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‘Tarantella’ Dance

Background: My informant is a 52-year-old with Italian heritage. Both his mother and father are from Mola di Bari, a seaside town in Southern Italy. The informant was born in Toronto, Canada and moved to Santa Monica, California at a young age. While he was not born or raised in Italy, the strong Italian roots in his family meant that Italian culture and tradition was still very prevalent in his household. The informant is also my father.

Context: During a car ride, I asked my father about interesting Italian folklore he knew about while growing up in an Italian family.

Main Piece: “This is a very famous Italian tradition, basically every Italian wedding I have been to has it. It’s the ‘tarantella’, the dance of the tarantula. Basically, as I understand it: Taranto is a town in southern Italy, which is actually near Bari where our family is from, and in the middle ages someone was bitten by a poisonous tarantula, and the myth had it that she went into a trance and the only way to get her out of the trance was by encircling the woman and doing a really frenzied dance with a unified rhythm. So, whenever you go to Italian festivals, Italian celebrations, and particularly Italian weddings you often times will see everyone doing the ‘tarantella’, which is basically a circle or a group of people surrounding the bride or the groom and they are all kind of moving in unison. You know, obviously they are not trying to remove a demon, but what they are trying to do is just create a spirit of happiness. But the ‘tarantella’ is very prominent in all kinds of Italian festivals, and it was born out of this myth that the only way that this woman could be saved was by doing this frenzied dance around her so that it would basically exorcise the demon that was in her because she was in a trance having been bitten by a tarantula.”

Interpretation: I have never been to a traditional Italian wedding or festival, so I was not aware of this dance. I found it very interesting that a dance whose origin apparently comes from exorcising a demon is now common in traditional Italian weddings. However, from what I can tell these seems to more of a legend then a myth. Nonetheless a very interesting folk dance with an interesting backstory.

The Real Tarantella

“So many people do the Tarantella WRONG at their weddings. The way Italians do it, and everyone knows the Italians do it best because Italians know how to throw a good party, is by putting the bride and groom in the center of the dance floor while everyone holds hands and makes circles around them that get larger and larger. Usually it’s the couple’s parents that make up the first circle. The wedding party makes up the second. Then the rest of the guests make up the rest. The first circle spins clockwise, the second counterclockwise, the third clockwise, and so on. Eventually, the dj or mc will tell everyone to switch directions, and the circles will start spinning in the opposite directions they were originally. They’re so much fun. And if you somehow don’t get in on it when the Tarantella starts, you’re hosed, there’s not getting in because it all just becomes this amazing mess of people that you just can’t get through.”

The informant has never attended a non-Italian wedding, as her entire extended family is Italian. Because her family is so large, she is constantly attending weddings, so she has become quite familiar with many typical Italian wedding traditions. For her, the Tarantella is celebratory and “builds community,” as everyone is holding hands, joining to rejoice in the couple’s newfound happiness. The informant has many happy memories dancing the Tarantella from the time she was an infant. She claims they are just as fun now as they have ever been.