If you’re feeling groovy, take 16 counts to do the turn instead of 8.

Famous Merengue Songs

After you’ve mastered your Merengue steps, familiarize yourself with the world-famous Merengue songs?

See these world-famous Merengue songs below

  • Abusadora – Oro Solido
  • Esa Muchacha – Los Hermanos Rosario
  • Bailar – Deorro ft. Elvis Crespo
  • La Bilirrubina – Juan Luis Guerra
  • You Burned Me – Chino and Nacho
  • Es Mentiroso – Elga Tañón

You shouldn’t have any trouble impressing your friends and family with these Merengue rhythms.

How to Dance Merengue

The Merengue is one of the most popular Latin dances that most westerners aren’t aware of. It has links with the Bolero, as many Latin dances do, but this dance has a more African beat.

In actual fact, Merengue is probably the most fun dance to try out if you’re willing to give it a go.

It may be difficult to find lessons or tutors where you live, but if you have access to one, or thinking of traveling to the Dominican Republic you should definitely give it your all!

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Merengue dance - style descriptions merengue

M erengue , the most dynamic of Latin American dances, was born in the Dominican Republic almost 500 years ago and is an amazing mixture of African and Latin American traditions.

There are two versions of the origin of the meringue. According to one version, the dance was invented by slaves collecting sugar cane. The movements correspond to the steps with the chain on the feet. The slaves were chained with their right feet, on the left - the cores, they pressed the reed to the beat of the drum, and the very movement of a number of slaves into the reed served as the basis for the steps. According to another version, the hero of one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic, General Maringie, was wounded in the leg, and the villagers, out of respect for his merits, danced in celebration of the victory, limping on one leg or the other.

One way or another, the "limping step" has remained fundamental to this dance.

For a long time, merengue remained a rural dance, and pompous aristocrats did not accept it because of its simplicity and pronounced eroticism. The proximity of partners to each other, circular movements and touching of the hips makes this dance incredibly exciting. The only rule for merengue performance is to fall into the rhythm, and a large number of figures and decorations, body rotation, shoulder movements at an accelerated pace allow you to create more and more new variations. To dance merengue, you need to catch the mood of flirting and improvisation, relax and feel the heady rhythm of the music. After all, it is not without reason that they say that if you know how to walk, then you know how to dance the merengue.

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Merengue dance in the Dominican Republic

Happy people live in the Dominican Republic who love to express themselves through music and dance. Merengue music is an integral part of Dominican culture and today I will tell you interesting facts about this style.


Traditional merengue music is a mixture of guira, tambora and guitar.

Guiro - a metal cylinder (only the Dominicans have a metal guiro, while other Caribbean countries use mostly wooden guiros) with a ribbed outer surface. To play it, you just need to drive a special stick along the ribs up and down.

Tambor, double ended drum that can be played with a wooden stick or hand. This instrument is largely responsible for the rhythmic style of the merengue.

Today you can also hear merengue music, which is created using piano, electric guitar and saxophone.

History of merengue

It is easy to see the African roots of merengue music, which was brought to the Dominican Republic by African slaves back in the 1500s. Initially, these humble roots of merengue prevented the music from spreading widely in high society. But, ironically, the Dominican Republic's worst dictator (Rafael Lenidas Trujillo) was the man who helped merengue achieve its current popularity. Since Trujillo was from a humble family who lived in a small town, he loved merengue and used it in his campaign for the presidency. During his reign, merengue music spread widely throughout the country.

More typical versions of the merengue dance can be seen at festivals and other cultural events throughout the year. Smiling Dominican women with large, brightly colored skirts move their hips to the beat of the music, while men lead the women in choreographed turns.

Legend has it that the merengue began as a faster and more energetic dance. One night, a Dominican soldier was invited to a party, but because his leg was injured, he moved slower and dragged his leg across the floor. The good-natured guests didn't want the soldier to feel uncomfortable, so they imitated his lame style. So they created one of the most famous merengue dance moves.

Merengue Songs

While there are a few merengue songs with poetic and well thought out lyrics, there are also many hits written about funny situations in everyday life. It doesn't matter if they are romantic or comedic, all merengue songs must be sung by the choir. As a rule, the song is performed by the lead singer and the choir or backup singers repeating his words.

Current trends

This enchanting music and funny dance has spread all over the world. True, in the Dominican Republic itself, young people prefer modern regeton rhythms or more sesual bachata.

How to learn to dance merengue video

If you have never danced Latin dances, merengue is the easiest way to start. The movements are simple and understandable even for a dance beginner. By the way, in almost all hotels in the Dominican Republic, animators will be happy to teach you how to dance merengue or bachata.

Still have questions? Do you want to get advice on holidays or find out about the best excursions in the Dominican Republic? Write to us! Be sure to answer everyone!


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