“Teaching & Salsa” by Loo Yeo)
The merengue is an extremely accessible dance,
mainly because the level of co-ordination between legs and arms is less
crucial to beginner dancers than, for example, in salsa. This fact is
greatly responsible for the rapid uptake of the merengue as a dance
worldwide. People can, with little or no instruction, merengue straight
away. Ladies in particular can learn to dance it very quickly, so long
as they receive a good lead. In many places, instructors tend to teach
off the merengue into salsa by introducing the armwork in the merengue
and fitting the footwork later in salsa. This is a little unfair to
the merengue, since learning dancers tend perceive the merengue as a
poor person's salsa, instead of being a rich dance form in its own right.
History of the dance
Observing couples dance the merengue tells
us two things; the partnership hold originates from the Western Europe
and the hip action belies its African roots. Apart from that inference
there is little specific information currently available about the origin
of the merengue. A couple's bodies can vary from being pressed together
where only simple steps are performed, or with bodies further apart
to allow for turn combinations. Legend has it that the Dominicans tend
to dance further apart because they like to show off their fancy footwork,
whilst those from other Latin countries tend to dance closer together.
What is evident is that the turn combinations found in the merengue
bear similarity to that found in other partnership dances. Arguments
go on well into the night about whether the moves were borrowed from
other dances or if the other dances borrowed moves from the merengue.
It's probably safer to assume a case of parallel development; since
the human anatomy allows the body to adopt only a limited number conformations
(safely), and it doesn't take long to explore most of them.
The basic merengue is danced as a walk, a
step being taken with each leg in alternation on every beat. The amount
of hip action varies according to personal preference. It is considered
an asymmetrical dance because, in the basic walk, the same leg is used
at the beginning of each new bar of music. Although many turn combinations
can be executed with both partners performing the simple walk, some
moves allow the hips to synchronise better if one of the partners performs
a null weight change by tapping the foot on the floor instead of stepping
onto it. Synchronising hips is normally the responsibility of the partner
leading the dance, because it is easier for the lead to do it than to
get the follower to do so. Becoming proficient at synchronising hips
(and therefore feet) confers and added advantage; that more turn combinations
are available in merengue than in salsa, as a result of being able to
alter the co-ordination between the arms, legs and transfer of weight
at any time during the dance.
Dancing the merengue to time is easy because
the beats are usually obvious, but the timing aspect of merengue is
kept simple for a reason. It's because the merengue is more than just
about stepping on the beats. It's about dancers expressing themselves
to music, and the merengue's flexibility is supposed to encourage just
that. What happens between the beats of the music is just as important.
The tambora roll and the corresponding saxophone/accordion roll
(from Merengue: the music) form an important part of the rhythm structure,
serving to lift the dancers' feet before grounding them on beats one
and three (called the downbeats). They are responsible for the two alternating
pulses that can be felt in the music. The real trick is dancing in a
manner that reflects the rhythm structure, the music pulses and the
way the melody weaves through it.