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Dancing with Dominicans

One interesting number is the second track, "En la Batea," performed by an unknown group of musicians. This is a pambiche, otherwise known as "Yankee-style merengue." It has a simple, clompy kind of rhythm, a beat rather suggestive of stomping feet. Austerlitz explains, as an oft-told story goes, that the variant originated during the American occupation of the Dominican Republic that began in 1916. The U.S. soldiers would come to the Dominicans' parties, but they couldn't dance with the sultry grace of the natives so they tried to keep up with an awkward variation of the fox trot. At one dance in the northern town of Puerto Plata, the residents started imitating the Americans, and turned their riffing into a new dance. The style came to be called pambiche, a Spanish pronunciation of "Palm Beach," the name of an American fabric that was popular among Dominican seamstresses. "Palm Beach is better than drill and it's better than cashmere," one such song goes. "I will celebrate with it and dance with my girlfriend."

Austerlitz chuckles with delight as he recounts the origin of the pambiche. "The Dominicans were so creative that they invented a whole new dance music form from the fact that Americans couldn't dance.

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