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Salsa & Merengue
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Revealing Items

Part One:
A Dance around the Caribbean
Part Two:
It's Black and White
Part Three:
Defensive Dancing
Part Four:
Rafael Trujillo
Part Five:
Coming of Age
Part Six:
Merengue Moves Abroad
Part Seven:
Merengue in the U.K.

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Revealing Items

A History of Merengue
Part 7: Merengue in the U.K.

The immense popularity that merengue enjoys over salsa in the Americas is not experienced here. Rather the converse is true, merengue is outplayed and out-danced by salsa greater than one to eight. To understand why, it's important to be aware that there are actually two scenes in the United Kingdom: one formed by a majority of British nationals who actively learn to dance; and another comprising a minority of immigrant Latin Americans. Merengue is accepted much more readily by the latter, and the difference is easy to explain.

The majority
Instructors catering for the British market, including those from Latin America, teach off the merengue into salsa. Most lessons are conducted in a pre-club atmosphere, where teachers are under considerable pressure to get people with little dance experience to be able to execute a complex combination at the end of one hour. At the start of the lesson a teacher might say, “let's start with something simple like a merengue” and students would walk through the arm work of a combination to a merengue tune. After that, the teacher might say “Now, let's (make it harder and) fit it to salsa music”, at which point students would try the arms with footwork. Merengue is inadvertently made to look as a dance that only beginners perform, and salsa as the dance to aspire to.

Merengue is seldom learned as a dance in its own right.

The minority
Merengue is performed more by those who have acquired their dance skills: Latin Americans, and those who have had prolonged contact with them. Unfortunately the diaspora hardly touched these shores, so there are few Dominicans who take an active role in promoting merengue as part of their cultural heritage.

The challenge
Slap on a merengue track at a dance and the contrast in attitude is plain to see: the British taught dancers sit down and the Latin Americans get up. Curiously enough, untrained Brits get up and dance too. Maybe they lose their will to merengue somewhere along the road to salsa proficiency.

Salsa is about moves, and merengue is about movement - and any teacher worth his or her salt would say that it's more challenging to improve the quality of dance movement than it is to teach a combination. It's unfortunate that merengue does not have the popularity it so richly deserves, nor does it seem as if instructors are rising to the tougher challenge of improving movement quality. I hope it happens, because if history were anything to go by, merengue would inject a greater vitality into the U.K. Latin scene.


1999 Salsa & Merengue Society