Taranto, the ancient Spartan colony of Tarentum, as a strategic city and port in southern Italy, has never stopped been rich in history, in culture and in traditions. How did Tarentum, combine the Spartan military training with the Athenian arts of entertainment? Taranto started as a home for unmarried Spartan women and free men. The location was picked by Sparta after consulting the Oracle of Delphi. The cheerful dancing to honor the Greek god Dionysius became the source of the tarantella steps. Taranto bloomed into a major place for commerce back then, during medieval times, and still is in our days.
During the 17th century, harvest in suburban Taranto was plagued by tarantulas, the wolf spiders, while the church forbade dancing as a source of sin. The irritant injected by the tarantulas apparently gave a lot of discomfort and caused the victim (tarantato/tarantata) a trance. The medical doctors of the day, knowing the people’s need for fun, prescribed Tarantella, a frantic and frenzied dance as the best treatment for tarantism.
Tarantella became popular when a young girl, Miranda, developed a crush on a young farmer, Matteo, who was as handsome as he was shy. She went to see an old gypsy woman for help. The gypsy advised the young girl to pretend to be beaten by a tarantula as an opportunity to have the young man dance with her. The young man, who desired the young girl in return, dropped a tarantula near Miranda while they were both working in the fields. The tarantula bit the girl’s foot . The girl went into a trance. Matteo danced with Miranda until profuse perspiration, which was followed by a swim in the sea to cool off. Having to dance at least for a full week to make sure the venom was all sweated out, Miranda and Matteo became very close and fell in love. Later they got married. This was the Tarantella Pizzica (the spider’s bite): a cure for romantic and physical ills.
Cities were forbidden to train militarily under the Spanish rule so local men devised theTarantella Scherma, a dance with martial arts steps. Later, harvests and civil occasions promoted the Tarantella del Core, the courtship dance with added flirtatious steps.
Composers turned the Tarantella into masterpieces of music: Gioacchino Rossini, Frederic Chopin, Pyotr Ilvich Thcaikovski, Franz Liszt, Carl Maria Weber, and the contemporary Mark-Anthony Turnage. Even poems have been written to illustrate the enchantment of the Tarantella like Hilaire Belloc’s Tarantella.
As long as there are tarantulas inciting people to dance and fall in love, the Tarantella will charm audiences with its enchantment and amorous cheer. The Tarantella has been a traditional dance at Italian weddings. Tarantella contests and Tarantella shows are quite common. The Gauthier Ballet Troupe, The Armando Curcio Company, and other groups are entertaining audiences with Tarantella extravaganzas. Several regional styles of Tarantella can be viewed on www.YouTube.com.: Pugliese, Calabrese, Sicilian and Neapolitan. Long live the Tarantella and long live love and lovers!