Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic is comprised of the Island of Hispaniola, and the Republic of Hati. This country is riddled with a turbulent past that has been passed down into the 21st Century cultures. In 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola. Spanish incursions were resisted by the Taino who were established occupants of the island. It didn’t take long for disease to spread and forced labor to diminish their numbers.

Permanent Settlement

In this New World, the first European settlement was Santo Domingo from Spain in 1496. It would later be known as the Dominican Republic’s capital. Slaves were imported as plantations and mines were established. The French took over the island’s western third in 1697. At first they called it Saint Domingue. This colony saw prosperity well into the 18th Century as sugar plantations that were worked by slaves flourished. Their Spaniard neighbors suffered loss early on due to European attention. Spain ceded that portion of the island that would become Hati. In 1804 they became independent. The turmoil became constant as the Dominican Republic gained their independence.

A Unity in Dance

Spanish-speaking Domincans immediately worked to eliminate the Haitians many cultural influences after gaining their independence. Many of the elite clung to their Spanish heritage, but much of the populous was a mixed or African descent. Early dance performed by the Dominicans known as the long drum dance or baile de palo, was a couple dance that was derived from Africa. It was based on the rituals of death where the deceased spirit was said to enter into an heir and dance through their body.

For as much as their past is wrought with fighting and turmoil, both of the Haiti and the Dominican Republic claim the same national dance. In Haiti it is referred to as the mereng and in the Dominican Republic it is referred to as the merengue. During the Haitian occupation from 1822 to 1844 the dance began to arise. After Haiti broke away the musicians of Dominican descent began to distance themselves from their Haitian roots. The tempo was increased and the major music mode was used instead of the minor. This dance was considered to be obscene by the government and anyone caught doing the dance was severely punished. In the early 20th Century, the dance had been structured. There are three distinctive sections – the opening paseo consisting of 8 measures, the next 16 measures are the merengue proper, and the last section is the jaleo. It allows for stronger rhythms and improvisation.

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