S.C: Pizzica is a dance which draws its origins from our country…from our Southern regions specifically, and it was said that, when women worked in fields, there was the possibility of being bitten by these spiders, these tarantulas, so yeah to alleviate and take the pain of the moment away, these women would start to frenetically dance.
And it’s a dance which is still performed and it represents a big tradition of our country.
There is also a festival, a really famous festival, which is held in Melpignano every year in late August, called La Notte della Taranta, and it’s a festival which summons various people, who…gather to live all together this moment of joy and freedom…of liberation I would say.
V.S: Have you ever learnt the steps?
S.C: I tried to learned it many times [laughs], but unfortunately I was never able to. It’s quite complicated, full of little jumps and a…a difficult rhythm to follow.
My informant is a 57 years old woman, born in Bologna from Italian parents. However, while her mother was born in Bologna as well, her father came from Apulia, and, for this reason, she spent much of her summer vacations in that particular region, getting to know many of its traditions and folk-pieces. Despite her inability of permitting it, she has always had a sort of sentimental attachment with this practice.
I myself knew this folk-dance , and we were in the informants’s house when she mentioned and explained it.
Pizzica is one of the various names given to what is most commonly known as Tarantella. The word Pizzica can be translated into the verb “bite”, while the Tarantella or Taranta are terms related to the tarantula, a family of spiders. Other hypothesis claim that the terminology could also derive from the city of Taranto, which is one of the main cities in Apulia, the region in Southern Italy where the dance and ritualist phenomenon is said to have been originated -to be then diffused in all the rest of the Italian South.
Pizzica fundamentally is a ritual folk dance performed to liberate those who were bitten by spiders while working in fields and in the countryside. It is, indeed, said that the music on which the dancing takes place, which is principally made up of lamenting songs and tambourine’s rhythms, miraculously helped those affected with the bite to free their body from the venom of the animal, which, in the mean time, provoked spasms and agitated movements. As a matter of fact, the dance which is still nowadays performed, presents spasmodic and frantic steps and movements, which are made up of jumps and twirls. In this way, music gained curative and healing properties, and the dance was represented both the effects of the bite and the method through which expelling venom from the organism.
One of the most interesting aspects is that, especially in historical sources, the majority of the involved parties were women of all ages, which somehow relates this ecstatic performance to the rituals and behaviors adopted by the Bacchantes in ancient Greece. This relation makes more sense if it is considered that Apulia was one of the Greek colonies in ancient Italy, and it wouldn’t be strange for this divinatory practices to having been diffused through …
In present times, pizzica still is one of the main folkloristic traditions of Apulia, which was also translated, since 1998, into an actual festival, which attracts every year hundredth of thousands of spectators and performers. Yes, performers. because, with the live show that professional dancers, musicians and singers provide, everyone in the audience is invited to directly participate, being urged to dance and sing at the rhythm of tambourines!
[Maria Grazia Chiuri, art director of Dior, has made pizzica one of the principal components of 2021 Dior Cruise shows, which took place in Lecce, one of the most important cities in Apulia]