Tag Archives: tarantella

‘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.

Pizzica-the original Tarantella

Main piece:

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]



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.