One of my dreams is to travel around the world and learn all the various dance styles practiced within communities. This past week I got to realize a bit of this dream and found myself at several Sagras in Italy’s Puglia region. Sagras are traditional food festivals that celebrate the local flavors and specialties. Sagras also often have live music and people dancing Tarantella.
I love the story of how this dance originated. It first came about in Southern Italy, regions like Puglia, Calabria, and Campania. The story behind the dance is that if someone was bitten by a tarantula, it caused a condition called ‘Tarantism.”
Tarantism was a phenomenon described as a state of hysteria or frenzy that affected individuals who were bitten by the tarantula. It was believed that the only way to cure this condition was through an energetic dance which they called Tarantella. The dance was thought to induce a trance-like state and expel the poison from the body.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period, the Tarantella dance became intertwined with various cultural and social elements. It was a dance performed predominantly by women, often accompanied by tambourines and other instruments, while men played the guitar, mandolin, or accordion. The dance is characterized by its fast tempo, spinning movements, and energetic footwork.
As the movement grew, Tarantella was not only limited to people affected by Tarantism. It was performed during religious festivals, weddings, and other communal celebrations. Its contagious energy and lively spirit made it a popular dance within community gatherings, where people of all ages would join in.
Over time, the Tarantella evolved and incorporated regional variations, each with its own unique style of the dance, characterized by variations in tempo, movements, and accompanying music. For example, the Tarantella Napoletana from Naples is known for its faster tempo and intricate footwork, while the Tarantella Calabrese from Calabria tends to have a slower pace with more emphasis on graceful arm movements.
While the belief in the therapeutic qualities of the Tarantella dance has diminished over the years, its cultural significance and popularity are still present. However, next time you get bitten by a tarantula, or find yourself feeling restless try dancing Tarantella style and I’m sure you will feel better!