Dancing in Southern Italy has a whole lot to do with spiders. Tarantulas, actually. Tarantulas! Apparently at one point in the history of southern Italy, tarantulas bit enough women, causing them to become almost demonically possessed, that several types of tarantula-trace dances developed in response. The most ancient and spiritually intense of these is the taranatolati, a pre-Christian healing ritual meant to cure possessed victims of tarantula bites. You can see a loose modern interpretation here. The iconic Italian dance known as THE TARANTELLA developed from rituals such as the tarnatolati and became less frantic over time, and much more tourist-friendly. (Okay, so maybe, folk legend aside, the name of the dance, “the tarantella,” refers to the dance’s origin in the city of Taranto, or perhaps it began as a St. Vitus Dance, in particular to a mythical “outbreak of dancing” in the middle ages. Or does the tarantella actually have its origins in ancient Greece as a ritual dance that honored Apollo, the god of music, and Dionysus, the god of wine? In any case, the tarantula reference is certainly fun.)
Today there are many kinds of tarantellas, such as the pizzica tarantella, a tarantella that originated in the southeastern city Salento, the joyous tammuriata of Campania and the Sicilian tarantella, a folk dance that includes tambourines, as many tarantellas do. (Dancing the tarantella alone is considered unlucky. Find a partner, why don’tcha?)
Want to learn how to do the tarantella? Michele Aveyard’s “step-by-step” breakdown of the dance will take you through several stages of the dance, from the initial position of the couples–“the dance begins with both couples facing front (not each other)”–to the tarantella step, to the tarantella do-si-do, through a section in which one member of the couple–traditionally the male of a male/female couple–shakes a tambourine, to the end in which the whole group dances in a circle.
In class we’re going to learn to dance the tarantella, tambourines, “tarantella do-si-do” and all.