group dancing merengue

Shimmying back and forth, left to right with 360-degree spins, children and adults from Catholic Charities NY’s Alianza Youth Services helped land the Guinness World record for the most people ever to dance the merengue simultaneously.  They were among over 650 participants in this dance-off held in August at the Washington Heights armory.

  • Why the merengue? This sensual 4-4 beat dance originated in the Dominican Republic, ancestral and, in many cases, birth home to most of the children and families Catholic Charities serves through our Alianza division in Washington Heights and the Bronx. 

  • Why Washington Heights? This northern Manhattan neighborhood now holds the distinction as home to the largest number of Dominican neighborhoods worldwide, second only to the Dominican Republic.

  • Why now?  The event paid tribute to the inscription of Merengue in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity issued by United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  This designation protects and safeguards the dance of merengue as an indigenous form of Dominican culture.

The importance of preserving cultural heritages such as dance, says UNESCO, “is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next.”


Collaborating with Dominican Day Parade organizers and others, Catholic Charities Alianza Dominicana Conjunto Folklorico recruited and taught participants the merengue dance routine and led practices leading up to the main event.

Danced in pairs, participants used flirtatious gestures as they danced in circles to the rhythm of music played on a host of instruments including the accordion, drums and saxophone.

Merengue is usually introduced to learners at an early age. Knowledge and skills on the practice are transmitted through observation, participation and imitation. The merengue attracts people of different social classes, which helps to promote respect and coexistence among individuals, groups and communities. 

The northern part of the Dominican Republic is considered the cradle of the practice with the area of influence extending to Puerto Rico, the United States of America and the Caribbean region. The merengue is also popular in other Latin American countries such as Venezuela and Colombia where variations have emerged, and countries in Central America.

“The merengue is considered part of the national identity of the Dominican community,” says Leonardo Iván Domínguez, Dominican Parade VP and Catholic Charities La Plaza Beacon Community Center Director in Washington Heights. “It plays an active role in various aspects of people’s daily lives – from their education to social gatherings and celebrations, even political campaigning.”