Dance Tidbits – Tarentella

If you are Italian, you have no doubt heard of the Tarentella. It is the most recognized and traditional of all southern Italian music and dancing. It is considered an Italian folk dance known for fast, upbeat tempos accompanied by tambourines. The Tarentella dates back as far as 1100 BC.

The Tarentella was first choreographed and performed in 1839. It is very common for it to be the traditional dance at Italian weddings even today. In fact one of The Godfather movies shows a wedding scene where the Tarentella is being danced.

What makes this dance so interesting is the origin and history of what this dance represents. Did you notice that the word tarentella sounds like the spider called tarantula? The story goes that if the wolf spider or tarantula, as we know it, bites you, then the poison will cause you to be hysterically ill. Therefore, those hysterical movements become the way you survive the poisonous bite. You dance to get the poison out to save your life. The wilder the dance, the more you have a chance to be cured. That’s where the fast, upbeat pace comes from. What a concept to develop a dance! The plot actually thickens, as they also say, the Tarentella dance was the remedy for depression and hysteria.

Although the Tarentella could be an elegant and graceful dance performed by couples back then, it could also be danced solo in slower tempos to portray the victim’s suffering of the tarantula’s bite. In other interpretations, the Tarentella can show sword fights or relationship issues. It was a dance of conflict or malaise seeking release.

George Balanchine, one of the 20th century’s most prolific and famous choreographers created the famous Tarantella ballet in 1964. Balanchine also created in 1955, the very renowned Christmas favorite The Nutcracker.

In the 19th century, the Tarentella became popular as a ballroom dance. Still very popular in Italy, it did spread to France and England. Today the dance can have lots of triplets when done with partners. Many of the steps can be done away from each other, while steps together can be side by side instead of face to face. Steps can be lighter, or of a teasing, flirtatious nature between partners. The dance is always full of life and portrays males vying for the female’s affections while she gives him a good run for his money. Personally I’m glad to see we’re not dancing to cure ourselves of spider bites anymore!

Happy dancing,

Thought Of The Week:

When someone shares something of value with you and you benefit from it, you have a moral obligation to share it with others – Chinese Proverb



Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website