Merengue and Bachata: Traditional Dominican music and dance

Merengue and Bachata: Traditional Dominican music and dance

Music and dance is like the lifeblood of Dominican culture. Before your first day in the DR is over, you’ll realize that Dominicans are passionate about their music and dancing. Just take a moto, and you’ll see. Or, head on over to a beach in Cabarete. Your blood will pump along with the rhythm of the local music booming from the speakers at a club there. If you’re a first-time visitor to the DR, and really want to get to the heart of our culture, one way is to get to know more about our music and dancing. The first thing you need to know is that there are two main styles: merengue and bachata.

The History of Merengue and Bachata


Merengue has its roots in the DR. The dance form spread to the rest of the Caribbean, as well as in Hispanic communities outside of the region. In fact, there’s a sister style in Haiti, called ‘Meringue’ or ‘Mereng’.

Since merengue has a ballroom-dance style, because of how the partners hold each other, it is widely believed that European dance styles in the Colonial era influenced it. To liven it up, the slaves added an Afro-Caribbean rhythm.

An interesting story behind the foot-drag motion in merengue is that a community had tried to comfort a soldier who had returned with a limp, by dancing with a limp themselves. However, it’s possible that it originated from the slaves who had worked on the sugar plantations, and who used to dance with one of their feet in chains.

Merengue Instruments

There’s more to the three instruments that a merengue band uses. The conjunto tipico, that is, the Taino guira, the African tambora drum, and the Spanish accordion, symbolize the three strands of Dominican identity:.

Learning Merengue

When you’re learning to dance merengue, keep in mind the importance of tempo and hip movement. It has a slow start that gradually builds to a rapid end. ‘Ta Buena’ by El Prodigio y Su Banda Typica, ‘Los Algodones’ by Banda Real, and ‘Yo Quiero a Ti’ by La Kerubanda can help you to practise your form.


Its History

Like Merengue, Bachata also originated in the Dominican Republic and spread throughout Latin America. It’s a fusion of West African, European, and Indigenous musical traditions.

During Trujillo’s leadership, he banned bachata because it didn’t meet his standards for the modern society he wanted the DR to be. However, after his dictatorship ended in the 1960s, bachata flourished once more and prevailed over the prejudices against it.

In 1962, Jose Manuel Calderon recorded ‘Borracho de Amor’ (Drunk with Love), the first bachata song. This marked a new day for bachata, as mainstream music grew to accept it as a legitimate music genre.

Nowadays, bachata has evolved beyond its past painful history. It’s versatility has added to its popularity. Dominican Romeo Santos, who was born in Brooklyn, was instrumental in showcasing bachata on an international stage, through the band Aventura.

The Music

You can easily identify bachata by the way in which the guitarist plays the notes in a chord in an ascending or descending order. The guitar takes center stage in Bachata bands, which often have a lead guitar, rhythm guitar and bass guitar.

The lyrics usually focus on love and heartbreak, which explains why it has been compared to the blues. Check out Luis Vargas’ ‘Yo Mismo La Vi’, Monchy y Alexandra’s ‘Dos Locos’, and Aventura’s ‘Enséñame a Olvidar’.

Dancing Merengue and Bachata

Are you ready to learn how to dance merengue and bachata? You’ll find several dance classes around Cabarete, such as Nina Elemva’s Alma Libre Dance School. Plus, the locals are patient and always happy to teach visitors. It’s a great, fun way to learn, with absolutely no pressure.

What a wonderful way to get to know the locals and the real Dominican Republic!