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Music and dance in the Dominican Republic

Everywhere you travel throughout the Dominican Republic you're going to encounter the rhythmic beat associated with dance, passion and the tambora - a two sided drum - or the guitar.

Whether it's at a carnival, on a local radio station or at a nightclub, you'll soon come under the spell of the music of the Dominican Republic and get those feet moving along to the beat.

Merengue – nothing to do with meringues

The merengue dances started life in the Dominican Republic and to this day there are merengue festivals throughout the country.

The origins of this wonderful dance are shrouded in the mists of time, but some accounts claim that the merengue is a combination of the French formal menuet and traditional African dances.

In common with R&B and many forms of contemporary music, you can hear the sounds of Africa in this dance thanks to the syncopated beat of the drum. Dance steps are measured in rhythmic and short beats and merengue is traditionally performed in 2/4 time.

Originally the merengue wasn't danced by couples, but was more of a communal circular dance. You'll see many variations of this dance as you travel through the Dominican Republic and, if you penetrate the countryside, this is the best place to see a traditional merengue performed.

You'll also spot variations in the types of musicians that accompany the dancers. The most traditional of these consists of performers playing a tambora and a guira - a cylindrical sheet of grooved metal that's played with a stiff brush and gives a sound similar to the maracas and an accordion.

If you attend one of the larger merengue festivals you'll be able to spot some of the current international and national artists performing this vibrant dance.

From the bolero to the bachata

Thanks in part to the genius Torville and Dean, the bolero invaded the universal public consciousness during the 1984 Olympics.

The haunting strains of the Ravel composition perfectly matched the swooping movements of the two gold medal winners. But you might not know that the dance is also connected with the popular dance of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, the romantic and passionate bachata.

The bachata is usually performed or produced using five different instruments – requinto or lead guitar, rhythm guitar, electric bass guitar, bongos and the guira.

Originally connected with the brothels of San Domingo - similar to the associations of the Argentine tango - the bachata has a slow insistent beat that is very similar to the bolero.

The first bachata wasn't recorded until 1961 and, until this time, its melancholic but romantic sister was called bolero campesino, the bolero of the countryside.

The bachata is faster than the bolero and in its current incarnation you'll hear the haunting sounds of the guitar playing this music throughout the South American continent.

Dance from the soul

If you attend any of the fantastic Dominican Republic's festivals you'll be sure to see the merengue and the bachata performed and get to join in.

In common with contemporary music, these traditional songs both recount tales of heartbreak, men betraying women, and vice versa. Both are fantastic to dance to, and it's hard not to tap your feet to the syncopated beats of these types of music.

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