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  • The Legend of the Tarantella

    by Anthony Parente

    No Italian wedding or celebration would be complete without the rhythmic song and dance of the tarantella. It is the most popular of all the Italian songs and it is even considered by many as the song of Italy. The song is both lively and graceful and the dance is one of light and quick steps mixed with passionate gestures. Its origin dates back to the Middles Ages and traces of a similar song can even be found in Magna Graecia.

    Legend states that between the 15th and 17th centuries an epidemic of tarantism swept through the town of Taranto in southern Italy. This was as a result of being bit by the poisonous tarantula spider. The victim, which is referred to as the tarantata, was almost always a woman but never a high ranking lady or one of an aristocratic upbringing. Once bitten the tarantata would fall into a trance that could only be cured by frenzied dancing. People would surround the victim while musicians would play mandolins, guitars and tambourines in search of the correct rhythm. Each beat would have a different effect on the tarantata causing various movements and gestures. Once the correct rhythm was found it was almost certain that the tarantata was cured.

    As legends have it there always seems to be more than one version. Another version states that a woman who was depressed and frustrated from the subordinate lifestyle would fall into a trance that could only be cured by music and dance. This normally lasted three days and during that time the tarantata would be the center of attention, which in turn would cure them of their frustrations and depressions.

    Of these two variations that most popular is the one in which the victim is bitten by the poisonous tarantula. This is why the tarantella is sometimes referred to as the dance of the spider.

    I had the opportunity to attend the St. Rocco festival that is held every year in Pittsburgh, PA. The festival is located behind St. Raphael's school in Morningside. During the festival the folk group "I Paesani" performed a number of dances. Below is the group dancing the Tarantella Calabrese.


    Related Pages
    Folk Dances Folk Songs Folktales
    Folklore/Legends Tarantella Dance Steps Traditions

    References
    • Malpezzi, Frances M., William M. Clements. Italian-American Folklore. Little Rock: August House Pub., 1992.
    • Nicotra, Stefania. "Tarantulas, Tarantatas and Tarantellas." Italy Italy Year XIII, No. 1 (February/March 1995): 34-39.
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