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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tarentel redirects here. For other uses, see Tarantel (disambiguation)
For the terminal services application Tarantella, see Tarantella, Inc.

The tarantella (tarentule, tarentella, tarantelle, tarentelle, tarantel) is a traditional dance 6/8 or 4/4 time characterised by the rapid whirling of couples. There are several local variations of this dance, including the Neapolitan, Sicilian, Apulian and Calabrian tarantellas. It is led by a central singer/speaker. A tarantella is also a song that can be played by instrumentalists.

It is named after Taranto in southern Italy, and is popularly associated with the large local wolf spider or "tarantula" spider (Lycosa tarantula) whose bite was allegedly deadly and could be cured only by frenetic dancing (see tarantism). In actual fact the spider's venom is not dangerous enough to cause any severe effects. The spiders, far from being aggressive, avoid human contact.

The tarantella can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and may have evolved from an even older dance. According to legend, an epidemic of tarantula poisonings spread through the town of Taranto. The victims (tarantata) were typically farm women or others whose daily life might reasonably bring them into contact with the kinds of spiders that run in the fields. These supposed victims of spider bites would dance while villagers played mandolins or tambourines. Various rhythms were used until one worked, vigorous dancing ensued, and eventually the tarantata was cured. Many people have suggested that the whole business was a deceit to evade religious proscriptions against dancing. Others, more accurately, state that it was a metaphor regarding female sexual desires and that by dancing frenetically these subsided and avoided problems in an era and area of Europe where sexual freedom wasnt particularly encouraged

Regional variations on the tarantella abound, with the versions from Naples and Sicily probably the most widespread. This dance is a staple of some old-fashioned Southern Italian weddings.

Despite some speculative accounts, there are no arachnids known to have hallucinogenic venom. Instances of dancing mania however, have been explained as ergot intoxication, or ergotism, known in the Middle Ages as "St. Anthony's Fire" which is caused by eating rye infected with Claviceps purpurea, a small fungus that contains toxic and psychoactive chemicals (alkaloids), including lysergic acid (used in modern times to synthesize LSD). Whether unusual psychological states caused by these or other agents were sometimes mistaken for the effects of spider bites is unknown.

Dancing the tarantella alone was said to be unlucky, and thus it was always a couples dance, involving either a man and a woman, or two women. The tarantella is a circle dance, performed clockwise until the music in the set changes to become faster, after which everyone changes direction. This cycle occurs several times, eventually becoming so fast that it is very difficult to keep up with the beat. The music is generally led by a mandolin.

Instances in other settings and media

  • The tarantella can be heard in the [1] Puma website.
  • The tarantella's themes can be heard as a background music in some Italian restaurants.
  • It has appeared in feature films such as The Godfather. In The Godfather II, Frankie Pentangeli tries to get the wedding band (who are not Italian) to play a tarantella. They end up playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" instead.
  • A performance of the tarantella was central to the plot of Henrik Ibsen's A Dolls House.
  • The final movement of Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D, D 200, although not explicitly called so, is a tarantella.
  • Franz Liszt composed a piece called "Tarantella, Venezia e Napoli" (No. 3 from Les Années de Pèlerinage, 2nd Year: Italy), which is in a rapid tempo also in 6/8 time, although nowadays it is commonly misprinted as being in 2/4 time.
  • Frédéric Chopin wrote a piece called "Tarentelle" (Opus 43), which has not only the characteristic 6/8 time signature, but also a very frantic and frenzied arpeggiated left hand part, representing the spinning nature of the dance.
  • Leopold Godowsky transcribed Chopin's Op. 10 no. 5 into an extremely challenging tarentella for the piano.
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2 for Two Pianos, Op. 17, features an extremely challenging and ferocious Tarantella for its finale.
  • Gioacchino Rossini's song "La Danza" is a Neapolitan tarantella.
  • "Tarantella" is the title of a well-known poem by Hilaire Belloc.
  • "Tarantallegra" is a jinx in Harry Potter books which causes the opponent's legs to move rapidly and uncontrollably, hinting that the incantation of this jinx might be based on the tarantella dance. This jinx is first introduced in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in the Dueling Club scene. By coincidence, spiders also play a central part in the same book.
  • Tom Waits mentions "tarantella" in his song, "Tango 'Till They're Sore", but in the context, it seems more likely that he is referring to a song rather than a dance. Interestingly, "Tango 'Till They're Sore" is in 6/8 time.
  • The tarantella's theme can be heard in the Puppy Love Levels in Earthworm Jim 2.
  • The 1996 Film "Pizzicata", written and directed by Edoardo Winspeare features the local songs, dances and traditions of Salento in Southern Italy.

See also

  • Dancing mania
  • Danse Macabre
  • Ergot
  • Tarantism

External Links

  • Sicilian Culture: Tarantella Dance
  • The tarantella dance!
  • Of The Tarantella
  • Dance the 'Viddaneddha'
  • Tarantella, Tarantella
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