The Merengue is the national dance of the Dominican Republic (and to some extent, of Haiti, the neighbor sharing the island). It became popular in the early-to-mid 1800s when the African slaves combined their rhythms with the staid and boring dances they saw their European masters doing.
There are two stories as to the origin of the Merengue’s characteristic limp. One story alleges the dance originated with slaves who were chained together and, out of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar cane to the beat of drums. Another story reports that when a popular returning war hero, wounded in the leg during one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic, tried to dance at a victory celebration given in his honor, he could only do so with a limp. Out of respect for him, the villagers also began dancing with a limp.
Whatever the origin, Merengue arrived in New York in the 1940s, but was not immediately popular.