Merengue For Beginners
Merengue is THE best dance to do if you are learning Cuban Motion for the first time! The step patterns in this dance are quite simple, which is why it’s the best for practicing rhythm technique. In fact, this is the first dance I learned when I started ballroom dancing many years ago. Before I was a ballroom professional, I was a competitive ice dancer, and my partner and I were skating to a Latin Cha Cha song that season. Our coach wanted us to learn how to move like Latin dancers, so we figured we should learn from the pros, so that is when I started taking ballroom lessons and the rest is history!
Below is a look into what I will be covering in this post:
· History and Characteristics
· Musical Information
· Basic Movement
· Dancing with a Partner
History and Characteristics
Merengue was born in the early 1800s and is the national dance of the Dominican Republic. Rumor has it that Merengue acquired its look from a war hero with an injured leg who could not help but to limp to one side when dancing. Out of respect, all the villagers began dancing with a limp. As most of the Latin dances do, Merengue arrived in New York in the 1940s and slowly became a part of the Latin dance and music scene. Merengue is and non-progressive dance that is known for its simple patterns and is characterized by its Cuban Motion with a marching feel. We will dive more into the Cuban Motion in the movement section, but first, let’s go over the musical information for Merengue.
Not only is Merengue the national dance of the Dominican Republic, but it is the national music as well. Traditionally, the music is performed by a group of musicians playing the accordion, tambora, and güiro, with a Latin vocalist. However, you may dance Merengue to any song written in 4/4 time with a strong, steady beat and ranges between 29-32 MPM. Below are a few good songs you can dance Merengue to:
Counting the Merengue: Counting while you dance is helpful so that you stay on time throughout. There are eight counts in a dance phrase and each step is worth one beat of the music, so you will take 8 steps to complete one phrase of dancing.
Now, let’s dive into some dancing!
As mentioned earlier, Cuban Motion is the main characteristic of the Merengue. Cuban Motion is the bending and straightening of the knee with each step that is taken. To explain further, at the beginning of a step you will have one soft knee (the leg you just stepped onto) and one straight knee (the leg you moved from), and at the end of the step you will have two straight knees, just before taking your next step. Doing this action with good timing will cause a swinging result in the hips which is what people notice when they watch Latin dancing. It’s important to understand that the hip movement is a result of a leg action, otherwise, you will look like you are just wiggling your hips.
The Basic Steps: Merengue has many Basic steps; it moves side to side, forwards and backward, in place and in a circle. The leader will always begin with their left foot and the follower with their right. To begin dancing, make sure to stand with good posture – head over shoulders, shoulders over ribs, and ribs over hips, with your weight poised forward over the balls of your feet. As you step, you will keep the balls of your feet in contact with the floor and roll through the foot until your heel is down. This is known as ball flat footwork and you will step this way throughout the entire dance. Using ball flat footwork allows you to remain in contact with the floor and move smoothly from step to step. Below, I will break down each of the basics.
Side Basic: This basic is as simple as stepping out with one foot then closing the other foot while moving to the side. Leaders typically will do this moving left and followers will be moving to the right.
Forward and Back Basic: This basic feels like a forward march and then a backwards march. Taking small steps, the leader will begin by stepping forward with the left foot and continue to march forward for 8 counts, then repeat moving back for the next 8 counts. The follower will do the natural opposite by starting back with the right foot and continue in that direction for 8 counts followed by 8 counts of moving forwards.
In Place and Turning: Begin with your heels together and toes slightly pointed outward and simply shift your weight left and right by alternately lifting and lowering you heels. The Turning Basic can rotate either direction; Simply rotate while marching in place.
After practicing the different basics a few times on your own, give it a try with a partner.
Dancing with a Partner
Having a good connection with your partner is one of the most important factors to a successful dance. Connection is the communication between partners that makes leading and following possible. One form of creating a good connection is through a toned frame. Below is a description of how to get into a closed hold and connect through the frame.
Closed Position: Begin by facing your partner about a foot apart and with the follower slightly offset to the right of the leader. If you are leading, place your right hand on your partner’s right shoulder blade, then lift your left arm until your elbows are even with your arm bent at a 90-degree angle and your hand curved towards your partner at about her eye level. If you are following, you will rest your left arm gently on top of your partner’s right arm and follow the curve of his arm to his shoulder. Place your right hand in your partner’s and lightly clasp. Make sure to keep your arms and elbows in front of your body with a slight forward poise to create a positive connection which will make it easier to lead and follow.
Putting it all together: Maintaining a toned frame, begin dancing the basic steps listed above with your partner. When you feel ready, add music. Check out this video to see how to get into the closed position and to dance the Side Basic: https://youtu.be/4evR_r0JElY
Thank you for reading this post. I hope you enjoyed it and are eager to get on the dance floor to practice your new moves!